“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.” – Nelson Mandela
It may just be where I’m at in my own space right now, but I feel like every week there’s a new article or opinion piece about the growing popularity of te reo Māori in Aotearoa, and the importance of keeping the language alive.
These conversations make me happy. The vision of our country as a truly bilingual nation is exciting and I believe we can all benefit from hearing and understanding more te reo Māori and by extension Te Ao Māori. Add to that, the more I learn about our (fairly recent) history and the deliberate, systematic elimination of te reo, the more passionate I become about its survival and growth.
That passion extends to my work. The most important part of my job as a professional communicator is getting to know the audience, understanding as much as I can about different people and groups and how to speak to them. For anyone communicating in New Zealand, knowledge of te reo Māori is vital – and I mean more than just looking up a few kupu in the Māori dictionary (a great resource, by the way).
Learning a language means learning a different culture, changing your world view. It influences not only what you say, but how you say it, creating understanding and building connections with people. To quote Flora Lewis: Learning another language is not only learning different words for the same things, but learning another way to think about things.
The more we hear and see a language, the more confident we all become in using it. My whakapapa draws from Dutch immigrant and pakeha ancestors, with very little experience of te reo Māori growing up. But in my adult life, through work and volunteering at Playcentre with my own children, I have been lucky enough to come in contact with many generous, supportive wāhine who have openly shared their language and culture with me and my whānau.
These experiences, along with increasingly seeing others in business and in my personal life living te reo Māori at every opportunity, have opened my eyes to the responsibility we all have to protect our national language. I have also become painfully aware of the expectation and high workload often put on Māori in the workplace, in schools and in the community to educate and support others in tikanga and te reo.
That’s why this year I’m taking up the challenge to actively add to the basic knowledge I’ve been gifted, while hopefully encouraging others to follow suit. In March I joined a diverse classroom of adults in the Te Ara Reo Māori (He Pī Ka Pao) course at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa. It’s a full year of Māori language for beginners, and it’s a challenge I am both excited and nervous about. The final assessment is a three-minute speech in te reo, which seems like a massive leap at the moment.
While I will never lay claim to knowing the intricacies of tikanga and te reo, I am excited to be slowly building my knowledge of the language, its beauty and meaning, and the rich culture behind it. By talking about what I’m doing, I want to encourage anyone who has ever thought ‘It’d be great to know more te reo Māori’ to find ways to learn more. There are lots of resources out there – take the first step and see where it leads.
- Check out the online version of Te Aka Māori-English, English-Māori Dictionary and Index, including mobile apps and online tutorials: maoridictionary.co.nz.
- Install macrons on your computer or device using these instructions published on Stuff.co.nz during Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori last year.
- Take a look at the NZ History list of 100 Māori words every New Zealander should know.
- If you want to start a course, The Spinoff has compiled a list of te reo Māori courses for beginners.
I’ll be sharing my learning experience this year with regular updates on the Wordage blog.
So far, it has been an amazing journey and one I highly recommend to anyone.
Naku te rourou nau te rourou ka ora ai te iwi.
With your basket and my basket the people will live.