Learning te reo has taken sixth or seventh generation Pākēhā Marcel Currin on a journey for which he had not quite prepared.

Currin, who is in his third year of studying the Māori language at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, said curiosity prompted hie enrolment in the weekly classes.

"I had a lot of questions about what I was seeing in Māori culture and thought the best way to learn that was to learn the reo," he said.

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"There's not a touch of Māori blood in me, but this is my country, this is my land, this is what I know. I've learned so much more about my place in it and my relationship with the people, with the land, with Aotearoa's history.

"It has been a much deeper journey than I anticipated."

And he's not alone.

Currin, who works as a communications spokesman for the Tauranga City Council, said he has seen more people joining the beginners' te reo classes each year.

"They're chocker."

Fellow student Watene Moon agreed.

Moon started the classes as part of his studies to become a teacher. Both Moon and Currin are on Level 5 of the seven language levels available.

"There's a huge push for it, teachers coming through with a high awareness of te reo and tikanga," Moon said.


Moon descends from Te Whānau-a-Apanui and Tainui and said that, while he studied te reo at Tauranga Boys' College 20 years ago, he was "always interested in picking it up again".

"I do it out of passion because I love it."

Moon, who has lived in overseas, said he noticed in Canada signs would display both French and English and how accepted it was as part of everyday life. He looked forward to New Zealand doing the same in English and Māori.

"A lot of people get put off if they don't know how to say something. But it's really how much you use it."

Moon said, for him, the most significant decision now was which school to seek work from when he completes his teaching studies this year - mainstream or Māori immersion.

"It sounds nerdy but ... I'm passionate about te reo and passing on what I know and helping that generation of kids - not forcing it on them, but giving them more exposure. The more exposure you have, the less of a big deal it is."

No one from the wānanga could be reached for comment before publication.

The unexpected challenge of learning your native tongue

Ngāi te Rangi chairman Charlie Tawhiao said more people are speaking te reo but not without their challenges. Photo / File
Ngāi te Rangi chairman Charlie Tawhiao said more people are speaking te reo but not without their challenges. Photo / File

At 68 years old Charlie Tawhiao has been around long enough to experience the resurgence of te reo.

"It was something that was dying out in the 1950s-60s. But now, for many, not having te reo is a real handicap," Tawhiao said.

"People of my generation started learning, but one of the obstacles you have to overcome is the feeling of 'I should know all this, but I don't'."

The Ngāi te Rangi chairman said that trying to learn the native language as an adult Maori was particularly difficult - managing the feeling of failure that came when mistakes, which were a natural part of learning, happened.

Tawhiao is also on the board for Moana Radio which works to revitalise te reo by speaking it on the airwaves. Staff from the radio also attend language classes as part of their professional development.

"When I watch my mokopuna learning to speak te reo, to them it's like learning any other language. Whereas for an adult, you are acutely aware of errors.

"But (for me) I couldn't just sit and wait for reo to come to me. I had to go to it. That was quite uncomfortable and difficult exercise, but I just had to get over myself."

Tawhiao said learning Māori years ago was "something that was made much more difficult than it should have been".

"I don't get that sense now," he said.

"Young people speak te reo as a natural part of their language whereas I've struggled with it most of my life."

Tawhiao said there was hope among the younger generation who are taking the language on and "will be the ones to pull it forward over the next few years".