Learning te reo would benefit all Kiwis, singer says

Raglan songbird Anna Coddington "regretfully" says she's not a fluent speaker of te reo but has high hopes her baby boy, Arlo, will benefit from moves to make teaching Maori language compulsory.

The pop artist, of Ngati Tuwharetoa and Te Arawa descent, said "the line" or connection between te reo and children was broken during her generation as many parents thought the future relied on English ahead of Maori.

"But I did grow up with the basics and definitely with much of the tikanga. Mum took us down to our marae a lot when we were little.

"So my point is, despite not speaking te reo, I have a Maori world view and I don't deliberately reference any of it in my music but I think it comes across now and then."

Coddington has released two albums (The Lake, 2008, and Cat & Bird, 2011) and often contemplated the idea of writing and recording a te reo Maori album. But that would not become reality, she said, until she was a fluent speaker of Maori language.

"I would want to be able to use the whole pallete, so to speak, if I were to write an album in te reo, not just the section I happen to know."

Coddington won the Best Maori Female Solo Artist award at the 2011 New Zealand Waiata Maori Music Awards and was a finalist in the 2013 APRA Silver Scholl Award.

She was among the Maori singers who contributed to He Rangi Paihuarere, a tribute album to the late singer, composer and poet, Hirini Melbourne. Coddington re-recorded Melbourne's Purea Nei for the project and performed the song at the 2012 Maori music awards.

"I wouldn't be confident at this stage to pen and perform a song in te reo. But with this [tribute album] project, I was given a beautiful, finished song to have my way with so it was very neat."

She believes there is an unrealised business case to promote Maori language music to the world, with te reo singers such as Maisey Rika and Ria Hall already attracting international appeal.

"We all know that Maori culture is the thing that really makes our country unique, so it makes sense that it's valued internationally as there is no competition.

"People really love to experience other cultures, just look at Womad."

Coddington took time while living in Auckland a few years ago to study te reo at AUT night classes.

And, while her reo is "definitely better", she contends it was taught as a "standardised version".

"Even if I gain fluency this way it won't quite be the same language variation/dialect I would have spoken had it been handed down naturally via my mum.

"I have an MA in linguistics and the linguist in me gets sad about that and the fact that in turn I can't pass it on to my son.

"My brother is fluent in te reo because he stayed in the bilingual unit at Raglan Area School until around fifth form, but it was just starting out when I went through that school and I missed out."

The focus is now on creating an avenue for Arlo (born December 2013) to learn te reo as he grows.

"I korero to him a little bit: ‘e kai pepi!' or ‘e noho bubba' as well as ‘me haere taua ki te park' and ‘i pehea to moe?' So at least he grows up with the ahua of it being natural to him."

Coddington believes in the value of Te Wiki o Te Reo Maori and in the past couple of days has heard te reo used on television, supermarkets and radio.

"But this is how it should be all the time. Controversial, but my belief is that it should be compulsory to learn Maori at school from age 5 to around 12.

"Learning a second language doesn't affect the ability in the first language or confuse kids as some believe.

"In fact, the opposite is true. Up until the age of 12 is the best time to learn a second language as our ability to acquire a new language rapidly starts decreasing from this age, yet most schools only start offering languages from this age."

Coddington said it was sad to hear Maori language be described as "endangered".

"It would take a big effort to reverse that situation but I think it would be worth it for everyone, not just Maori.

"Monolingual is boring and, internationally, it's quite unusual. Having te reo more widely spoken would make New Zealand cool." 

Waikato Times