Spreading word on native tongue

By Cherie Taylor

When Zanna Douglas had children she never thought twice about them learning their native tongue.

Just spend a few minutes listening to them relate and it's soon clear she and her pre-schoolers, Waikimihia Douglas-Karauna, 4, and Awatere Douglas, 3, are fluent te reo speakers.

Both attend Rongopai Kohanga Reo. Zanna says she and partner Pomane Karauna wanted to ensure the children were immersed in their culture and language.

Pomane isn't fluent but is learning and speaks basic te reo around the children. "He is learning," she says.

They are among a growing number of Kiwi parents who speak basic te reo to their tamariki (children), according to a Growing Up In New Zealand study.

The study says 16 per cent of mothers speak te reo to their kids while men rate at 12 per cent.

Zanna says speaking te reo is normal for her as she grew up hearing and speaking the language.

Her parents, Jo-Ann and Angus Douglas, are both fluent speakers and teach at Te Kura O Te Koutu school. "It's something I'm passing on," she says.

"We were brought up that way ... it's such a big part of my life. I've never really thought about it."

Her father never grew up speaking te reo and learned as an adult and Zanna has studied the language for her masters degree.

"I've not known any other way," she says.

She says it's sad only a small per cent of the population speak te reo to their kids.

"It definitely should be higher. All New Zealanders should speak it. It's part of our history. "Everyone should have a basic knowledge of te reo because it is part of who we are," she says.

Growing Up In New Zealand study director Dr Susan Morton says almost a quarter of the 6846 children in the study were identified as Maori.

Nearly a third of all the children in the study had more than one ethnicity - 69 per cent were identified as New Zealand European, 21.3 per cent Pacific Islander, 16.9 per cent Asian, 2.8 per cent Middle Eastern, Latin American or African and 4 per cent other ethnicities.

Eighteen per cent of the mothers identified as Maori.

A third of those in the study who speak Maori to their kids were not Maori.

English is dominant. When asked which language they spoke most to their kids, 79.6 per cent of mothers said English while only 0.7 per cent said Maori.

Zanna uses te reo in most of her conversations with the children and they will attend a kura where lessons are taught in te reo.

"It will be a natural part of their lives. I've never questioned it," she says.

Rongopai Kohanga Reo kaiako matua (head teacher) Sue Manihera says the language is becoming a vital part of life for Maori today as it was many generations ago.

Te reo is being revived through the children today. "It is taonga (treasure) that has been lost to us.

It is being resurrected," she says.

From Tuhoe, Sue says she grew up with the language and found it hard when she came into the city to school.

She is pleased city kids are helping to revive the language. There are at least five kura kaupapa (Maori language schools) in Rotorua which are becoming fuller each year because parents are wanting to ensure the survival of te reo, Sue says.

- Rotorua Daily Post

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