A friend and I were discussing that we might have peaked at the tender age of 13. He was in a TVNZ show, and genuinely impressing his classmates by being picked up from school camp by a TVNZ car still rates as a definitive highlight; I was in the hockey rep team, and also managed to pick up the Third Form prize for Economics.
The year was 1987. The year that fluro was popular and Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet was played everywhere and, more importantly, it was the year that Te Reo Māori became one of the official languages of New Zealand; on the first of August.
A lot has changed since 1987, and generally for the better. However, te reo Māori is not as well spoken in New Zealand as it could be. How could we fix this? I think the elephant in the room is that we need to invest time and money in teaching Te Reo Māori at kindergarten, primary, and high school. How will this help?
1. Language learning assists with further language learning
Have you ever spoken a language overseas? I only spoke limited transactional French when I was in France, but the joy on the face of the French and the appreciation was immense. We are much more likely to earn respect from other countries if we increase language learning as a whole. How will learning Māori help? Māori has similar vowel sounds as a lot of other languages — Japanese and Spanish to name two. Once you have mastered the Māori vowel sounds, it is easier to tune into another language.
My French teacher also said that, once you add a second language, adding a third, fourth, and fifth becomes easy. She speaks nine languages, and says, ‘You already know English, and that’s the hardest language to learn’.
Learning te reo Māori also makes you aware that other languages are structured quite differently from English. In te reo Māori you say, “Karakia (prayer) tīmatanga (opening)”, and in French you would say, “La table rouge” rather than, “The red table”.
There is often discussion about what language our children should be learning; in 1987 Japanese was the language most mentioned, while today Mandarin is a popular option. I applaud learning other languages and think that having te reo Māori taught will assist the learning of other languages. We also are able to practice te reo Māori, as we have access to those learning and native speakers, and if te reo Māori is taught in school, this will only increase.
2. Assisting our children
My friends, who were born overseas and live in New Zealand, are bewildered by our lack of language learning in our schools as part of the curriculum. Most of them talk to their children in another language at home: German, French, Samoan… and all of them wish that Māori was taught at school to everyone.
It is now general knowledge that there are connection pathways in the brain that exist only in those who know more than one language. The benefits of bilingualism are well known: improved mental agility, faster learning of tertiary languages, protection against age-related memory loss.Why aren’t we giving our children every advantage we can? Other languages assist in so many ways: it cements the grammar of your own language and it helps you with other skills, for example, 80 in French is 4 x 20 (maths!); and best of all, it adds poetry and another view or perspective on the world.
He aha te mea nui o te ao
What is the most important thing in the world?
He tangata, he tangata, he tangata
It is the people, it is the people, it is the people
From the He Tangata website
3. Pride in who we are as a country
It seems to me that we pick and choose where we support Māori culture in New Zealand. Most New Zealanders adore the haka, and also feel pride when visiting dignitaries are given a pōwhiri. We need to go deeper with our respect of Māori culture — we need to teach te reo (language) Māori for a start. What other country doesn’t have one of the official languages included as a core subject at school? Can you imagine that in France?
I was recently talking to a friend whose grandmother was not only banned from speaking Te Reo Māori at school, she was sent home from her first day at school with a sticker on her dress with a 'new English name 'as the teacher couldn't pronounce her Māori name. Around the same time this was happening, my mother-in-law had her hand tied behind her back by her teacher to stop her writing with her left hand. My left handed son is able to write with his preferred hand — can we move away from the 1960s?
Although I am a fifth generation Pākeha and not Māori, te reo Māori is an official language of my country. When I flew back into New Zealand recently from Australia, Māori greetings and songs filled my ears and I could not have been anywhere else. If we are also often asking why young Māori men are over-represented in negative statistics, perhaps we need to ask what positive moves we can make to assist in overcoming this. Respecting and valuing Te Reo Māori throughout the schooling system will surely assist.
4. The tamariki are already on the journey
My children’s pronunciation is far superior to mine. They can pronounce basic sentences and even like to tease me occasionally when I kōrero (talk) te reo Māori commands where I have actually requested the opposite:
Me: ‘E tu’
Mr 8: (big cheeky smile) ‘Why are you asking us to sit down?’).
Their favourite activities at lunch are Kapa Haka and Chess (not at the same time). And last year, my eight-year-old told me his favourite subjects were when he learnt some basic New Zealand sign language and also te reo Māori.
I just attended my tamariki tāne (sons') assembly. The tamariki (children) are the announcers each week (age 5–10); they greeted us in te reo Māori; announced the room names (flawlessly!) in te reo Māori; we sang the national anthem — well, the children sang strongly and we adults stumbled through — and we sang Rā whānau ki a koe, (Raah fah-no kyaa qweh) to those having birthdays. This is what they do every week, not just for te wiki o te reo Māori, Māori language week. The journey has begun.
Let’s do it.
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