Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Te Reo Māori in schools: let's just start

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  • Bart Janssen,

    I caught the end of the free school milk years (they really did just leave it out in the sun)

    Pffft In Palmerston North the wind kept it cold any time of year.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4460 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Stewart,

    I didn't get much more than the basics of te reo in primary school in the 90s (colours, greetings, that sort of thing) but I took it for four years at secondary school and I've never been sorry I did; it made me feel so much more at home in my own country. Even when I don't understand something fully, and I was never fluent, I have the tools to work out what's being said with time and some prompting from a dictionary.

    It did bemuse me how kids dropped away as we went through school - there were a lot of people taking Maori in third form, but by sixth I was the only Pakeha kid still sticking it out (despite the curious fact that our teacher that year was an Englishman who'd married a Maori woman and dedicated himself to becoming fluent.) It clearly wasn't seen as a priority once you got into the NCEA years, even though that was the point where we were starting to write essays and read texts and actually learn to use the language beyond the bones of it - I wonder if there was more exposure to it in primary school whether that would change.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2105 posts Report Reply

  • bob daktari,

    Totally agree - I too feel the lack of Te Reo Maori in my education and now adult life... I struggle with the most basic pronunciation

    auckland • Since Dec 2006 • 540 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart,

    My cousin started teaching in the mid-seventies. She was assigned to a rural school near Whanganui, and the kids would cheek the teachers in Maori. She rapidly learned a lot of words you don't find in dictionaries.

    In the mid-eighties, she was teaching in a small rural school on the West Coast. Once for assembly, she taught the kids to sing "Five Little Fishes" in Maori. After multiple complaints from the parents, she was taken aside and instructed never to do it again.

    Maori became a language option at my high school in 1989, after Japanese. This despite us being a progressive school and all the buildings being labeled in Maori as well as English.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4651 posts Report Reply

  • artig,

    In the 1950s the milk was left out in the sun, too.

    The primary school I attended, despite being called a Maori school, had no teaching of te reo at all. The Maori children were discouraged from learning or speaking their own language. Unfortunately.

    BoP • Since Oct 2010 • 41 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    Just a comment about learning second languages. It is a myth that children learn languages faster than adults.

    The problem for adults is that usually they attempt to learn the second language at the same time as doing many other things and hence apply themselves less intensely to the task. Children are often in an environment where they have to learn to be understood and hence are very strongly motivated to focus on the task and are also faced with fewer things to learn at the same time so spend more time and effort on the task.

    That said I personally find languages less than easy and always have, even as a child. I can do "sorry" "thank you" and "hello" in several languages as a result of travel but not much more.

    I find myself with mixed feelings about Maori. As a scientist the language of science is now English, so attempts to teach science in a language that other than English annoy me. But learning any language is good for the brain and Maori has a special place in New Zealand. Also languages open a window into cultures, just as we discovered that saying sorry in some languages is complex because apologies are culturally different, so learning Maori offers up the opportunity to see some of the culture that is not obvious.

    I can see pluses in teaching Maori in schools and can't see minuses, everything you learn helps, so yeah go for it.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4460 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Campbell,

    yes I suffered through gagging on warm milk (and the itinerant dental nurses) of the early 60s – and I too feel a lack, something missing – when I moved back from my 20 year OE in ’04 it was obvious that things had changed and I was missing out on an important part of NZ

    I think some Maori should be a part of basic NZ literacy

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 2622 posts Report Reply

  • irkstyle,

    I'm working in a school that has embraced Maori tikanga and kawa as a way to strengthen the way the tutors teach and the students learn. It's been a fascinating experience to see a version of a bicultural organisation in evolution. For me, it's led to conversations about te reo and the inextricable link between the language and some version of spirituality (outside of the organisation). Bound up in all of that is the very different worldviews that Maori work in - the structures and relationships that dictate behaviour in certain situations.
    I have so many thoughts on this that I am struggling to articulate them.

