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Tok Pisin

Tok Pisin

Students completing courses in Tok Pisin will be uniquely placed to engage with this important partner and adjacent areas through trade, diplomacy and cultural collaboration.


Tok Pisin, one of Papua New Guinea’s four national languages, developed in the late 19th century to facilitate communication between European traders and recruited Melanesian labourers on plantations in Papua New Guinea, Queensland, Fiji and Samoa. It began as a ‘pidgin’, or reduced language, and evolved into a ‘creole’ - fully functional with its own distinct vocabulary and grammatical structure. With English as its lexical base, Tok Pisin also draws words from Indigenous languages (mainly Tolai of East New Britain) and other languages (predominantly German). Spoken as a first language by more than 121,000 people, and as a second or third by over 6 million, it is the most widely used language in PNG, and brings together a culturally and linguistically diverse population. Tok Pisin is the global community’s interactive gateway to respectful diplomatic and cultural relations with Papua New Guinea.


Learning Tok Pisin through the ANU program gives students deep insight into Papua New Guinea’s culture, history, politics and economics. It also puts into context the relationships between Australia, Papua New Guinea, the Pacific and other global powers with political and economic interests in the region. Following the first year, during which basic grammar and conversation is taught, we embark on exploring Tok Pisin in its historical and contemporary contexts through texts, guest lecturers, songs, poetry, videos, audios, film and art. Students completing Tok Pisin as Minor will gain competence in reading, writing, listening, speaking and translating, and will be culturally equipped to communicate and interact with confidence, understanding, respect and empathy. This will place them in a favourable position to confidently pursue research, work, travel and any other interests related to Papua New Guinea.

Study options

Recently established at ANU, this is the first Melanesian creole program in the world to be offered entirely online. Our courses are designed to give each student confidence to speak and a friendly space to learn. ANU students, external students or interested members of the public through Open Universities Australia, may complete two years of Tok Pisin with us, doing one course per semester, as part of a degree, or on a non-award basis. The first-year program (Tok Pisin 1 and 2) is based on Dutton and Thomas’s book ‘A New Course in Tok Pisin’, supplemented by a range of multimedia materials. Students work through these materials independently each week before meeting for an hour-and-a-half of real time interactive learning. In the second year (Tok Pisin 3 and 4) we continue the 'flipped-classroom' model, with an in-depth exploration of a topic of interest each week, supplemented by multimedia resources including film.

Undergraduate courses Tok Pisin 1, Tok Pisin 2, Tok Pisin 3 and Tok Pisin 4. See ANU Programs and Courses for study options.See Open Universities Australia for studying Tok Pisin 1-4 as subject.

The School of Culture, History and Language places a unique emphasis on in-country experience. For more information on exchange programs and in-country language opportunities, visit the ANU global programs or enquire education.chl@anu.edu.au.

"Many Papua New Guineans are trilingual: we have our own vernacular, English and Tok Pisin. I grew up speaking the three languages side by side.

Tok Pisin is a bridge between all the different cultures, tribes and clans in PNG. For people who want to have an association with the Pacific particularly through work, Tok Pisin is a window to expanding their knowledge of the society. 

I started teaching Tok Pisin in 2002 with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. I also taught New Zealand diplomats as well as journalists and other federal government officials. I keep in touch with many of my past students. They tell me about how they are using the language and how much they enjoy working in PNG.

It’s always daunting for anyone who wants to learn a new language. Tok Pisin is actually about 80 to 85 percent English. It also has influences from German and the Tolai language. People say it’s an ‘easy’ language to learn because many English speakers pick it up quite quickly. 

It’s also an interesting language to learn because it’s evolving all the time and hasn’t been standardised, which allows it to reflect the different ways Tok Pisin is developing in different provinces."

Updated:  24 April, 2017/Responsible Officer:  Dean, ANU College of Asia & the Pacific/Page Contact:  CAP Web Team