Kōrero with Stacey: What it was like to raise my children in my second language

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1 January 1970

Reading Time: 3 minutes

When the reo journey gets tough, we can look to our tamariki for guidance – and hopefully some encouraging words, says Stacey.

Finding the right words to say as a parent can be hard. Having measured, excellent responses ready for your two-year-old while they’re having a meltdown is a challenge in itself. When you’re trying to formulate those responses in your second language, it can be even harder.

A couple of lovely māmā have said to me this week that they’re worried about “keeping up” with their Māori-speaking children, because they feel their children are nearly surpassing them in fluency. Tamariki pick up language so easily, it’s both encouraging and devastating to see how effortlessly they remember things that you, as an adult, have struggled to learn.

As a māmā, I dedicated myself to learning vocabulary that our tamariki needed as they grew, and sometimes I learned words at the same time they did. Reading them te reo Māori books was often study time for me, as well as parenting time. There were words in those storybooks I had to look up myself.

I was reminded of this as my husband and I did a live reading at the Auckland Writers Festival of Nōu te Ao, e Hika e!, a stunning translation by Dr Karena Kelly of Dr. Seuss’ Oh, the Places You’ll Go!. Dr Karena has kept the essence of the English text, while making sure the Māori rhymes as well, which is so clever.

My son is 14 now, but when he was a toddler this book would have been a challenging read for me. Reading these books out loud is a great way to learn, because Māori vowel sounds are so consistent, you can read them aloud pretty well even without understanding them, if you have good pronunciation.

I can remember lots of words I picked up through the books I read to our tamariki, the Māori language TV shows we watched, and the waiata and karakia they learned at Puna Reo (Māori language preschool). They’ve taught me karakia by osmosis, bringing them home from Small wonders When the reo journey gets tough, we can look to our tamariki for guidance – and hopefully some encouraging words. kura, and helping with their schoolwork was a bonus for me, as I kept up with what and how they were learning.

I’ve had so many incredible mentors and tutors, yet I still consider my tamariki to be my greatest teachers. As I said to the māmā who confided in me about keeping up with their tamariki, just by having a vision of speaking Māori with our kids and showing them that we are lifelong learners, I believe we are achieving a lot. Tamariki learn empathy when they see that learning Māori is hard for adults, and usually they can be very helpful to our practice, if we let them – but they can be brutal in their feedback too!

I asked one of the māmā what she’d like to be able to say in response to her child’s keka (tantrum) and helped her translate a few phrases. She’d already done some, and taken others from the book Scotty and I wrote for people wanting to bring any amount of te reo Māori into their whānau life, Māori at Home. As with most māmā who worry about whether they’re doing well enough, she was already doing a wonderful job, but being very hard on herself.

The other māmā was worried the kura teachers might think she wasn’t fluent enough to have her kids in immersion. I know she’s a better speaker than she realises, so I encouraged her to talk more Māori to the teachers, because that’s another great way to learn.

Raising our tamariki with te reo Māori as their first language, even though it’s my second (well, third, but my Japanese is terrible now) has been one of my greatest challenges, but also one of my greatest dreams come true.

It’s hard, māmā, but I promise, it’s worth it

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