    Since Oct 2008 • 5 posts Report Reply

  • irkstyle, in reply to bob daktari,

    Find someone who will help you with the mouthfeel of the vowels. Don't look at the words - from experience, that's often what trips people up.

    Since Oct 2008 • 5 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    Not everyone needs to be able to converse fluently and, indeed, to gain that ability as an adult is a considerable achievement. (My Media Take co-host Toi Iti and his wife Tipare took a year off their jobs to take a full-immersion course to get themselves to the level of their kura-educated children.)

    No, but damn it... being able to manage the basics without committing linguistic GBH -- is it really that hard to manage? I was faintly embarrassed traveling through Europe a couple of years back and finding most people just found it easier to conduct a fairly simple English conversation than try and make something out of my very basic German, and basically non-existent phrasebook Dutch, Danish and Swedish.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • bob daktari, in reply to irkstyle,

    mouthfeel, is pretty much it - must admit some english words I also have the same problem with, if I work at it I can get both languages right, until the next time.

    I hope the next generations of kiwis didn't get to an age when they regret not being taught and exposed to Maori language, culture and history as part of their education

    auckland • Since Dec 2006 • 540 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to bob daktari,

    I wasn't joking about 'A.E.I.O.U.' -- the vowel sounds being part of a chorus makes it a great mnemonic. Where vowels are combined in a word, combine the two basic vowel sounds and you'll be close to the mark:

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22848 posts Report Reply

  • Ruditee,

    From just having a basic working knowledge of pronounciation the confidence gained by the general public would be a beautiful thing. Complete ignorance is not bliss.

    Taamaki • Since Jul 2014 • 2 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    attempts to teach science in a language that other than English annoy me

    So Chinese and German children shouldn't learn science until their English skills are up to understanding books and lessons in Natures Own Language?

    Besides, education is holistic. Learning science (or any subject) isn't just about enabling those taking the subject at university to have an expected level of knowledge. All subjects build numeracy and literacy (if taught properly) and learning science in Te Reo is a good vehicle to help pupils with an interest in science learn Maori (as well as to help those focused on Te Reo to learn science).

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • Kumara Republic, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    I was faintly embarrassed traveling through Europe a couple of years back and finding most people just found it easier to conduct a fairly simple English conversation than try and make something out of my very basic German, and basically non-existent phrasebook Dutch, Danish and Swedish.

    Everyone remembers the cuss words, though. ;)

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5441 posts Report Reply

  • Francisco Blaha,

    I grow up with my mum speaking spanish to me, my dad german and everyone else in the village spoke Guarani (Uruguay, Paraguay are guarani words). I'm very thankful for that. A study I read about some years ago compared learning languages to partitioning a hard drive and installing a new operating system. it said that the 1st partition is the most challenging, but every one after it becomes easier. I'm a self employed fisheries biologist able to work in 4 languages at the present, and while I never used guarani outside the village, many of its grammatical structures I found very similar to polynesian languages. When you learn a language as a kid you also learn a "different way of thinking" about the same things in your standard language, and that makes you curious and enhances your critical thinking. And that can only be good!

    Since Dec 2006 • 18 posts Report Reply

  • Sophie Fern,

    Growing up in Belgium, I started French at 2 (when I say "started" I mean "was put into a French speaking kindergarden"), Flemish at 6, German at 12 and Spanish at 14. I get the Flemish and German incredibly mixed up, and have a differing amounts of fluency but can often get by, with arm waving. I don't know if academically it's an advantage but being able to talk to people in their own language, even when you make a mess of it, is a huge amount of fun.
    The year I started teaching at Otago, the university offered free places for staff on the introductory Maori course, which was brilliantly taught and now means I don't make a total idiot of myself trying to pronounce words correctly. I'd love to do more.

    Hobart, Australia • Since Jun 2011 • 7 posts Report Reply

  • Ruditee,

    Besides, education is holistic.

    Communication is more than just "English", lets not forget how visual, tactile and sensory science (and any other topic) also is. Some of these concepts are beautifully described and portrayed in other languages. I see no problem in having a wealth of linguistic concepts to draw on!

