His name is Stephen Pritchard but you can call him Tipene, and this 51-year-old is a proud te reo Māori speaker.

For the past seven months, Stephen has been attending a free te reo Māori class run by the Salvation Army.

"I'm learning myself," he said. "I'm trying to get better at it."

Stephen has Down syndrome but he won't let that stop him learning te reo.


"If you didn't know Stephen, you would think he was Māori," teacher Jackson Heurea said.

"He has multiple disabilities, one of them being Down syndrome, but with the love of te reo Māori it puts him to another place."

Even at home, Stephen speaks te reo. He's also teaching his partner, Kathy, who has epilepsy. And he's inspiring everyone he meets.

"I find it inspirational," neighbour Leo Batt said.

"My wife's been bugging me to do te reo anyway and I'd be quite keen to go along with Stephen. I've thought about it for quite a bit."

Stephen is a talented artist and ten-pin bowling champion, but he spends hours every day studying New Zealand's indigenous language.

"I love all the song and all that," he said. "The Māori singing."

On Sunday, Stephen puts on his best shoes and coat and goes to church where he greets visitors in Māori.


"It just shows that anyone can learn te reo Māori," Jackson said.

"Te reo Māori is for everyone, not just for Māori but for those who aren't Māori also. And Stephen highlights that."

Te reo classes are rising in popularity across the country with more and more people interested in learning our native language.

Across the Bay of Plenty, they are widely on offer, some even for free. And while Stephen may not be fluent just yet, he has no plans to stop learning.

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