The official languages of Kiribati are English and Gilbertese. Also known as Taetae ni Kiribati or Kiribati, Gilbertese is a Micronesian language from the Austronesian family. Its alphabet features ten vowel sounds and thirteen consonants. Gilbertese has several dialects including Northern Kiribati, Banaban, Butaritari/Makin, Nuian, Rabi, and Southern Kiribati. Since the 1840s the written form of this language has utilized the Latin script.


According to figures from 2010 an overwhelming 99% of Kiribati’s residents can speak Gilbertese. 97% of local citizens report being able to read this native language while English can be read by 80% of the population. It’s estimated that 103,000 people living on the island nation speak Gilbertese. The language is also spoken in a variety of nearby countries including the Marshall Islands, the Soloman Islands, Fiji, and Tuvalu. Despite its official language status English is primarily spoken in Tarawa, Kiribati’s capital city.

Even though most residents of Kiribati speak English if you were to visit the island nation a good way to show respect for their local customs and traditions would be to speak a little Gilbertese. Some useful phrases in this language include the simple greeting, “Mauri” or a goodbye wish which translates to, “Ti a boo”. “Thank you” can be easily communicated with the words, “Ko rabwa” while asking an individual how they are can be achieved with, “Ko uara?”.


The country of Kiribati is home to an array of people from various ethnic groups including individuals from Fiji, Samoa, and Tonga. One of the most prominent and influential ethnic groups, whose native language differs slightly from the Gilbertese spoken by the people of Kiribati, are the Banabans. This group of people originate from Banaba (or Ocean) Island which is comprised of one raised coral island with a land area of 0.77 square miles. Its total population according to statistics from 2012 is 335.

This page was last modified on May 1st, 2018