I was too lazy for te reo Māori - Changing a habit of a lifetime video

How to say te reo Māori place names

OPINION: For me, learning te reo Māori is a privilege – especially as Ngāti Pākehā.

And to be taught about such an important and beautiful reo (language) and ahurea (culture) that has greatly shaped – and continues to shape – this country is a privilege I believe all Kiwis should be afforded. 

When I started attending beginner reo classes with Te Wānanga o Aotearoa in March, I was someone who said Acka-rowa (Akaroa), Kye-cora (Kaikōura) and Om-aroo (Ōamaru) 75 per cent of the time, as that was my default.

I wanted to be accurate and respectful, but it was a habit of a lifetime and I was nervous about attempting the correct pronunciations and screwing them up. And – while I don't like to admit it – I was lazy.

While at primary school in Ōtautahi (Christchurch) in the early 1990s, I learnt a small amount of reo Māori and once stayed on a marae for a few days. But that's where my token reo and tikanga (custom) education ended.

I gave it little thought until a few years ago when I started to realise just how ignorant I was about such a massive part of my country's – and therefore my – identity. I was ashamed.

More than 160 people are learning the basics of te reo Māori, including the correct pronunciation of Māori place names ...
JASON DORDAY/STUFF

More than 160 people are learning the basics of te reo Māori, including the correct pronunciation of Māori place names at evening classes at Auckland's Unitec.

After returning from a life abroad, this year was the year I set about changing my ways.

Māori is a relatively easy reo to learn. After six months of level two Certificate in Te Ara Reo Māori akomanga (classes), it seems to me to be logical – much easier than the oft inexplicable English. For starters there are just five vowels and 10 consonants and every letter you see is pronounced.

My 431 fellow tauira (students) in Ōtautahi span every ethnicity, age and walks of life. We are all treated the same and encourage each other, led by our passionate and supportive kaiako (teachers) and kaiāwhina (teaching assistants) who make it both rewarding and fun.

Why I learned te reo Māori

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There's some sort of saying out there about learning being a journey and, while I still have a couple more months until the course is complete, fitting in three hours of class a week, noho marae (marae stays) and wānanga (forums) around a demanding work schedule and other commitments has, at times, been a battle.

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But the kaiako and kaiāwhina want us to achieve and do their best to see us right – even when we don't do our homework. 

​Māori is one of two official spoken languages of Aotearoa, and while it often doesn't seem to be treated as so, I am one of 3850 tauira in 32 towns and cities across the nation studying te wānanga level two course this year. Student numbers are up almost 60 per cent on five years ago. And that's just the wānanga, let alone all the other tertiary institutes and kura (schools) offering lessons. Te reo Māori is in good hands.

STUFF

How to say some of New Zealand's most commonly mispronounced place names

"Ko te reo to taikura o te whakaao mārama – The language is the key to understanding".

And, as a side note on understanding, Stuff has just adopted the use of macrons on Māori words, which I applaud (better late than never, as they say). For those who aren't so sure about their importance, I present to you one case study: tāra means dollar, while tara means vagina. Macrons matter.

Jo Gilbert is a news director in Stuff's Waitaha (Canterbury) newsroom. As part of Te Wiki o te reo Māori, Māori Language Week, we're taking a look at why so many of us mispronounce Kiwi place names.

 - Stuff

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