Serious question: if Te Reo is worth saving, how to do it?

Heather dPA has taken it on rather literally

For three hours every Tuesday evening I sit in a brightly lit classroom in central Auckland learning Te Reo Māori.

So far I can say “my name is Heather”, “you should go” and “after this I’m going home”.

I’ve learnt that virtually all of us – even the try-hards – mispronounce Whangaparāoa. The word doesn’t end with “ro-ah”. It’s actually “ra-oh-ah”.

I’ve also learnt the importance of the little line above the vowels. If you forget the macron in the word tāra, you won’t get the $20 you’re asking for. You’ll get 20 vaginas.

In my view, a win in either case.  

My class is made up of a surprising number of Asian foreign students, a Palestinian, a woman who I think is German, at least one other foreigner and a smattering of mostly adult Kiwis.

I’m disappointed by the demographics of this class. I wish there were more Kiwis.

Even better, I wish the Kiwis had already learnt the language at school.

Instead this country treats the language like a hassle. We’re too busy to learn, it’s too expensive to teach, there’s no business case because no one in China speaks it.

That was roughly the attitude this week when residents on the Kapiti Coast got worked up over a proposal to rename the unoriginal Main Rd with Māori street names.

Apparently, there is already enough Māori about the place and the proposed names are too hard to pronounce.

Renaming “Main road” by cutting it into different pieces and giving the people that lived there forever new addresses is practically a hassle.

We need to give Te Reo a chance to survive. It’s in such a desperate state. Māori kids were still taking beatings for speaking the language at school as recently as the Second World War.

Eighty years on – after all that damage – the best progress we can claim today is that weather presenters do a nice job of pronouncing Māori place names and some radio reporters sign off their pieces with a quick three-word Māori sentence.

The more we expose ourselves to the language, the more likely it is that my Te Reo class will one day be full of Kiwis.

Book binding is a beautiful art.  But there is very limited interest in keeping that skill in our society.  So people don’t bother to learn it.  Hey, who needs to bind a Kindle, anyway?

Life changes.  Things get created, other things go the way of the Dodo.

I think the fact that there are no Maori, or few “Kiwis” in her Maori language class shows that when people are given a choice what to learn, and how to spend their disposable time and money, learning Te Reo doesn’t make it to the top of the list.

I know one thing.  Importing 70,000 Indian and Chinese workers every year won’t solve it.   Nor will making it compulsorily available to learn at all schools.

The old adage: use it, or lose it, holds true.   It seems to me that for Te Reo to survive, the only plan is to force all children to be exposed to it.  More than they already are.  But let’s be real.  As soon as they enter the workforce, the vast majority will not need it or use it.

And saying kia ora hasn’t saved the language thus far.

We need ideas that don’t require force.  We need people to want to learn it.


– Heather du Plessis-Allan, NZ Herald

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