Samoan translation is an important tool when creating content for use in Samoa. It’s also useful when exporting Samoan content for other countries or for Samoan expat communities abroad. Let’s take a look at some of the tips and tricks to achieve great Samoan translations.

Samoa and Samoan Translation

First, let’s try to understand where Samoan comes from. Samoan is the language of the Independent State of Samoa and American Samoa. These are Polynesian islands in the Pacific. Independent Samoa is composed of two main islands named Savai’i and Upolu and two smaller ones named Manono and Apolima, as well as a few other smaller uninhabited isles. In total, Independent Samoa is about 2842 km 2 or 1098 sq. miles. The population is just over 202,000. The capital of Samoa and largest city is named Apia, with a population of just under 40,000.

Some History

Samoa is a unitary parliamentary democracy and a member of the Commonwealth. The country was occupied by the German Empire (1899-1915) and by Britain/New Zealand until 1962. Samoan history is quite vast though. It was originally discovered and settled by the Lapita people, about 3500 years ago.

Note that the Samoan islands are an archipelago covering an area of about 3030 km 2 (1170 sq. miles). This archipelago includes, as mentioned above, the Independent State of Samoa and American Samoa. American Samoa is an unincorporated territory of the United States of America.

Samoan Translation and the Samoan Language

The Samoan language is used in both Independent Samoa and American Samoa. It’s important to note that although Samoan is the official language in both places, English is also an official language. As a result, both languages are important in these two locations, although more so in American Samoa. This has certain interesting influences in Samoan translation, which we’ll see later.

Samoan is not only spoken in the Samoan islands but also by Samoan people abroad. Indeed, the Samoan population in the islands is about 246,000 but Samoans abroad may number above 510,000. In countries like New Zealand, Samoan is spoken by over 2% of the population and it’s the third most widely spoken language in the country.

Some Characteristics

Samoan is a Polynesian language. Quite interestingly though, European influence and colonialism had particular influences on the language. Samoan was a spoken language until about the mid-19th century, born and developed in the islands. At this time, however, missionaries introduced the Latin script and also started documenting the spoken language. As such, a Bible completely published in Samoan was completed in 1862.

The alphabet which was thus created is made of 15 letters. There are the 5 standard vowels a, e, i, o, u as well as some consonants: f, g, l, m, n, p, s, t, v. A macron written over a vowel indicates a long vowel.

samoan translation


To get a first glimpse at Samoan check out these proverbs from a compilation from Stanford University. In Samoa, proverbs may be used in conversation to mean several things. As such, they’re a common challenge in Samoan translation, where translators must be familiarized with their intent and meaning:

E sau le fuata ma lona lou.
In every generation, there are some outstanding chiefs.

Ua mu le lima, tapa le i’ofi.
Having foolishly gotten into trouble he is asking for help.
Once bitten, twice shy.

O le upega tautau, ‘ae fagota.
If at first you don’t succeed try, try and try again.

O le upega le talifa.
A net that cannot be mended.
A sickly old man.

Sei fono le pa’a mona vae.
Look before you leap.

Talanoa atu, ‘ae le talanoa manu.
A careless person will be taken by surprise by his watchful enemy.

E le aia puga i le masi.
Coral blocks have nothing to do with the preparation of masi.
This is no concern of mine.

E a le puga nisi, a le ‘ana nisi.
Let each do his share of the work.

Here’s a list of basic vocabulary including numbers and colors, basic elements in Samoan translation:

1 = tasi
2 = lua
3 = tolu
4 = fa
5 = lima
6 = ono
7 = fitu
8 = valu
9 = iva
10 = sefulu
20 = lua sefulu
50 = lima sefulu
100 = selau
1000 = afe



black– uliuli
blue- lanumoana
brown- enaena
green- lanumeamata
orange- lanumoli
pink- piniki
red- mumu
white- pa’epa’e
yellow- samasama

Note that the Samoan language doesn’t have any significant dialects. Its pronunciation is also quite simple. Having said that, however, it’s true that the language may slightly change depending on the person who’s being addressed. If people of a certain status are being addressed, then language will become more formal and less colloquial. This is an important consideration in Samoan translation.

