Tania's language the missing piece

DEENA COSTER
Last updated 05:00 23/07/2014
Tania Hodges-Paul
DEENA COSTER/Fairfax NZ
LIFELONG JOURNEY: Tania Hodges-Paul.

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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 Kahungunu descent.

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

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.

It wasn't until she decided to study toward a diploma in early childhood education that she was reintroduced to the language.

"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 past 10 years, her language skills are back and she can pass them onto others.

She was grateful for her experience with kohanga reo as 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."

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

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

However, it is the times she is called upon to use her reo during tangi or powhiri that she is most nervous about.

"It's those on-the-spot moments I am most fearful about," 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 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 took 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."

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