How To Learn Māori Language In The Twenty-First Century

In recent years we have seen a huge increase in the number of people in Aotearoa, both Māori and non-Māori (tauiwi) who want to learn the Māori language. Like many indigenous languages around the world, the Māori language has suffered a huge decline in the number of speakers and it is estimated that less than 5 percent of people today in Aotearoa can hold a conversation in the language. However, it is not all doom and gloom for the future of Te Reo Māori and there is currently a huge resurgence among people learning the language with night classes packed to capacity. With one of the most progressive native language revitalisation policies in the world, the New Zealand government aims to have one million speakers of Te Reo Māori by the year 2040. This dramatic ideological shift is the result of the persistent efforts of Māori language activists to elevate the mana or status of the language. Most would argue that the Government’s new policy is merely a dream and that the impact of colonisation and language loss is irreversible. However, I argue here, that with the advent of new technologies and strategies, the future of learning Māori, despite its severe decline, is bright.

The Rise of Te Reo Māori – Te Aranga Ake o Te Reo Māori

In 1869 an act of parliament was established in New Zealand called The Native Schools Act. Under this Act, thousands of Māori children were forbidden from speaking Māori in the school grounds. My kuia (grandmother) attended a Native School at Lake Waikaremoana in Te Urewera and was punished for speaking Māori at school. Her account of the punishment was that she was told to write on the blackboard: “I must not speak Māori”, 100 times. This English only policy continued for 100 years and finally, in 1969, the English only policy was abandoned and Māori language began being taught in schools and universities. However, the impact of this English only policy caused intergenerational trauma upon Māori and has led to a significant decline in the speaking of Māori language within the homes and in the communities of many whānau. Fortunately, in some areas such as Te Urewera, where I was bought up, the language was not lost and is still spoken in the homes and in the communities. However, for many other towns and cities in New Zealand, this was not the case.

In the 1970s and 1980s, a Māori language revolution took place in New Zealand which led to the establishment of the Kōhanga Reo and Kura Kaupapa Māori immersion schools. Māori language began being taught in mainstream schools and Māori language was recognised as an official language in 1987. As my kuia was a teacher in the local Kōhanga Reo, I was fortunate to be part of this new revitalisation movement. In 1988 I enrolled at Auckland University and during the university holidays, I would assist my kuia in teaching Māori to the children at Kōhanga Reo. In 1989 I was offered a part-time job tutoring Te Reo Māori at Auckland University. This part-time job was to change my life and would dedicate the rest of my adult life to teaching the Māori language.

By 1995 I had completed a Masters Degree with first-class honours in Māori history and took up a position as a lecturer in Māori language, culture and society. I began to teach Māori language, sociology and history at Auckland University. In 2000 I graduated with a Ph.D in Māori sociology. Although I was trained in sociology and history, I became, by virtue of the fact that I was a native speaker, a Māori language lecturer. This allowed me to practice and perfect my skills as a Māori language teacher. Between 2001 and 2015 I taught Māori language at the University of Hawaii (2000-2006), the University of Waikato (2006-2010) and Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi (2010-2015).

In early 2015 I decided to turn to my efforts, from teaching within a university environment, to language revitalisation within the government, corporate and community sectors. I changed careers and became a Te Reo Māori consultant, translator and advisor to government departments, local councils, iwi and community organisations as well as Māori Television. Having witnessed first-hand, the problems that people in the workplace faced, in trying to learn Te Reo Māori, I realised the only way to overcome the issue was to develop a new way of teaching Te Reo Māori. So, in 2015 I developed an online application for teaching the Māori language via a mobile app. In 2020, this has now evolved into a fully automated online programme and a course called Reo Ora, which I will explain soon.

The Background of Reo Ora – Ngā Pūtaketanga o Reo Ora

Over the last five years, the demand for Te Reo Māori and online courses has grown at a phenomenal rate. So, given the massive decline of Māori language speakers, and the lack of Te Reo teachers in New Zealand, how can we utilise these new technologies to revitalise Te Reo Māori and increase the number of speakers of the language? It was for these reasons that I developed the new online programme, you will learn more about soon, called Reo Ora.

