Kōrero with Stacey: How to set fair goals for yourself when learning te reo Māori

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17 June 2023

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Learning another language can be a difficult journey. Stacey shares three whakataukī (proverbs) to inspire te reo learners to keep up the good mahi.

In 2022 there was the 50-year anniversary of the petition that, in 1972, called for Māori language and culture to be taught in New Zealand schools. The petition was organised by Te Reo Māori Society and Ngā Tamatoa, and was presented by Hana (Te Hemara) Jackson.

Te reo Māori became an official language in 1987, and while English is the most widely spoken language in Aotearoa, New Zealand Sign Language and te reo Māori both have special status as official languages under the law. But societal recognition wasn’t afforded to the Māori language for a long time. In some places and cases, it still doesn’t exist. But the last five to 10 years have seen unprecedented momentum in the right direction.

I’m so grateful for the preservation, regeneration and revitalisation work of te reo Māori champions before us, and mindful of the responsibilities we have to them and our future generations to ensure vitality for te reo rangatira (the chiefly language).

The personal goals we have for ourselves as learners, lovers and champions of te reo Māori will differ, and setting goals can be hard when you don’t really know what’s involved in learning, particularly as an adult.

I think we should normalise the learning struggles we all have, because too many people mistakenly believe they’re “just not good at languages” or “useless at remembering vocabulary”, when in fact they’re just experiencing the learning speed bumps that most of us non-native speakers face.

Feeling like quitting is totally normal. Giving up, restarting, doing the same material or course a few times, it’s all common and understandable, yet we beat ourselves up for it!

My journey of learning was up and down, patchy and downright ugly at times, yet the hunger to learn remained and my appreciation for the beauty of te reo Māori kept me going. My life and my whānau is forever enriched by not only te reo rangatira, but also the resilience I developed in that journey.

My journey of learning was up and down… yet the hunger to learn remained and my appreciation for the beauty of te reo Māori kept me going

So, with some reality checks in place, I thought we could set some fair goals – knowing that goals are always flexible and have potential to grow.

Here are three levels of te reo Māori achievement we can view in reference to whakataukī (proverbs):

Ahakoa he iti, he pounamu / Although it is small, it is precious

This saying can be used to affirm that even small contributions or efforts are valuable, and that the most humble offering can also be the most precious. This level of te reo Māori expertise would apply to someone who has achieved good, correct pronunciation of common Māori names, words and concepts, and uses what they know every week.

He manawa tītī / A person with great endurance, like the tītī-mutton bird, which flies great distances

This level of achievement describes someone who is putting in some real effort, time and hard yards to learn te reo Māori. They can manage to hold short conversations in Māori, and they’ve pushed through the embarrassment, lifestyle challenges and grammatical gymnastics needed to speak with some natural flow.

Whāia te iti kahurangi, ki te tuohu koe, me he maunga teitei / Pursue the loftiest heights, if you falter, let it be only to insurmountable difficulties

A fluent speaker, even if they’re reluctant to describe themselves so, they have a driving love and desire to keep speaking and growing. Think of women like Jenny-May Clarkson, Hinemoa Elder and Jennifer Te Atamira Ward-Lealand. They have seen the true treasures te reo Māori offers, and rather than being content with a small pounamu, they showed the resilience of the tītī to reach lofty heights. The winds still swirl around the top of this maunga, as challenges still remain, but they can look back at the view of how far they’ve come.

To me, reaching any of these levels means you’re a champion for te reo rangatira.

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