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What Language Do They Speak in Palau?

What Language Do They Speak in Palau

Key Takeaways:

Official LanguagePalauan
Secondary LanguagesEnglish, Sonsorolese, Tobian
Percentage of Speakers~65% Palauan, ~15% English, ~20% other
Language OriginsAustronesian family


Palau, an archipelago situated in the western Pacific Ocean, is a unique blend of culture, history, and language. Its language diversity reflects its rich heritage and the various influences it has experienced over the centuries. In this article, we delve into the linguistic landscape of Palau to understand which languages are spoken and their significance to the Palauan identity.

The Predominant Language: Palauan

Palauan is the official language and is spoken by the majority of the population. It belongs to the Austronesian language family, which is a widespread family of languages spoken across Southeast Asia, Polynesia, and parts of Madagascar.

Characteristics of the Palauan Language:

  • Complex grammar: Palauan has a rich and intricate grammatical structure that can be challenging for non-native speakers to grasp.
  • Unique sounds: The language boasts unique phonetic elements distinct from many other languages.
  • Cultural significance: Palauan is deeply intertwined with the island’s traditions, folklore, and daily life.
Writing SystemLatin Script
Total SpeakersApprox. 20,000
Language FamilyAustronesian

English in Palau

Although Palauan is the official language, English holds significant importance too. Here’s why:

  1. Colonial History: Palau was once governed by the United States under a UN trusteeship. This association led to the widespread adoption of English.
  2. Education: English is the medium of instruction in schools, ensuring that most Palauans are bilingual.
  3. Tourism: With the influx of tourists, English becomes a crucial communication tool.

Lesser-Known Languages of Palau

Beyond Palauan and English, several other languages are spoken, particularly on the outer islands.

  • Sonsorolese and Tobian: These are spoken on the southwest islands of Palau. They are distinct from Palauan and have their own unique characteristics.

Language Preservation Efforts

In a world rapidly globalizing, preserving local languages becomes crucial. Palau recognizes this and has undertaken several steps:

  • Language classes: Schools offer Palauan language classes to ensure the younger generation remains connected.
  • Cultural festivals: These events often highlight the importance of the local language and traditions.
  • Media: Local radio stations and publications in Palauan help in promoting the language.


Palau, though small in size, is linguistically rich and diverse. While Palauan remains at the heart of its linguistic identity, the influences of English and other languages are evident. As the world becomes more interconnected, it’s essential to acknowledge and preserve the linguistic treasures of places like Palau.