The origins of Reo Ora emanate from an act of parliament called The Māori Language Act, 2016. Quite ironically, the philosophy of the Māori Language Act 2016 contradicts the Native Schools Act 1869 and aims to revitalise the Māori language rather than destroy the language. In 2017, this new Māori language strategy was established by the government and officially launched by Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, in February 2019. This new policy acknowledges the distinctive and complementary roles that both the New Zealand Government and iwi/Māori have for the revitalisation of Māori language over the next 20 years. The new policy represents a huge ideological shift in New Zealand society, from language genocide to language revitalisation.

The new policy of “Te Whare o Te Reo Mauriora” or “The House of the Living Language” uses the metaphor of a Māori meeting house to explain its strategy to revitalise the Māori language by 2040. On either side of the meeting, house are two maihi (barge boards). The two strategies that have been established by the New Zealand Government to promote the revitalisation of the Māori language are called the Maihi Māori strategy and the Maihi Karaunastrategy. The left maihi symbolises the Maihi Māori strategy which represents the goals of the tangata whenua of Aotearoa to revitalise the Māori language. The right maihi symbolises the Maihi Karauna strategy which represents the Crown’s strategy to revitalise the Māori language.

The audacious goals of the Maihi Māori strategy, between 2017 and 2040 are:

  • “One million people or more will be using Māori language in community immersion domains.”
  • “The Māori language will be the first language of 25% of all Māori children (aged between 0-7)”

The audacious goals of the Maihi Karauna strategy between 2017 and 2040 are:

  • “85% of New Zealanders (or more) will value Te Reo Māori as a key part of national identity.”
  • “One million New Zealanders (or more) can speak at least basic Te Reo Māori”
  • “150,000 Māori aged between 15 and over will use Te Reo Māori as much as English.”

Reo Ora are committed to achieving the goals of “Te Whare o te Reo Mauriora” and to help people (in both the Maihi Māori and Maihi Karauna sectors) to learn to speak te Reo Māori with an online coaching programme delivered through group-webinars, with an expert kaiwawao reo or language coach. We prefer the term “language coach” rather than tutor, teacher or lecturer because the relationship between the coach and the learner is two-way and equal, rather than a teacher or lecturer, where the relationship between the learner and teacher is one-way and based on a hierarchy. We typically work with local and central government departments, non-government and iwi organisations to help improve their staff proficiency levels in te reo Māori using the latest technologies and proven teaching methods and methodologies.  Reo Ora seek to promote and revitalise the Māori language, in both the Maihi Māori and Maihi Karauna sectors, by producing excellent results in the delivery of our Māori language programme.

Our mission is to achieve the goal of:

  • “One million New Zealanders or more will speak at least basic Te Reo Māori by 2040”

Reo Ora Teaching Methods and Methodologies – Ngā Tikanga me ngā Tukanga a Reo Ora

The teaching methods of Reo Ora (The Living Language) have been developed over 20 years of rigorous teaching practice, research, and IT development. We see ourselves as personal trainers, or gym instructors, who train and motivate our learners to learn and practice Te Reo Māori in their own time and at their own pace. We insist on self-discipline, hard work and a commitment to Right-Shift in your learning of Te Reo Māori. The teaching methodology is based on the ZePA model of language revitalisation. The ZePA model was created by a sociolinguist, Joshua Fishman (Reversing Language Shift). Basically, the ZePA model means Zero to Passive to Active.  Moreover, in learning a new language, a learner must Right-Shift in their learning from knowing nothing at all to becoming a Passive learner of a language to becoming an Active learner of a language.

If you have never learnt a language before, or know a few sentences or phrases of that language, you are a ZeroLearner. If you understand and speak a little bit of that language, but not competently or confidently, then you are a Passive learner. If you speak that language fluently with confidence, then you are an Active learner.

The goal of the Right-Shift strategy is to improve your level of proficiency in a language from Zero to Hero. In other words, if you are Zero learner, the goal is to improve your language level to a Passive learner. This means our goal is to Right-Shift you from a Zero learner, or knowing nothing at all, to a Passive learner, by teaching you how to correctly pronounce and memorise a certain number of words and phrases in that language.

If you are a Passive learner, our goal is to improve your proficiency level to an Active learner. In other words, our goal is to Right-Shift you from being able to understand and speak a little bit of that language (but not confidently) to becoming a fluent, confident speaker of that language.

