Learn to keep Maori language alive

DEENA COSTER
Last updated 05:00 24/07/2014

Maori language week: Day four

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Developing new avenues where te reo can be spoken is one way to keep the language alive, according to one Taranaki expert in the field.

Dr Ruakere Hond, who is of Taranaki, Ngati Ruanui and Te Atiawa descent,  said building te reo capacity in the community was one way it could become self-sustaining.

''You create an internal, inter-generational momentum of language use,'' he said.

Hond, who was conferred with a PhD in May, said language survival had its roots in the family home, the place where his own journey with te reo began.

Brought up in Hamilton, Hond said although he heard Maori being spoken from time to time when he visited Taranaki or attended church mass, it was his mother's decision to learn te reo when he was at high school, which changed things for him.

Although he had studied Maori as an academic subject throughout secondary school, he was not able to speak it.
''I could write till the cows came home, but my ability to speak was limited,'' he said.

But following his mother's footsteps into the total immersion learning system known as Te Ataarangi changed that.

''Within a short amount of time, I spoke Maori,'' he said.

After initially deciding to study science at university, he became a teacher instead, starting off his career in a  kohanga reo classroom.

By the mid 1980s, Hond got involved in various language revitalisation projects, which have been the focus of his study and work since.

''I haven't really deviated from that,'' said Hond, who is also part of Te Reo o Taranaki Trust.

 Hond said although Taranaki lagged behind other regions in terms of language development, in other ways it was ahead of the game in terms of getting up to speed.

''There's a lot more enthusiasm to do something,'' he said.

His PhD research focussed on language revitalisation and the impact this has not only on the wellbeing of the person but on the community in which they live.

''We've actually got to look at the whole picture,'' he said.

And its that bigger picture thinking which now motivates the New Plymouth man.

''I'm very much focussed on what will make major changes within the Taranaki region,'' he said.

One way he suggested to achieve this was to invest in teaching children Maori at a younger age.

Hond said it took 2000 hours of focussed learning to become proficient in te reo and by ensuring this happened at an earlier stage, not only would it increase social and cultural competence, but savings could also be made in an economic sense.

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''There are significant gains to be made,'' he said.

A bigger strategy like that is complemented by activities like Maori Language Week, Hond said.

''It helps people stop and think that there is more to their lives than they are used to,'' he said.

And although he hoped more non-Maori would choose to learn about te reo and the indigenous culture, he encouraged people to look beyond books or the newspaper for an increased understanding.

''It's far more relevant and personal if it's actually conveyed face to face,'' he said.

Favourite whakatauki or proverb:

Ka whati te tī, ka wana te tī, ka rito te tī
When the tī is destroyed, it builds its inner strength, then begins to grow again (ti is an abbreviation for tī rākau commonly known as the cabbage tree)

- Taranaki Daily News

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