Keeping Mum

Dita De Boni looks at the trials and tribulations of being a parent.

Keeping Mum: Teaching the littlies languages

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Children should learn Maori from the first days of primary school.
Photo / File
Children should learn Maori from the first days of primary school. Photo / File

Bravo to Trade Minister Tim Groser for calling for Kiwi kids to be taught Maori from their first days of primary school.

There is a cultural argument to be made for this, sure. But I think the more persuasive argument is the one that states learning an additional language (to your first language) primes the brain for not just more language learning, but more complex learning of all sorts.

Now I'm no genius, granted. But I did always love languages and took Maori at high school, along with French and Japanese (the only languages on offer at that time). The problem is that while I could rote learn the vocabulary and grammar required to pass an exam, I didn't really have much opportunity to speak it. And, high school-aged learning is much too late. Proper language learning requires an early start, where the brain is like a sponge.

It also requires immersion, and whether the country would be willing to fund the learning of Maori properly to ensure there was opportunity for the immersion of children in the language is moot. My understanding is that even with a renaissance of Te Reo going on, and more people than ever speaking the language, not to mention a 100 per cent Maori language free-to-air TV channel, there are still not enough trained teachers of the language about.

It would require textbooks in Maori, marae visits, a host of learning materials and plenty of opportunities to talk with those that spoke the language fluently. I reckon they'd be great investments, in an ideal world leading to further learning of even more languages at the upper levels of primary school.

Mandarin would be an obvious option, with plenty of speakers about. And French, Italian and Spanish and the other more traditional options, which open the gateways to learning about these hugely influential cultures.

A forward-thinking New Zealand would be considering this as a way to prepare for a future in which our students need to be smarter, more internationally-focused, and bi-lingual at the least. Maori would be an excellent entrée into this type of learning, as well as an awesome way to promote the second of the country's official languages - and a beautiful language at that.

Would we really have the guts to fund comprehensive non-English language learning in our primary schools? On present evidence, would we heck.

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