Te reo a bold and beautiful thing

By Mikaela Collins

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Akina te reo — give te reo Maori a go — is the theme for this year’s Te Wiki o te Reo Maori. To mark Maori Language Week, Northern Advocate reporter Mikaela Collins spoke to two Northland whanau who use te reo Maori every day. One uses te reo exclusively and the other is determined to gain fluency.

THE CLARKE WHANAU: From left top then bottom: Robert, Hapurona, 14, May, Myra-Mei, 10, Horatio, 6, Monet-Mei, 19, and Charlie-May, 17. PHOTO/JOHN STONE.
THE CLARKE WHANAU: From left top then bottom: Robert, Hapurona, 14, May, Myra-Mei, 10, Horatio, 6, Monet-Mei, 19, and Charlie-May, 17. PHOTO/JOHN STONE.

BEFORE Robert Clarke started teaching at a total immersion Maori school, he learnt 327 phrases in te reo Maori and from there developed his knowledge by watching US daytime soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful.

When you walk into the Clarkes' Maunu home, you won't hear them speaking to each other in English, as te reo Maori is the only language spoken in their home. Te reo Maori has been part of the Clarke children's life from birth but Mr Clarke, principal of Whau Valley School, and his wife May Clarke weren't always fluent.

"I didn't actually start learning until I was 27 and I was thrown into the deep end after graduating and going straight into a total immersion school [in Invercargill]. So for those Christmas holidays I pictured in my mind everything I had to do; 'line up', 'get your maths books', 'get your science books', so I had 327 phrases and I got my mum to translate them," Mr Clarke said.

At that time, some would have thought he was fluent, but that took a lot more work.

"At work, as a staff, we watched The Bold and the Beautiful and we would sit there as a staff, because our language was generally the same, and our boss would translate it. We got to hear something said, the boss translated it and we were able to ask 'well how come you used this tense?' Secondly, and the most important way, was my whanau and my work environment was a nice safe context to take a risk and to speak it."

Mrs Clarke learnt through Mr Clarke. The car they owned when they first met didn't pick up the radio and they spent a lot of time travelling which meant a lot of time to korero Maori.

"It was also time at home with his whanau listening to them. It took me a little while because he'd be on the phone talking to his mum in te reo Maori. Now I can understand it. So in those early years it was listening to it, being around it and trying," Mrs Clarke said.

When Mr and Mrs Clarke decided they wanted a whanau of their own, it was important te reo Maori would be the language they used when speaking to their children. Monet-Mei Clarke, 19, the couple's eldest daughter said it has had huge benefits for her.

"I find it very handy. At [Tikipunga High School] I spent a lot of my time in the Maori department and it helped me, especially with kapa haka and understanding the songs we did."

Her sister, Charlie-May Clarke, 17, said being able to korero Maori has helped her as head girl of Tikipunga High School.

"It's always been great to know Maori, I always had a connection with people because they know I speak Maori. When I'm speaking in assemblies I can speak Maori to kids. It is a great way to be role model and encourage them to speak Maori."

Mr Clarke said he knows what it is like to have te reo Maori, and what it is like to not have it. "And I know which one I prefer."

Click here to read the story about a Northland whanau determined to gain fluency

- Northern Advocate

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