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Maori language in crisis

KARINA ABADIA
Last updated 05:00 05/03/2014
Susan Warren
ACTION NEEDED: Comet Auckland CEO Susan Warren says the government should do more to ensure Maori language is preserved.

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It might be one of our official languages but Maori language will not survive unless more New Zealanders start learning it, a cross-sector educational group says.

The Auckland Regional Languages Strategy Group is urging the Minister of Maori Affairs and the Maori Language Commission to include a separately funded section in the draft Maori Language Strategy promoting Maori for all New Zealanders.

Comet Auckland chief executive Susan Warren, who co-ordinates the group, says it's worrying that Maori language is in decline.

According to the 2013 Census, 21.3 per cent of Maori can hold a conversation about everyday topics in Maori, which is a 4.8 per cent decrease from the 2006 Census.

There needs to be much more emphasis in the strategy on the role of education, she says.

"We don't just need funding, we need policy support. There's a lot of stuff in the strategy about iwi and whanau taking responsibility, which is really good but they need to be resourced and supported and government has a responsibility there."

The cognitive benefits of learning a language from a young age are clear and yet most of the language learning is at intermediate and high school levels.

"It's wonderful that there are some primary schools which offer Maori immersion, bilingual and sometimes enrichment classes.

"But unfortunately the vast majority of even Maori students are in full immersion English language classes with little or no opportunity to learn the language through school."

Maori culture and language is one of the key things that makes New Zealand unique, Mrs Warren says.

By learning Maori New Zealanders can gain a deeper understanding of the culture and there are also benefits to trade and tourism, she says.

"The rest of the world is multi-lingual.

"It's only English speakers who aren't and even many English speaking nations are taking steps to become multi-lingual."

Wales is a good example, she says.

"You can do your entire education in Welsh. Why shouldn't we be able to do that here? That's what gets you the critical mass of people for a language to thrive.

"Wouldn't it be fantastic if everyone could speak English, te reo Maori and another language of their choice?"

Newton Central School principal Hoana Pearson says for Maori to flourish it needs to be normalised in everyday language.

Twenty ethnic groups are represented at the primary school and every child can speak some Maori, she says.

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The school has total immersion and bilingual units.

The achievement levels of the majority of students who are enrolled in the Maori language pathways at Newton Central School are equal or better than their peers in mainstream classes, she says.

"It's critical that everyone learn Maori. Learning another language is enhancing for everybody, particularly te reo which is deeply connected to this land and its people."

- Auckland City Harbour News

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