Mandarin helps to save te reo

Last updated 05:00 13/06/2014
Te Reo Tuatahi
Ria Elkington

FOUNDING FOUR: The concept for Te Reo Tuatahi was thought up by the programme’s Coordinator Raewyn Harrison, Takapuna Normal Intermediate School principal Owen Alexander, Windy Ridge School principal Brenda McPherson and programme coordinator Jo Shelford.

Dr Richard Benton and  Maori Language Commission spokeswoman Hinemoa Awatere
GUESTS: Linguistics expert Dr Richard Benton and Maori Language Commission spokeswoman Hinemoa Awatere.
Maanu Paul
IMPRESSED: New Zealand Maori Council member Maanu Paul was moved after seeing the children speaking te reo.

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A pioneering move to keep the Maori language draws inspiration from an unlikely source.

The success of a Mandarin language programme taught in schools by the Confucius Institute has sparked the introduction of similar lessons in Maori at 22 North Shore schools.

Takapuna Intermediate principal Owen Alexander says it's a simple but effective programme that he hopes will spread nationwide.

"If we can make it work here on the North Shore then it can work anywhere," Alexander says.

"One of the problems we were facing was there weren't enough qualified teachers who could come into our mainstream schools, who could speak and teach te reo.

"With the language assistant model in place it means that anyone who can speak Maori fluently can be trained to become a language assistant.

"A kaiawhina reo [Maori language assistant] delivers the lessons in te reo, with the teacher present, and both students and teachers are learning te reo," he says.

Many high profile guests attended a ceremony at Takapuna Intermediate School to acknowledge the efforts of the schools and officially launch Te Reo Tuatahi (First language).

Maori Language Commission spokeswoman Hinemoa Awatere says the programme is very inspiring.

"Maori language is in a critical status and it has been in a gradual decline for many years because it is not being spoken in everyday situations. What they have done here is amazing.

"By teaching the language in mainstream schools it's spread out into children's daily lives and ensures the language survives."

Children from Takapuna Intermediate performed and spoke in te reo during the powhiri officially launching the project.

Maanu Paul from the Maori Council spoke in Maori, saying how wonderful it is to see children of different races speaking the language.

The programme also intrigues Dr Richard Benton who attended the launch. His research on the critical status of the Maori language influenced many te reo revival movements including kura kaupapa or Maori language schools.

"It is great to see Benton here. His research was one of the main forces behind te reo becoming a national language," Awatere says.

Benton says it's wonderful to see the programme working.

"It is what we need to do and the language is for everyone so it is great to see.

"They have virtually no money for it but because the demand is there they have found a way to make it work."

The schools have paid for the project but hope to get government funding.

"We have made some cutbacks in other areas and I know other schools would have got on board as well but haven't been able to find the means to do so,"Alexander says.

Windy Ridge School principal Brenda McPherson says they are humbled by the response from the schools involved.

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"We have close to 5000 students participating in the Te Reo Tuatahi programme and the demand to have it taught is growing."

- North Shore Times

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