Imagine being able to ask your phone for directions in te reo Maori.

That's just one of the many options that could become available if machines could speak and understand te reo Maori - and an iwi media organisation is making that happen.

Korero Maori is a project started by Northland's Te Hiku Media and supported by Te Punaha Matatini, Te Puni Kokiri and Dragonfly Data Science to teach machines te reo Maori.

Keoni Mahelona, Te Hiku Media's tech man, said there are many digital personal assistants - like Apple's Siri and Microsoft's Cortana - which cannot speak or understand te reo Maori, and many social media platforms which are not available in Maori.


"If we want to help to revitalise our language and keep it alive and relevant these technologies are going to have to be in our language as well."

But for the project to work it needs the help of the public.

People can visit and record themselves reading the provided sentences in te reo Maori, you can play the recording back and if it sounds good you click save and a new sentence will appear.

Mr Mahelona said by doing this they are teaching the sounds and phonemes of te reo Maori to machines.

"We need a large variation of people from different ages and different genders and that's because we all don't sound the same and we all don't sound like a robot so having the variation in voice allows the machine to better understand anyone that speaks to it."

There is also an option to listen to recordings and give a thumbs up if you think the pronunciation is correct and down if you think it is incorrect.

Mr Mahelona said this was a way of crowdsourcing the quality control but experts in te reo Maori were also listening to the recordings.

Charmaine Soljak, The Hits Northland day announcer, enrolled in the Te Wananga o Aotearoa three-year te reo Maori course in 2015 after her 5-year-old mokopuna told her she had used a Maori phrase inaccurately.

Ms Soljak said the Korero Maori project would engage people and she has already been on the website to record sentences.

"I think anyone takes great delight with anything you can use in te reo and if you could use it on your phone that's so cool," she said.

Mr Mahelona said since launching the campaign on Facebook on Saturday there had been 400 new users and an hour of recordings.

"We think we need about 200 hours to have a good acoustic model."

The next step is to teach the computers to understand and speak te reo Maori - he said there are number of tools to do this however Te Hiku Media were still deciding on how they would do it.