How does the Reo Ora programme work? Pēhea nei te āhua o te hōtaka o Reo Ora?

Reo Ora is a will help committed people improve their Māori language competency and/or fluency within 6-12 weeks. The programme consists of:

  • A weekly online group webinar with a qualified and trained Māori language coach
  • A Progressive Web App with over 80 video tutorials, quizzes, graphic animations
  • A comprehensive e-book and textbook which provides the curriculum for the programme
  • Reo Ora has created an innovative and fun way of teaching te reo Māori, through its unique language teaching methodology (based on the ZePA model). This 6-12-week programme has a 98% pass rate.

The group webinars are taught in blocks of 6 weeks, at a time.  There are 10 modules to complete the programme, with exercises and tests contained in the mobile app and books provided. Each week, for 6 weeks, a group webinar will be taught, at a designated time, for 1-2 hours. These group webinars deliver one module of the app, and one chapter of the book. Each week, for one hour we run these classes via Zoom, during your lunch break. The Zoom classes are an important part of the online coaching program. Following the group webinar is one-hour question/answer online session which is optional. This trial offer is available to selected individuals and organisations who are committed to improving their proficiency levels in te reo Māori.

Conclusion: He Kupu Whakakopa

In my experience as a Māori language coach, teacher, tutor and lecturer, there are three main problems I have noticed with learners of the language. First, people who work full-time, or even part-time, are time deficient. Moreover, they have little or no time to physically attend classes at night or during weekends. Second, many learners have difficulties in saying Māori words and phrases in front of others due to fears of making a mistake in public. Third, even though universities, wānanga and polytechnics claim to provide online courses for learning Māori language, this is not true. Apart from Reo Ora, there are no fully automated online courses currently available to people who seriously want to study the language – online. Also, to get people to physically attend their courses, some of these institutions claim to offer free courses in Māori language. However, this is no longer the case, as fees-free funding to these institutions, has now ceased because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Reo Ora can help learners because: (i) learners can study the language online, any time or any place. We offer interactive online classes for 1-2 hours per week (in 6-week blocks) during lunch breaks or after work hours which means learners do not have to physically attend classes (i.e. university, wānanga, polytechnic classes). If the learner misses a class, they can watch the replay of the class on-demand as recorded classes may be accessed through cloud technology. (ii) Reo Ora provides a safe, comfortable friendly environment for speaking the language and we have an in-built audio recording and transcription programme built into our mobile app which allows learners to practice and perfect their pronunciation, in private. (iii) although universities, polytechnics and wānanga may claim to have an online programme however their online programmes are low or no tech and use outdated technologies and platforms to teach their courses.  Reo Ora is the only fully automated online programme available in the world for learning Te Reo Māori. Finally, though it is not free, Reo Ora can offer online courses to learners of Te Reo Māori at a fraction of the cost that universities, wānanga or polytechnics will charge you. Now, we are offering a 50% discount on Māori 101 (beginners) for $300 (rather than $600) beginning on July 22, 2020. We also offer easy terms of payment, where people can pay in 4 instalments of $75 each week, over 4 weeks. For this, you receive 6 weeks of online tuition, a comprehensive e-book (173 pages) and a subscription to our awesome Māori language app (which contains all of the lessons, quizzes, assessments, video tutorials and graphic animations for Māori 101 and Māori 102).

Finally, if you want to learn more about the programme and meet your kaiwawao reo (language coach) we are offering a free trial of Reo Ora through a free webinar and QA session, on Zoom, to be held on Wednesday, July 8 and 15, 2020 between 7 and 8 p.m. Our first Māori language 101 online class (6 weeks) will commence on July 22 and conclude on October 28, 2020. If you are interested in attending our free webinars or joining our Māori 101 programme, please contact us at [email protected]. Ngā mihi ki roto i ngā maioha.

“Kāore he hōtaka reo ā tuihono i tua atu i tēnei – This is the best Māori language course on the internet” – Join our introductory webinar on July 8, 2020, begin your reo journey and receive a free copy of our beautifully illustrated e-book – “Te Ao Māori – The Māori World”.

Nāku noa nei

Nā Dr. Rāpata Wiri