Haimona Maruera remembers his first day at primary school vividly.
He wasn't able to understand what the teacher was saying and had to muddle through lessons by following his other classmates.
The reason he felt like that was because at that point in his life, he had only ever spoken Maori and did not understand English.
Exposed to te reo from birth, he grew up with his grandparents in Patea and spent a lot of time at Pariroa Marae in Kakaramea.
To any suggestion he was disadvantaged, he responds: "I think I was really lucky when I look back."
Although never formally taught English, Maruera heard it and used it during the school day but continued to speak te reo at home and on the weekends.
A knowledge of both languages has opened a lot of doors for Maruera, including in his current role as regional manager at Te Wananga o Aotearoa.
His ability to converse bilingually allows him to relate to different stakeholders in the work he does promoting the institution's different programmes to professionals and students.
While based in Palmerston North, Maruera also carries out a number of roles on behalf of his iwi, Ngati Ruanui. These provide him with the chance to use his reo on marae or during other functions.
Confidence from kaumatua in his language abilities has been paramount to the success he had achieved within his iwi at such a relatively young age.
"If you're not competent or confident enough to give it back, you are always going to be on the back foot," the 37-year-old said.
Maruera said various iwi programmes had been organised post its 2003 treaty settlement, to build on the use and understanding of te reo for members.
Maruera said a karanga wananga was held every three months along with a course which focused on teaching men about their role on the paepae.
Although Maori Language Week helped to raise the general public's awareness of te reo, one of the challenges for iwi was to lure some of their own back, he said.
"How do we get the good teachers and te reo facilitators into the game or back home?" he said.
He said central government also had a role to play regarding the ongoing promotion of te reo, which has been an official language of New Zealand since 1987.
Television advertising or bilingual signs were two ideas Maruera said could be easily implemented to assist with this, along with people pronouncing simple phrases correctly in their everyday conversation. "It would be nice to hear in every shop you walk into people saying kia ora."
- Taranaki Daily News
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