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Native tongue has place in classroom

JONATHON HOWE - CHIEF OF STAFF
Last updated 12:00 25/07/2014

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OPINION: There is likely to be staunch opposition to calls to make teaching te reo compulsory in schools, but the benefits of having a greater command of our nation's second language are evident.

While launching the Mana Party's te reo policy, Mana's Waiariki candidate Annette Sykes said one of the ways to save the fading language would be to make it compulsory, and give it the same prominence as subjects such as English and maths.

Mana's calls follow similar suggestions from Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples and former Prime Minister Jim Bolger, now Waikato University's chancellor, this month.

Maori language is everywhere in New Zealand. It's in our place names, it's used on television and radio programmes, and we even have a week dedicated to celebrating its existence.

It is an intrinsic part of what it is to be a New Zealander.

But, unfortunately, it is a language in decline. About 4 per cent of all New Zealanders can now speak it, while the total number of Maori speaking the language dropped from 25 per cent in 1996 to 21.3 per cent in 2013.

These figures need to be reversed as we would lose something special and unique to our country if we were to let Maori language become extinct.

Increased learning of te reo not only offers insight into New Zealand's culture and history, but it can also alleviate uncomfortable situations.

It can be awkward for a non-speaker to sit through a korero or powhiri in complete ignorance of what's being said.

Even someone as revered in Maoridom as Te Tai Hauauru MP Tariana Turia admitted in a recent interview that her biggest challenge was her lack of te reo.

Certainly one of the obstacles faced by the implementation of such a plan would be in the logistics. There may not be enough fluent speakers in New Zealand to competently teach Maori language in every school.

There is also a large cross section of our population who either don't see the need for it to be compulsory or who think it should be up to individuals to choose.

While we don't all grow up to be writers or accountants, it is generally accepted that we need at least a basic understanding of English and maths if we are to function in society. This same principle can also be applied to te reo.

If we are to retain an important part of our identity, then it is imperative for New Zealanders to reconnect with the Maori language, even if this means ruffling a few feathers.

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- Manawatu Standard

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