Bay of Plenty teachers now have access to a world-leading te reo Māori app, through a Ministry of Education initiative aimed at strengthening New Zealand's education workforce in te reo.
Reo Ora is a fully automated te reo Māori app developed by one of New Zealand's leading linguistics and Māori language experts, Dr Rāpata Wiri (Te Arawa, Ngāti Ruapani) and built by Rotorua-based Salt + Tonic.
Wiri said the multi-dialect app is the only one of its kind, accepting answers in all different Māori dialects based on tribal differences.
Salt & Tonic director Josh Dillner said it also featured the world's first transcription service for te reo by Te Hiku Media, where students can record themselves speaking and transcribe it into text.
"It's been a privilege to deliver world-class technology with a local solution at the core."
Reo Ora is working alongside Te Taumata o Ngāti Whakaue Iho Ake Trust with the Ministry of Education's Te Ahu o Te Reo Māori initiative, with the aim of training 10,000 teachers and support staff in te reo Māori nationally per year, including 1000 in the Bay of Plenty.
"Reo Ora will initially be used to train 470 people in the wider Bay of Plenty region, including Rotorua, across early childhood, primary and high schools," Wiri said.
The app was currently being used through Ngati Whakaue's Māori language strategy to encourage a revitalisation of the language within the iwi and was also generally available to anyone who would like to learn te reo Māori.
Wiri said there was a massive national demand for te reo courses. Many institutions like Te Wānanga o Aotearoa could not cope with the demand and had long waiting lists.
He said the app was an effective way of teaching and delivering material, as well as overcoming common hurdles students face when learning a new language, such as the fear of mispronouncing a Māori word or phrase, in public.
"The motivation for many students learning through the app comes from not wanting to say it wrong in front of a class. If they're on Zoom, they can listen; they can practice on Facebook and go at their own pace. We call it self-determined learning and it's the new way of doing things."
The Reo Ora app supported students to become competent te reo Māori speakers in 12 weeks by teaching the 329 most commonly used words and the 30 most commonly used
sentence patterns in the Māori language.
These words and patterns make up 65 per cent of everyday conversation.
"Ours is a formulaic method. It's based on patterns and repetition of sentence pattern, which is the most effective way to learn a language," Wiri said.
"We have taught over 250 students who have completed the Level 1 course with remarkable results."
Liquid Financial Advisors owner and director Peter Moore was currently doing the Reo Ora course, motivated by his whānau history.
"My grandmother spoke fluent te reo, then my dad was told he shouldn't as it would impact on his ability to get ahead – it also meant I was never given the opportunity – looking back, it's a tragedy.
"So, I looked around for ages trying to find ways to learn te reo, researching textbooks and a range of other options. Then I came across Reo Ora. I've come such a long way with this course, which is great through the app as I'm too busy to attend lectures.
"Te reo has a grammar structure that is crucial to understand – the way this course is structured has helped me to pick that up - I've learnt a lot. Discovering my language has been a privilege – it would have been lovely to have had the opportunity to kōrero with my grandmother," Moore said.
Wiri had been a Māori language lecturer within universities in New Zealand and Hawai'i for the past 30 years. During this time, he has taught thousands of students to become confident speakers of te reo Māori.
Wiri shares "No reira, kia kaha ki te ako mai i to tatau reo taketake o Aotearoa! Be vigilant in learning our native language of Aotearoa/New Zealand!"
He encouraged everyone to practice these sayings in Māori:
Mauri tū, mauri ora!: An active life force is a healthy life force!
Mā te whakaharatau e tika ai: Practice makes perfect.