Bears Without Borders Hosts Tongan Language Learning Workshop

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Last Wednesday, Bears Without Borders hosted a free Tongan language learning workshop for M-A students and staff. Founded in 2009, Bears Without Borders is a nonprofit organization that aims to connect students to Tongan culture through charity work and missions to the Kingdom of Tonga.

Founder Mele Fifita and her partner Jesse returned to M-A after college in hopes of creating an opportunity for kids to give back. They have also taken many missions to Tonga and led fundraisers for tsunami relief efforts.

“Aside from just service, Bears Without Borders is about building relationships and getting to know people that aren’t like us,” she explained. “M-A is so diverse, and it’s rare to have this many non-Tongan people aware of our culture. It only felt right to expand our work to students outside of the Tongan community.”

As for the goal of this specific event, she said, “The more generations that pass down Tongan language, Samoan language, and Fijian language, the more they are lost. We just hope that we can preserve our language in its fullness because it is so tied to our identity.” 

Finau gleefully teaches by example

Speaker Steven Finau led the workshop. He explained to attendees that it is impossible to go over the fundamentals of a language in one sitting, but he aimed to teach basic small talk that they could then use to build connections with the local people of Tonga or Tongan speakers at M-A.

The concept of “drive-thru” Tongan was Finau’s core lesson. Essentially, it is speaking as efficiently as you can. He emphasized finding keywords and sounds that automatically make the meaning of a phrase click for new speakers. This can help them understand a message without interference from extra sounds or syllables.

Attendees brainstorm for a group activity

Attendees worked their way through basic greetings, calls for help, and terms necessary for simple, polite conversation. Once they mastered pronunciation to the best of their abilities, the class was broken into small groups to implement their newfound skills through acting out various scenarios. 

“The group activities were definitely my favorite part of the workshop,” said Freshman Steven Teu.

As of now, the organization plans to host another two workshops and a luau. To keep up with future events, donation drives, and missions, check out Bears Without Borders on their regularly updated Facebook and Instagram

“I would encourage other Pacific Islanders at M-A to come next time,” Teu said. “It was worth it.”

Huraman is a junior at M-A and in her first year of journalism. She is excited to write opinion pieces and try her hand at style watch. In her spare time, she enjoys playing lacrosse, traveling, and reading.

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