Taylor’s language journey began after coming home from working overseas and feeling a sense of ignorance.

Sam Taylor dreams of a day when he can walk the streets of Parnell, and hear te reo Māori being spoken all around him.

Taylor, 33, is Pākehā and fluent in te reo, and he wants all the people of Aotearoa to take up the challenge too.

"It is our duty to the cultural landscape of Aotearoa – plus it is fun and good for your brain."

Te reo Māori is experiencing a surge in popularity.

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Te Wānanga o Aotearoa kaiako (teacher) Netana Matene said they had about 18 kaiako teaching across Tāmaki Makaurau campuses, and all of the courses this year were full.

More than 3000 people had already expressed interest in te reo classes next year.

"It is cool to see that popularity, and the biggest growth for us here has been non-Māori learners," Matene said.

About 70 per cent of their beginner learners were non-Māori, he said.

"They have become ambassadors of te reo. The revitalisation of te reo needs to be a country-wide effort. People are realising that Māori is what makes us unique to every other English-speaking country in the world."

A challenge for Pākehā was often pronunciation.

"Some Pākehā can struggle with that, but then absorb the grammar really quickly. The classroom is set up as a safe environment though, āturuhanga, where people feel safe making mistakes."

A challenge for all learners was keeping it up, Matene said.

While Kiwis were flocking to these beginner courses, the percentage of people who could hold a conversation in te reo dropped from 4.5 per cent in 2001 to 3.7 in 2013. Māori make up 85 per cent of those speakers, with only a very small percentage being Pākehā.

Sam Taylor is looking forward to the day when Pākehā speaking Māori was seen as normal.
Sam Taylor is looking forward to the day when Pākehā speaking Māori was seen as normal.

Taylor, himself a graduate of an advanced course at Te Wānanga O Aotearoa, said it was important those who had done their beginner courses pushed on and incorporated te reo into their everyday lives.

A former tutor, Mataia Keepa told Taylor the key was to "whakamāori tō ao" – make your worldview Māori.

"I always start and finish a conversation with Māori, even if is just one word," Taylor said.

"If a person speaks some te reo, I drop more into the conversation, and if they are fluent, I only speak te reo."

Taylor, audio head of department at SAE Institute in Parnell, has been incorporating this into his workplace.

"Even a simple kia ora. It normalises te reo, and empowers us all."

Taylor's reo journey started after he returned home from working abroad and felt he needed to deal with a "sense of ignorance".

He re-enrolled at the University of Canterbury, and started te reo classes.

"As soon as I started I loved it."

He later took up a te reo immersion programme over summer, before working for five years at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa's Māngere campus where he was able to kōrero (speak) Māori on a daily basis with co-workers.

"There I learned from some of Aotearoa's finest academics and te reo Māori experts."

Taylor, from a monolingual family in Te Awamutu, said his desire to learn came from wanting to understand more about our history.

"Te reo offered a matapihi ki te ao Māori - window into the Māori world.

Sam Taylor, audio head of department at SAE Institute in Parnell, has been incorporating te reo into his workplace. Photo / Doug Sherring
Sam Taylor, audio head of department at SAE Institute in Parnell, has been incorporating te reo into his workplace. Photo / Doug Sherring

"There is a whole other world going on – with so many songs, sayings, jokes, ways of life – that so many people in New Zealand don't have any idea about."

The only times he had ever felt uncomfortable speaking te reo had been around other Pākehā.

Once after playing a show he heard an older Pākehā man make a racist comment about Māori.

"I just started speaking to him in Māori. He looked completely bemused. He tried to say, 'Oh, I am just joking', but I kept speaking Māori to him. Eventually he apologised and took it all back. I hope now he rethinks what he is talking about."

When Māori discovered he was Pākehā and could speak te reo, their reactions ranged from impressed to emotionally overwhelmed.

"For some kuia and kaumātua it has gone full circle. They had their language oppressed, and now here is a white, blue-eyed guy speaking Māori."

While he encouraged all Pākehā to learn te reo, Taylor said it was important not to "re-colonise" the language.

"I need to acknowledge all my kaiako over the years and their tīpuna, from whom this precious gift was passed, tēna rā koutou katoa.

"Pākehā need to be humble and play a supporting role."

He looked forward to when Pākehā speaking Māori was seen as normal.

"There is a wave of enthusiasm at the moment, and I would love to see it continue."