Why Sarah-Kate Lynch is making the effort to pronounce Māori words correctly

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1 January 1970

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Learning a new language can be a challenge, but Sarah-Kate is making an effort to kōrero.

I love how much te reo is being spoken around Aotearoa these days, even if I’m not very good at it myself.

But God loves a trier, so I’m kia ora-ing and ngā mihi-ing my little heart out and trying my hardest to get our place names right too. It’s hard to break the habit of “Para-paRAM” when the mangled moniker of the Kāpiti Coast town has been ingrained since birth. But how infuriating it must have been for local Māori – or even slightly better-informed Pākehā – to have heard “Paraparaumu” murdered so horribly for so long.

I’m utterly delighted that Woman has given me my own Māori name: Hera-Keiti. If I’d known about it, I would have adopted it years ago, if that’s not cultural appropriation. It just has such a lovely ring about it.

And I think a lot of hesitancy among Pākehā to give te reo a bash is due to nervousness about potential cultural appropriation – or just plain old bungling it. Will we offend anyone by giving it a try and getting it wrong?

The only other language I’ve ever tried to learn is French. I did it in third and fourth form at school (because my parents wouldn’t let me do typing, which, as it turns out, would’ve been much more useful).

I showed no aptitude for it whatsoever. I could manage a “bonjour tout le monde” from Jean-Claude if pushed, but the verb structure escaped me – as do verb structures in English, if I’m perfectly honest. But I do seem to be able to get along without them.

Then, in my twenties, I went to Paris for the first time. Ooh la la! How I wished I hadn’t let Sister Eulalia put me off my French lessons then. I love Paris – who doesn’t? If I never get to go there again, it will be one of the places I’m saddest about (along with New York and Tuscany). But one year I was lucky enough to spend two months in the French capital, one of them attending the Alliance Française language school in a bid to finally come to grips with the native tongue.

Sadly, despite my best efforts, the grips remained beyond my reach. And the French aren’t exactly renowned for helping you out as you haltingly ask for your sauce on the side – which, as it turns out, is a crime punishable by being guillotined anyway. I once had a snippety waitress actually tell me I could do better! But she told me in French and I understood her, so I suppose she was right.

However, the fact remains that I’m not a natural when it comes to languages. But what the waitress might have told me, had we caught up afterwards for a pleasant café au lait, is that it’s all about confidence. Maybe it’s not the getting it wrong that’s problematic – it’s the fear of getting it wrong.

So the more we offer a cheerful “mōrena” or thank each other with “kia ora”, maybe the less scary it is. No one’s going to tell us off. And this way we can fix Paraparaumu, I’m sure of it, forever.

The more we offer a cheerful ‘mōrena’ or thank each other with ‘kia ora’, maybe the less scary it is

It’s all communication in the end. And by using even a smattering of te reo, even if the pronunciation’s a bit squiffy, we’re not only communicating, hopefully, what we mean to say, but that – Paris and Tuscany be damned – we love our country and the language that comes with it.

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