Ask most Māori and they will have their own personal story to follow the answer to the question, ‘how important is pronunciation anyway’? The ones with a lingering sting often relate to names of people and places precious to them. They can tell you who, where, and what happened blow by blow with the lasting, albeit unintended impact, when a name or word is repeatedly mispronounced.
Pronunciation is a hard one to talk about. Focus on it too much and people can feel offended, affronted, and be put off even trying. Don’t focus on it and the status quo reigns. Watching my son live with a Māori name on a daily basis leads me to spend a little time shining some light on the topic, to share a story or two, and some tips for the kete.
My story starts with me, Nichole Catherine Gully, a good Pākehā name given to me by my plump Pākehā mum, from Porirua. Although renowned in many an East Coast wharekai for her perfect pavs, my mama bear was not one for reo, never learned it, and she had many a reason to avoid learning to pronounce things in Māori. My sisters and I would constantly cringe and correct to no avail.
….and then DUN DUN!!!… her mokopuna were born.
Manukorihi Mia Arita Wilson, John Kanuta Rewiri, Wiremu Michael Rewiri, and my boy, Tanirau Tahurākau Inia… and she HAD to learn to say their names. Boy did things change like the Pantene advert promised. On their arrival, she finally got why it was important and went about working out how she was going to make it work for her. Choosing avoidance and reasons was no longer an option. Some of these strategies are shared below.
How hard is it?
So let’s unpack some of Mama Thelma’s reasons, because she does make some valid points. Learning a language is hard work; getting your ear tuned in and tongue twisted around new words is not easy. The research argues that there is a critical period in language learning, and although a second language can successfully be learned as an adult (not just as a kid), developing a native-like accent is often NOT achievable. However, improving accent is VERY possible. This is especially true in Māori, as most of the sounds are also present in English; it’s all about cracking the code and matching up the puzzle pieces like the following examples:
Today is Tūrei, the number two day is Tūrei
Dead eel mouldy
Many errors in pronunciation are made because people read Māori words with their English reading glasses (coding). The first example, Tūrei, sounds similar to the English ‘Two day’, and ‘te reo Māori’ to, ‘Dead eel mouldy’. The same letters, but the codes are quite different. Some letters make different sounds, like wh, r, t, ng, as do the vowels and vowel blends. And if that wasn’t enough, how we break up syllable sounds in a word is also not the same. So much to remember!!! It’s all about tips, tricks, time you commit, but most of all knowing for yourself why giving it a good crack is important.
Some tips and tricks.
There are loads of websites, apps, and books that have pronunciation guides and tips like Kōrero Māori. Below are some of the tried and true top tips I have used and shared.
I don’t make mistakes. My hypotheses merely require reformulation.
The inter-language continuum (my favourite second-language acquisition theory) taught me as a language learner and a self-professed perfectionist, that I NEVER make language mistakes. What a weight that lifted! Instead, on the language-learning journey we make and test language hypotheses. Some are spot on, others need reviewing and resetting so we right-shift along the continuum from newbie to being in closer proximity to a native-like speaker.
There are two groups who live on the continuum. The right-shift travellers are the Wants to, Tries to, who just do it, then there are the Can’ts, Won’ts who don’t. They have set up camp and aren’t ready to shift yet, and may not. The continuum gave me the power and permission to give everything a crack without all the pressure of getting it WRONG. When I owned that, right-shifting was smoother. I now gift this to you, if you don’t already own one — and here is a spare one to share with a friend. Choose to do with it, what you will.
Moral of the story is Mama Thelma found bigger reasons WHY, to over shadow the WHY NOTS, and sniffed out strategies that worked for her. She’s nudging right on the continuum, and in our whānau Manukorihi Mia Arita Wilson, John Kanuta Rewiri, Wiremu Michael Rewiri and Tanirau Tahurākau Inia know their plump, Pākehā nan from Porirua wants to, tries to, and does say their names with all the love and respect they deserve.
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- How important is pronunciation anyway? How hard is it really? - December 12, 2014