Maori language: use it or lose it

Last updated 05:00 23/07/2014

Don't be shy, have a try and make this Maori language week count.

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Reclaiming a missing part of her identity is something one Waitara woman will be forever thankful for.

A decision to learn te reo at the age of 30 came about when Tania Hodges-Paul's life was at a crossroads.

After spending some time volunteering at the Nga Pekanga kohanga reo in Waitara, she decided to take the leap into total immersion te reo education.

''I was like a fish out of water,'' said Hodges-Paul, who is of Ngati Mutunga, Ngati Tama, Nga Puhi and Ngati Kahungungu descent.

After eight months spent in a total immersion environment, she was then approached to work as a teacher at Te Kopae Tamariki Kia u Te Reo Kohanga Reo in New Plymouth.  She said during her five years there she was provided invaluable assistance which helped develop her reo.

''There was lots of support,'' she said.

However, after changing to a job where she did not use Maori on a day to day basis, she said she ''lost'' the language and also found herself using it less and less at home as well.

And it wasn't until she decided to study toward a diploma in early childhood education that she was reintroduced back to it.

''It was like I had to relearn the reo all over again,'' said the mother of four.

Now working at Te Kopae Piripono, where she has been for the last 10 years, not only are her language skills back but she is now in a position to pass them onto others.

She said she was grateful for her experience with kohanga reo in that it also gave her a greater understanding of te ao Maori - or the Maori world -  and her place within it.

''Without it I wouldn't know what it would be like to be Maori,'' she said.

Hodges-Paul said although she attended regular te reo night classes, she still considered herself to be a beginner.

''My journey is life long,'' she said.

Another more recent development has been her introduction to the world of kapahaka after joining a group last year.

She said she had been able to learn Ngati Mutunga waiata, something she had always wanted to do, along with some poi moves.

But it is the times she is called upon to use her reo during tangi or powhiri which she admitted she was most nervous about.

''It's those on the spot moments that I am most fearful about now,'' she said.

But it remains a natural part of who she is when she is at home with friends and family, including her mokopuna, an achievement she  puts down to time and her own self-confidence with te reo.

''It just flows,'' she said.

With the free courses available for people to learn Maori, Hodges-Paul said anyone could take up the opportunity but she urged them to take their time and be kind to themselves if they did decided to take that step.

''No matter how difficult it becomes, keep going, keep at it, take a rest if you need to but never give up - kia kaha, kia maia, kia manawanui,'' she said.

Favourite whakatauki or proverb:

Ahakoa he iti, he pounamu
The smallest thing is the most precious

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