Tamariki korero i te reo - not just this week

LOUISE BERWICK
Last updated 05:00 22/07/2014
tamariki
ROBYN EDIE/ Fairfax NZ

HAPPY TAMARIKI: Trisha Edwin-Raimona, 4, Te Ahua o Peni Karena Tutapu, 1, and Jessie Sullivan-Hura, 3, read a book at Te Kohanga Reo I Nga Hau E Wha in Conon St.

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Four children collapse on to the floor and utter a string of beautifully spoken words.

These aren't youngsters mastering their first language, these are toddlers and tamariki who are already bilingual.

At Te Kohanga Reo I Nga Hau E Wha, Maori Language Week is nothing special. Every day the language is used, whispered, sung and even yelled by children.

It's like any other kindergarten, but these tamariki have a special role in New Zealand's future; they are the key to keeping the Maori language alive.

Trisha Edwin-Raimona, 4, gracefully talks about her stuffed unicorn. She doesn't stop to use English and barely takes a breath.

Her kaiako (teacher), Leigh Raimona, said some of the children's Maori language skills slipped during the holidays, when they were not immersed in it all the time. But most of them were quick to pick it back up, she said.

"Maori is not just a verbal language; you have actions that go with it too."

The kohanga is modest from the outside but inside Maori words decorate the walls, along with paintings, arts and crafts.

It is the oldest kohanga in the South Island and class photos of the children who have learnt the language and the culture since 1982 cover the walls.

Raimona's is among them. Along with her siblings, she attended the kohanga before going heading to mainstream schools.

"If it wasn't for these [kohanga], we probably wouldn't have new native speakers today."

She fell in love with the language and, as soon as she could, returned to using it. "It was something I always held on to."

She began teaching it in kohanga and, when the position at her childhood kohanga arose, she jumped at the opportunity to return, moving from Mataura to take up the role.

The kohanga is one of six in the city but Raimona said the Conon St one was the smallest. Despite having only five children, though, Raimona is kept busy. There are waiata to sing, whakaahua to draw and pukapuka to read.

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