COMMENT:

It's Te Wiki o te reo Māori (Māori Language Week) from September 14-21, an opportunity to celebrate te reo Māori and encourage wider use of the language.

This year the goal is to get one million New Zealanders speaking, singing and celebrating te reo Māori at the same time – so this is a great moment to join the conversation (in te reo!) at home with our kids.

Parenting Place, a not-for-profit focused on supporting whānau through the parenting journey, are passionate about encouraging all families to use te reo Māori in everyday life.

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Here, two of their team members, one Māori and one Pākehā, share their personal experiences on how they do this.

Holly Brooker

Holly Brooker is married to Rico with two kids aged 5 and 8.

I've got an awesome photo of myself in the school kapa haka group as a kid, a white-as little blondie unaware of how much I stood out, just having a ball with waiata and poi in hand! I grew up in Whangārei and feel quite comfortable in a Māori environment, like a marae or pōwhiri. It gets to me deeply every time I hear the karanga call out and we start moving on to the marae. It's a powerful experience. However, my te reo is limited to basic greetings and a handful of words.

I've always wanted to learn more. Though my own use of the language is limited, I have a deep respect for Māori tikanga and te reo, believing them to be vitally important to Aotearoa. I'm genuinely sad that as citizens of a bilingual country, my family don't speak both English and Māori. And that's on me! I have studied beginner te reo at Unitec, and my husband and I joined another course at Unitec last year but couldn't complete it for various reasons. It's on hold for now, and we will get back to it.

What I love about Te Wiki o te Reo Māori is that it's a great reminder to encourage te reo in our home. I want my kids to understand our nation's heritage, and to feel comfortable and be respectful in a Māori space. We do things like read books in Māori, the kids love the legends of Maui. From when my kids were babies I have read and sung to them in te reo.

We sing "Tūtira mai ngā iwi" loud and proud and there are Māori waiata on my Spotify playlist. I don't want my efforts to be token, but for now it seems like a good step towards normalising te reo in our family. Of course, our kids learn a little bit of te reo at school but not as much as I would like, considering Māori is an official language of Aotearoa. Last year my son signed up for kapa haka - I had no idea until he told me had a performance I needed to take him to, and it was awesome to see him involved.

Te Wiki o te reo Māori gets me excited about te reo. I love hearing other New Zealanders joining the conversation and celebrating this precious language. It has an important place in our nation and needs to be elevated as such. And as a Pākehā mum raising the next generation, I feel it's important for me to get on board as best I can, modelling to my whānau not only acceptance of te reo Māori through everyday engagement, but honouring and cherishing the language as a precious part of our story.

Te Karere Scarborough

Te Karere Scarborough is married to Chloe with three kids aged 4 to 12.

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I was bought up in Auckland and went to a Kōhanga Reo (te reo Māori speaking kindergarten) and a mainstream high school. Growing up I was always around a lot of Māori, but this is what's interesting about my language journey. There is a difference around being familiar with Māori terms and actually speaking te reo Māori. My te reo vocabulary was much more than the average New Zealander for sure, but I couldn't formulate sentences. I was familiar and comfortable around Māori being spoken; I could get basic stuff. I sometimes describe it as Shortland Street Māori.

Te Karere Scarborough is married to Chloe with three kids aged 4 to 12. Photo / Supplied
Te Karere Scarborough is married to Chloe with three kids aged 4 to 12. Photo / Supplied

Mum is Ngāpuhi from Whangārei and my father is English, third generation from Howick. My matua whāngai (stepfather) is Ngāti Hāua and speaks te reo Māori. He was my greatest influence in encouraging me to kōrero.

My own whānau speak te reo at home as much as we can. I am married to Chloe, who is Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki from Maraetai. She is learning te reo full time this year. Our eldest boy, Pāora, is 12 and he is fluent. My younger kids, Hinewai and Māhina are both starting their language journey in different immersion contexts. Hinewai goes to Richmond Road School which has a bunch of different language nests, and they are part of Te Whānau Whāriki.

My motivation to learn te reo? The more that I've understood for myself what it means to be Māori, the more I've realised that speaking Māori is the single most definitive thing that we could do to instil a positive Māori identity within our kids, in this crazy changing world. Everything you do on top of that is important, but for me it felt like the best way to deeply embed Māori values, worldview and practices in our babies because it all exists within the language. But it doesn't come easily.

For our kids, full immersion school has been amazing, and the more they go outside of their Māori contexts, the more they realise how special te reo Māori is. One of the challenges is that there isn't an abundance of Māori content or media. Nothing seems to compete with YouTube channels, like unboxing toys or watching other kids play! How do you embed the daily use of, or listening to, te reo Māori in all of those mediums that children love the most?

Some people get scared that if their kids go to a Māori school, that they will miss out on mainstream education. But education within te reo Māori is creating the most amazing human beings right in front of our eyes. The truth is that my son has taught himself English and he can write just as well in English as he can in Māori. It's all self-taught, he just finished the Harry Potter series no problems.

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One of the dreams I have is a thoroughly bilingual household. For us, speaking te reo at home is still a journey; we have two or three people who are verging on intermediate level Māori, maybe. The truth is, it's a really big journey. Don't underestimate how hard it is to learn te reo or reclaim the language. And we are lucky! I have a scholarship to learn te reo Māori. We have wonderful whānau support. My wife and I are motivated to try and make it happen, yet it still feels like swimming upstream.

I think the challenge of colonisation and being a Māori-speaking whānau is that you're always fighting against the ease of speaking English, if that's what you've been brought up with. And that's a real challenge, because the path of least resistance always means people will default to English if it's the quickest or easiest way to speak.

I've done a bunch of different night courses to learn te reo Māori, but last year I went to Wānanga Takiura and I spent a year in full immersion. It was one of the most satisfying, yet one of the hardest, years of my life. What doesn't get talked about enough is how difficult it is to be Māori and learn Māori. The actual term for it is "language trauma". There are internal expectations you have around what it means to be Māori and when you start out learning te reo Māori you think, "Ah, this is going to make me feel so much better about my identity". But actually, the more you learn, the more you realise what you don't know. There's a simultaneous process of hope and grief. Hope that one day you might fully become a Māori speaker, and then the grief of a lifetime lived without that reality.

I acknowledge there are parts of Māoridom I have missed out on because of my inability to speak or understand, which I am only now beginning to enjoy. That's been a really steep learning curve. I am mid-career, I've had senior leadership roles in organisations, yet being in a full immersion context was full-on. I felt dumb and stupid and inadequate on a daily basis, literally attempting a kindergarten level of speaking the language. But this is the process. This is the hard work I need to do, so that my kids don't have do the hard work and their kids can speak the language. I'm thinking three or four generations ahead which helps me focus on getting there.