Ngā mihi nui ki a koutou katoa,
14 – 20 Maharu (September) marks a celebratory time as Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori. The theme for this year’s Māori language week is ‘Kia Kaha Te Reo Māori’ – meaning, ‘Let’s make the Māori language strong’.
At the Centre for Science in Society, we fully support and understand this sentiment about making Te Reo strong and a part of our everyday. We also see the language as something that makes us stronger as a team – particularly since we have been taking Te Reo classes as a group since the start of 2020. We started our lessons in March of this year, and decided to continue the lessons remotely as we went into lockdown. Those lessons, under the adept tutelage of Tāwhana Chadwick were instrumental in keeping us connected as a group through a very tough time because of COVID-19, but more importantly allowed us to see the beauty of Te Reo as a language and idea. We have since then, as a group continued with the classes either in person or online depending on physical distancing restrictions. The continuity and rigor of the lessons reflects to us the resilience of the language to weather many a storm.
To mark Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori, I asked my e hoa mahi a few key questions about their experiences with Te Reo and learning the language as a group. Below I share some of their responses.
Why did you decide to take Te Reo lessons?
Well, when I lived in Germany I learned German (even though I could get by without it). I know it’s not the same situation by any means, but there’s a way in which I do feel like manuhiri here, in some broad sense. And even though it’s not my reo, I feel as if a language lives more the more people speak (or try to speak) it, and the culture associated with that language lives more, I hope, that way too.
I have been wanting to learn Te Reo for years now but somehow I could never fit it into my busy work and family routine. I have always thought that learning a language is an important first step towards understanding a culture, and learning Te Reo has certainly helped me understand and appreciate the complex and multi-layered culture of Aotearoa New Zealand.
I am a relatively recent immigrant to Aotearoa and hope to make this my home for myself and my family. I have lived in several other countries as well, and find that you can’t really learn about a culture without first learning some of the language. So for me, this is a first step towards becoming more respectful and understanding of what it means to live in Aotearoa.
I really wanted to be able hold basic conversations with my friends who are fluent. Through learning the language I also hoped to understand more of Te Ao Māori and to grapple with my own place in Aotearoa as Pākehā within a system of colonisation.
What do you see as the importance and value of Te Reo in your life and also in contemporary society?
As a Pākehā New Zealander, I believe it is very important to understand Te Ao Māori (Māori worldviews) and implement Tikanga Māori (Māori customs and protocols) in how we live and work as New Zealanders. Learning Te Reo Māori is one way to learn not just the language but, through the language, Te Ao Māori and Tikanga Māori too. For me, learning Te Reo Māori is something I want to personally do to live the values that I hold about understanding Te Ao Māori and Tikanga, but also a long-term mahi (work) goal is to learn how to implement Te Reo, Te Ao, and Tikanga into our teaching.
Its everything to me, it helps me understand our values, our knowledge, and the tangible and intangible. For me Te Reo is a lens to the knowledge and ways of being of my tipuna.
Language is a way of understanding culture and Pākēhā New Zealanders have for too long been able to pretend our culture is the only culture present in Aotearoa. Learning Te Reo is one small way of correcting that imbalance. On the other hand it is important to know learning a language gives you understanding of a culture but not ownership of it.
I’m (tragically) monolingual, and our Te Reo lessons have shown me how crucial language is as a medium of not just communication, but of seeing and understanding. Learning how certain terms and pronunciation conventions have emerged is also a window onto history. You learn a lot more than vocabulary and syntax when you learn a language, and taking these Te Reo classes has made me think differently about the whenua, about how we regard one another, how we keep our dead present, and how we make and share knowledge.
Do you see any particular benefits or disadvantages of taking Te Reo with a group of your colleagues?
Yes, hopefully we’ll get to the point where we’re chatting with each other in reo over the water cooler. Except we don’t have a water cooler. It’s also great learning with people I already know and trust.
I think that taking Te Reo is a fantastic thing to do as a workplace; it emphasises the importance that the Centre for Science in Society places on mātauranga Māori. For me personally, it means that learning Te Reo is a priority that is in my calendar every week, rather than it being something I always want to do but never quite get around too. I have found taking Te Reo lessons with my hoamahi to be a bonding experience and something that has positively influenced our day-to-day centre life.
I have loved sharing this path with my work whanau so far, and it certainly ends up being about much more than Te Reo. We learn together, but we also help each other, we push each other, we share and we laugh a lot. We have learnt not to take our mistakes and imperfections too seriously, but just as an encouragement to get better and go every time a bit further. It’s a great team building experience!
Is there anything in particular that you liked or disliked about your collective Te Reo learning experience?
During Alert Level 4 our Zoom lessons were also an ātaahua (beautiful) way to spend time together learning. I think the lessons helped us to connect during that time.
I love the togetherness, and ofcourse our awesome teacher, I’m biased though ?
Finally, is there something you’d like to share about the classes or your experience with Te Reo that would be good for our readers to engage with as part of Te Wiki of Te Reo Māori?
Tāwhana is awesome, political and good natured in equal measure. He doesn’t hold back on his opinions, and it’s amazing when he talks about the wider background of kīwaha, whakatauki or kupu.
As we spend even the smallest amount of time we will learn new things, it gives us a chance to stop and to listen, it gives us a chance to learn instead of teach, it gives us a chance to share in a safe space amongst friends.
Before starting proper weekly classes with my work whanau I had tried to study a bit of Te Reo independently, trying to cut some time here and there, but somehow I wasn’t progressing as much as I wanted to. Although the book I was using was phenomenal and my brain is relatively well wired for language learning, I really needed that extra push that only a weekly appointment with a group of people with the same objective could give me. Since I started my Te Reo classes I have been able to progress with my independent study as well, I carry my book to my kids’ swimming lessons, rugby training and I use that time for myself. And the further I get the more I enjoy it! So definitely, give Te Reo a go!
He tauira au. I am a student. He tino hē taku kōrero, engari kei te ako au. My speech is very incorrect, but I am learning. We learn by doing, so I try to practice what I know on my own and with my hoamahi, and aim to learn a little more each week.
I am so appreciative of everyone’s time and thoughtful answers to these really important questions. He tino mihi ahau e hoa!
As an anthropologist I see language as a gateway into a culture and intimate understanding of ways of lives. As an immigrant, bi-lingual attempting tri-lingual status, mother (and teacher) of a toddler, living, working, and loving in Aotearoa it has been a dream to learn Te Reo under the patient guidance of Tāwhana and have the support of the amazing people that make up the CSiS whanau through this journey.
Together, with each other’s support, ‘Kia Kaha Te Reo Māori’