Note, for instance, this quite formal extract written in Samoan. It’s the first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The extract in English is below it too:

O tagata soifua uma ua saoloto lo latou fananau mai, ma e tutusa o latou tulaga aloaia faapea a latou aia tatau. Ua faaeeina atu i a latou le mafaufau lelei ma le loto fuatiaifo ma e tatau ona faatino le agaga faauso i le va o le tasi i le isi.

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

It’s interesting to note also that Samoan has some words which can be traced directly to English, such as the following. These are loan words as such:

Kerisimasi- Christmas
kolisi- college
moa- lawn mower
musika- music
nusipepa- newspaper
sikareti- cigarette
telefoni- telephone
televise- television

The Uses of Samoan Translation

Now that we’ve seen some of the characteristics of Samoan, we may ask ourselves, why translate Samoan? There are quite a few situations when such a process may come in handy.

What About English?

As mentioned previously, English is prominent in the Samoan islands. An important question at the outset is why translate at all? Wouldn’t English work just fine? It really depends. As mentioned above, English is used in both Samoa and American Samoa, though a bit more in the latter.

The target audience and type of content may suggest the need to translate to Samoan. Consider a health and safety campaign leaflet to be distributed around the island vs a television program. Perhaps the latter may be in English, but the former may be best created in Samoan.

Content in Samoan Translation

There are several types of content that we may wish to translate into Samoan or from Samoan into other languages.


A translator can take a book from any one language and into Samoan, making it available for an audience and vice versa. Books, evidently, are only of many materials which can undergo this process.

When we talk about the translation of text we may encounter the translation of content such as comics, documents, contracts, scripts, scholarly works, prescriptions, medical literature, etc.


There are different forms of interpretation that may take place in Samoan translation. The most typical are the following:

  • Simultaneous Interpreting: Ideal for events that require a translation in ‘real time’. These events demand immediate translation because there simply is no stopping for a translation. This process may also take place remotely, through online tools such as Zoom, among others.
  • Consecutive Interpretation: Consecutive interpretation is often a great alternative when technology is not available and interpretation will be sparse and informal.
  • Chuchotage: Chuchotage is usually an ideal type of translation for more specific events, like business meetings, guided tours, and similar scenarios.


The process of dubbing requires several steps. First of all, we need to translate the script and then assemble a cast of voice talent to create the voices that we’d be replacing. We need to decide if we want to use Samoan or English.


When learning how to add subtitles to a movie, we should remember that these are usually reserved for the dialogue. In the case of captions, the process is a bit longer. Here, we must not only translate a script or the script’s dialogue but everything else as well.

In the case of Samoan translation, there may be a need for subtitling. Consider content that comes from abroad and wants to be transmitted for a Samoan public in the Samoan islands. In this case, it’s quite possible that such content could be subtitled. It’s quite possible that subtitling in English will do the trick. This is evidently quite convenient, though the audience may require a more nuanced and strictly Samoan focus.

samoan translation

Characteristics of a Great Samoan Translation Service

Bilingualism vs. Translation

The first challenge is finding a translator trained and experienced in Samoan translation, and not just a bilingual person. It’s also quite useful that this professional understands the ins and outs of the Samoan language in American Samoa as well as in Independent Samoa.

There are some things a bilingual person may do, to prove their ability to take on a Samoan translation project. Education and training in the craft of translation itself is useful. Experience, however, goes a long way here. The reality is that Samoan translation demands knowledge of the reality of the language in the islands. Someone who’s lived in the islands or, better yet, is a native speaker may be ideal.

Cultural Knowledge

A good translator must not only be bilingual but also bi-cultural. A big part of a successful translation means understanding the differences between the two languages and cultures being translated. A poor cultural understanding may be very problematic.

In the case of Samoan translation, this is all the more acute. The reason is that Samoan is a relatively small language. It’s used in the islands and by Samoans abroad. A native Samoan translator may be the most ideal due to the niche characteristics of this language.

Vetting of Talent

A crucial aspect to consider when choosing a Samoan translation service is the talent. Perhaps the greatest challenge is finding talent who will be able to create a first-rate Samoan translation. As such, the issue of vetting talent is complicated. One of the advantages of using a translation service is having access to a totally vetted and proven pool of talent.

Contact Bunny Studio Today!

When looking for talent to create a first-rate Samoan translation, contact Bunny Studio! You may contact Bunny Translation directly or contact the Bunny Studio staff immediately, with the ‘Contact Us’ feature!

Send us your project details and let’s get started with your Samoan translation project today!