O le Vaiaso o le Gagana Samoa. The celebration of Samoan language week will take place from 24 May to 30 May 2015. Learning a new language gives us new insights into new ways of thinking, and shared understandings of cultural beliefs and practices.
The Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs is working closely with the Human Rights Commission and FAGASA to promote Samoan Language Week activities. The theme for the Samoan language week is “Tautua nei mo sou manuia a taeao — Serve now for a better tomorrow".
According to the Human Rights Commission website, “Samoan language week was first promoted by Radio Niu FM as part of a series of Pacific language weeks leading up to Māori language week. In 2007 it was promoted in schools by the Fa’alapotopotoga mo le A’oa’oina o le Gagana Samoa i Aotearoa (FAGASA).
FAGASA is an independent organisation with the aim to nurture and promote Samoan language in New Zealand.The Samoan language week is now celebrated in New Zealand, Australia, United States of America and Samoan communities across the world.
Why learn Samoan in schools?
New Zealand is a country in the South Pacific. Samoan people make up nearly half of New Zealand’s Pasifika population and Samoan language is the third most commonly spoken language in New Zealand. Our society progressively reflects a diversity of languages and cultures. The Pasifika Education Plan 2013-2017 vision is to see “Five out of five Pasifika learners participating, engaging and achieving in education secure in their identities, languages and cultures and contributing fully to Aotearoa New Zealand’s social, cultural and economic well-being.”
Language is a key element of culture and helps us give meaning to things we use and create in everyday life. Learning Samoan language and culture empowers Samoan children to know they are of Samoan heritage, to uphold their sense of identity and belonging, and to advance the knowledge of their language and culture.
If children whose first language is Samoan can maintain that language, the development of their knowledge, and confidence in their cultural heritage and language will be enriched. It is important that Samoan children and children who are interested in learning the Samoan language and culture are more involved and take part in activities within schools, the community, church and family. As they become parents they will be able to pass on the language and culture to their fanau.
Also, for children whose home language is Samoan, maintaining their first language will enrich their learning of English. Research says that children with English as their second language are assisted to high levels of achievement across the curriculum when their first language is used as a language of instruction (Ministry of Education,1996). Learning Samoan will enable children to function more effectively in New Zealand society and the global world, as well as in Samoan contexts.
My personal experience in Samoa and New Zealand and the change in society
Growing up in Samoa where the language is spoken and used at all times has enriched my personal and professional journey. I was immersed and nurtured in the Samoan language at home, school, church and the village. I was exposed to and developed my use of Samoan language in different everyday situations — for example, church, cultural events, family gatherings, weddings, and daily life. Now, as an adult living in New Zealand, I am often given a role of speaking in different educational and personal contexts. I am expected to deliver speeches using Samoan language that will suit any formal or informal situation, and I am able to do this confidently. I always open my speech in front of Palagi using my mother tongue, almost like a weapon; it gives me strength and confidence before I begin using my second language.
I often think back to the place where I was first employed when my husband and I moved from Auckland to Christchurch in 1982. My Samoan friends and I were called into the office and given a warning not to speak Samoan while we were working. It was considered to be very rude and disrespectful for Palagi. I felt so small. My own identity, language, and culture were squashed. I couldn’t figure out why we were considered to be rude, but I found out that Palagi didn't understand what we were talking about.
I guess our society has changed dramatically over the last decade. People are accepting and respect the colourful identities, languages, and cultures that people bring, adding to the rich diversity in our world.
Who are the learners of the Samoan language?
- Learners of Samoan language who bring with them previous language experiences to early childhood, schools and tertiary.
- Learners who have some prior experience, but don’t come from Samoan-speaking family
- Learners who have little or no knowledge of Samoan language and culture
- Learners who are interested in learning Pasifika languages
- Learners who are studying and participating in Samoan language courses
- Learners with special needs, as it should be an inclusive programme, for all.
How do early childhood services promote and foster Samoan language?
My research colleague and I were visiting a Samoan centre recently, and we noticed two girls were at the writing table chanting the story of Noah and the Ark in Samoan language. What was fascinating about this experience was the way these girls chanted and exchanged questions and answers about Noah. They were very confident and spoke Samoan fluently. Both of them were New Zealand-born Samoans. This example reflects how teachers and children in Aoga Amata use and maintain the Samoan language and culture when families attend the service.
There are many ways to foster and promote Samoan language in early childhood and school environments, including:
- The learning environment as a third teacher, where language and culture are visible for children to revisit and promote discussion about their learning experiences.
- Invite Samoan families to share their cultural knowledge as this will add depth to the programme and also strengthen partnerships with families.
- Integrate and celebrate Samoan language as an integral part of their daily programme and routines.
- Use natural resources, stories about Samoan culture, posters, games.
- Teachers and children visiting the community and celebrating cultural events.
- Support the development of programmes that are responsive to Samoan community needs and projects.
- Invite Samoan cultural groups to the centre and invite children to join in and have fun.
- Use Samoan language through greetings, farewells, simple phrases, songs and dances.
- Provide Samoan language learning opportunities for teachers and children from non Samoan speaking backgrounds.
- Samoan language should be used in assessment.
“Tautua nei mo sou manuia a taeao — serve now for a better tomorrow”
The Samoan language week, from 24 May to 30 May, is celebrated across sectors from early childhood services to tertiary institutions, government departments, churches, libraries, families and communities.
“Tautua nei mo sou manuia a taeao” — serve now for a better tomorrow. This is a challenge for us all that we need to reflect, re-examine, re-evaluate our pedagogical teaching practices to ensure that Samoan language and culture is enacted and woven through the curriculum rather than just a one week celebration every year.
In Samoan culture, when children speak the Samoan language, parents feel a sense of pride for their children. In the past, most Pasifika families believed that speaking and teaching their children in English opened the door to success. This approach has slowly changed where parents and families are using and promoting Samoan language at home, church, school and the community with their fanau.
“A leai se gagana ,ua leai se aganu’u, a leai se aganu’u ona po lea ole nu’u.”
When you lose your language, you lose your culture, darkness descends on the village. (Fanaafi, 1996, p.1)
Further information and suggestions
For further reading and information about Samoan language you can visit the links that have practical examples to support you, children, and families in your education services. You will find a recent article in the Education Gazette about a preschool that is participating in the Pasifika Leadership programme, and how they embraced, celebrated and enhanced Samoan language and culture in their service.
- Education Gazette: Connecting communities: celebrating cultural diversity in ECE
- Christchurch Migrant Hub: Samoan Language Week poster
- TKI: Samoan language week/Vaiaso o le gagana Sāmoa
Here are some ideas to get you started:
Talofa lava – Hello/Greetings
Mālo le soifua – Hello/Good health
O ā mai oe? – How are you?
Manuia fa’afetai – Very well thank you
Manuia le aso – Have a great day
Tofā soifua – Good-bye
Ia manuia le Vaiaso o le Gagana Samoa. Fa’afetai lava!