Seven tips to learn te reo Māori

Raniera Harrison offers seven tips to assist everyone in their Māori language acquisition.

Raniera Harrison, left, lectures in Māori studies.
Raniera Harrison, left, lectures in Māori studies.

The University has a language plan to revitalise te reo Māori. It aims to have 50 percent of staff demonstrate basic competence by 2040. Recent initiatives include the launch of an app, Te Kūaha, and a glossary of te reo Māori terms used on campus, the Kuputaka.

Raniera Harrison has seven simple tips to help people learn te reo Māori.

1. Start small

There’s a misconception that we have to learn the most complex of sentence structures and the most elaborate verbs, nouns and adjectives – but that’ll come in due course. Consider learning te reo as a lifelong marathon rather than a 100-metre sprint. Every marathon starts with one step – make that one step count! You could begin by translating everyday objects you have at home or in the office. How about tēpu (table) or tūru (chair) or pouaka whakaata (television) and, of course, my favourite – wā kai, literally time to eat, or lunchtime!

2. Build your community

They most certainly weren’t pulling your tail when they told you there is strength in numbers. Surround yourself with people on the same journey or who understand yours. It’s like when you begin going to the gym – it doesn’t take long and you find yourself hanging out with gym bunnies talking about bench press, seated row and calisthenics.
Te reo Māori is exactly the same. We are a reflection of the people we choose to surround ourselves with. Even if it’s for an hour a week, make time to connect with like-minded te reo Māori soldiers in the battle for language revitalisation.

3. Check your pronunciation

‘Keke’ means cake in te reo Māori, while ‘kēkē’ means armpit. ‘Wētā’ is the Māori classification for the New Zealand invertebrate, and weta, well, weta is one word for faeces. The macron is a clue to short or long sounds. What’s important to understand is that pronunciation is king when it comes to te reo. There are numerous resources online that can take your pronunciation from zero to marae hero in the comfort and safety of your own home. The Māori vowels – a, e, i, o, u – are a good starting point. The University has also created an app called Te Kūaha that will talk you through the sounds.

4. Challenge yourself

Don’t be scared to put a bit of pressure on! Whether you challenge yourself to learning a new Māori word a day, a new kīwaha (idiom) a week or you’re going all the way and committing to things such as the Mahuru Māori initiative (speaking only te reo for all of September), you’ll be sure to hit some language ‘personal bests’ when you put yourself outside the warmth of that all-too-familiar comfort zone.

Consider your newly acquired language the ‘window’ to the Māori worldview or te ao Māori.

Raniera Harrison, School of Māori Studies University of Auckland

5. Boost your job chances

It’s well known that learning another language is good for your brain, but studying te reo Māori could also improve your chances of finding a job in a variety of industries. Upskilling online or in classes could help you find an exciting role in education, health, government, social services or, of course, the ‘booming Māori economy’.

6. Enter a new world

No, that’s not a reference to Aladdin, it’s a reference to a direct quote from the revered Lieutenant Colonel of the 28th Māori Battalion, Sir James Henare, who said “Ko te reo te mauri o te mana Māori” meaning “the language is the life force of Māori prestige”. Consider your newly acquired language the ‘window’ to the Māori worldview or te ao Māori. You begin to understand a lot more about Māori culture once you’ve attained a certain level of Māori fluency. Enjoy the journey, grasshopper!

7. Fly!

There’s a saying in Māori: “mā te kahukura, ka rere te manu”, literally “the feathers allow the bird to soar to lofty heights”. Consider your newly acquired vocabulary the ‘feathers’ to reach new heights of your own. Learning te reo Māori will give you – and ultimately our country – a competitive advantage. Haramai tētahi āhua!

This article first appeared in the Spring 2020 edition of Ingenio magazine.