While evidence suggests that comparatively few New Zealanders whose native is English speak any other languages, the importance of being more language-savvy has become increasingly prominent. Speaking multiple languages gives you a better understanding of the world, Toa Faneva (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Kahu ki Whaingaroa and Niue), who was appointed NorthTec chief executive earlier this year, says. In an interview with the Northern Advocate, Faneva talks about how learning te reo can be a pathway for Māori to understanding their own culture, and benefit non-Māori when working in their community.
Q: How popular are the NorthTec te reo Māori courses?
A: Over the last couple of years we have seen a real increase in the numbers of students studying te reo. The numbers have not just increased with Māori learners but non-Māori learners as well. Part of that is because we are now offering a range of options to learn te reo. You can either do a part or full-time study, or evening classes and those are popular. Currently, we've got about 365 students in the evening classes. Otherwise, we have over 200 who are doing the part or full-time courses.
Q: What do people learn in the course?
A: It's entry-level learning. The courses are about providing competencies for basic language skills and understanding formalised processes, for example a powhiri or karakia.
Q: Why should we learn another language?
A: I see a lot more people coming through who are bilingual or trilingual. It makes a better platform for understanding. I find bilingual people have a better and broader sense of the world and its concepts than those who only know one language – whether it'd be Māori and English or English and others. I find it gives distinct advantages.
Q: What do Northlanders gain from learning te reo?
A: For a lot of our students there is an increased understanding about the history and identity of our country. It's about connecting back to the Māori culture, especially those for Māori who have not necessarily taken that pathway to understand and learn their own culture. We are at the heartland of te tiriti [o Waitangi] so for a lot of people within our region it's an important journey to learn about te ao Māori.
Māori culture and traditions are also becoming a part of any workplace environment. There is a growing range of Māori businesses where having a good sense of te reo is helpful, especially in terms of employment prospects.
Q: So te reo could help Northlanders in their job?
A: For some of our other programmes that we deliver, for example nursing and social work, it's quite important to have good ideas about te ao Māori, especially within Tai Tokerau. When we think about the delivery of social work out there in our community, those people need to have a local context with which to land on. That local context a lot of times is shaped by the Māori world.
Q: How important is te reo at NorthTec outside of its language courses?
A: Te reo is an essential part of what we do. For example, when new staff or groups of students are coming through, we have powhiri and go through these formalised processes through our marae. The marae that we have, Te Puna o Te Mātauranga Marae, is part of our campus and it's an important place for us to deliver our cultural mechanisms to support one another.
Q: Has te reo been historically significant for NorthTec?
A: We've got a long history with te reo. Way back when it was a community college te reo was an essential concept there. It was back in the day when a lot of our Māori leaders from within the region would congregate to talk about Māori knowledge and language. That campus was one of the original places to provide that.
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Q: It seems both the older and the younger generations can speak te reo but there is a generation in between that doesn't. Would you agree?
A: Yes, I'm probably one of them as well. My children have a good grasp of te reo. I wasn't necessarily in the environment where I was encouraged to learn or speak te reo. At the time when I was growing up, it was not seen as an advantage – either from an employment prospect or a career development. So I'm on that journey also to be more fluent in te reo.