    Taamaki • Since Jul 2014 • 2 posts Report Reply

  • John Holley,

    I was lucky, as the son of a soldier, my primary school days had meant my classes had a mix of brown and white faces, but that changed at secondary school :(

    What I am eternally grateful is being part of an organisation, Ngati Tumataenga (The NZ Army), that embraces and supports te reo Māori and tikanga Māori. We are not perfect, but I do know that it stands us apart from our allies whom we work with. It is something we all treasure and are immensely proud of.

    Some background if you are not familiar with the journey the NZ Army has undergone - it doesn't happen over night - it takes decades

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 142 posts Report Reply

  • Mr Mark,

    "unnervingly close to the 1950s"

    Whoa there ! That sounds like Boomer talk to me !

    Let's not get too carried away with the Jock Phillips version of post-war social history. You know, the one in which anyone unlucky enough to be born before the saintly Boomers arrived is cast as some sort of uber-conservative, ultra-conformist pantomime villain while the chosen generation born 1946-54 (first-wave Boomers) are apparently all wonderfully enlightened, progressive and liberal.

    My (Pakeha) Grandma, as it happens, was one of a number of Labour Party activists who in the early 50s, put forward a remit to the Labour Party Conference (either 1952 or 53, can't remember which) that called for compulsory Maori language and culture classes in New Zealand schools. The remit was defeated, obviously, but the point is: things were already beginning to stir by the 50s.

    Or, to put it another way, there certainly were progressives before the (highly self-promotional) Boomers arrived and, equally, more than a few Boomers are deeply conservative. Significantly more, in fact, than the current Boomer-centric historiographical Orthodoxy would have us believe.

    Wellington • Since Dec 2009 • 128 posts Report Reply

  • Brent Jackson,

    Hear hear !

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 620 posts Report Reply

  • Ewan Morris,

    Nga mihi nui o te Wiki o te Reo Maori ki a koutou katoa!

    I have to give some credit to the NZ Herald for its coverage of Maori Language Week, including running Maori translations of some articles during the Week. Meanwhile in the Dominion Post - only a few token mentions of the Week, and no articles in Maori.

    It would be great to get to the point where newspapers were regularly running columns written in Maori.

    Since Nov 2006 • 48 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Stewart, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    No, but damn it… being able to manage the basics without committing linguistic GBH – is it really that hard to manage? I was faintly embarrassed traveling through Europe a couple of years back and finding most people just found it easier to conduct a fairly simple English conversation than try and make something out of my very basic German, and basically non-existent phrasebook Dutch, Danish and Swedish.

    My main problem in Germany last year was picking up phrases quickly enough to apparently *sound* like I spoke some German when I ordered things, and then have to explain that I didn't actually when I got a rapid-fire response. In some ways just asking if they spoke English upfront produced less confusion, but I felt like I should give it a go while I was there.

    I think the key thing about learning language early is actually the grammar. Vocab you can pick up as needed, but once you understand the structure of language - tenses, verbs, objects, subjects - you can parse sentences and figure out what the unfamiliar words in a sentence must mean. And so much of the meaning of a language is in how the words are strung together, rather than what the words are.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2105 posts Report Reply

  • Chris Waugh, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    I was faintly embarrassed traveling through Europe

    That's a bit unnecessary, Craig. The world is full of languages and you're never going to learn any more than a handful of them, no matter how hard you try. We've always had lingua francas, and always will, for precisely that reason. It's not the travellers unable to converse in the local language that irritate me, it's those living there long-term who make no effort to learn, and there's unfortunately no shortage of them.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 2401 posts Report Reply

  • Chris Waugh, in reply to Lucy Stewart,

    My main problem in Germany last year was picking up phrases quickly enough to apparently *sound* like I spoke some German when I ordered things,

    I had the same problem in Norway, and telling people in Norwegian that I didn't understand and asking them to speak English did not help, they just kept speaking to me in Norwegian.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 2401 posts Report Reply

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