For three hours every Tuesday evening I sit in a brightly lit classroom in central Auckland learning Te Reo Māori.

So far I can say "my name is Heather", "you should go" and "after this I'm going home".

I've learnt that virtually all of us - even the try-hards - mispronounce Whangaparāoa. The word doesn't end with "ro-ah". It's actually "ra-oh-ah".

I've also learnt the importance of the little line above the vowels. If you forget the macron in the word tāra, you won't get the $20 you're asking for. You'll get 20 vaginas.


My class is made up of a surprising number of Asian foreign students, a Palestinian, a woman who I think is German, at least one other foreigner and a smattering of mostly adult Kiwis.

I'm disappointed by the demographics of this class. I wish there were more Kiwis. Even better, I wish the Kiwis had already learnt the language at school.

Instead this country treats the language like a hassle. We're too busy to learn, it's too expensive to teach, there's no business case because no one in China speaks it.

That was roughly the attitude this week when residents on the Kapiti Coast got worked up over a proposal to rename the unoriginal Main Rd with Māori street names.

Apparently, there is already enough Māori about the place and the proposed names are too hard to pronounce.

It's true that the Kapiti Coast has a lot of Māori place names. Raumati. Paraparaumu. Te Moana Rd.

But you could make the same argument in reverse. There's a lot of English on the coast. Poplar Ave. Manly St. King Arthur Drive. Yes, there is a certain irony in complaining about street names when you've named one after a fictional hero in children's books.

It's also true that some of the proposed names are daunting to pronounce. It takes a couple of attempts to get Rauoterangi and Unaiki properly formed in the mouth.


So don't worry about getting it right. Mangle the pronunciation. Who really cares if you can say Mātene Te Whiwhi properly? As long as the person you're talking to knows what you mean.

The militant defenders of Te Reo Māori will be furious at this suggestion. They'll tell you it's insulting to mispronounce the language, but ignore them.

Because mangling language is something we do all the time. Mischievous doesn't actually rhyme with devious. Women should rhyme with blimmin'. A hyperbole shouldn't sound like something you can put your cereal into.

Wellesley should be wells-lee. Wellington's Marjoribanks St is pronounced march-banks. And, Rakaia's Mainwaring Rd is pronounced mannering.

Are we killing English by stuffing up these words? No we're not. Are we disrespecting the language? No we're not. Do we understand what the speaker means? Yes.

Puritans, you need to ease up on giving normal people grief for mispronouncing words. It's a sure-fire way of knocking their confidence and pushing them to give up altogether.

And normal people - Kapiti Coast I'm talking to you - you need to stop blocking the language.

We need to give Te Reo a chance to survive. It's in such a desperate state. Māori kids were still taking beatings for speaking the language at school as recently as the Second World War.

Eighty years on - after all that damage - the best progress we can claim today is that weather presenters do a nice job of pronouncing Māori place names and some radio reporters sign off their pieces with a quick three-word Māori sentence.

The more we expose ourselves to the language, the more likely it is that my Te Reo class will one day be full of Kiwis.