Kia ora.

Two simple words that I love hearing spoken.

Why? Because every time I hear them, they remind me I live in a beautiful country with a rich culture and history that is unique and, most importantly, needs to be celebrated and kept alive.

As an English import to this country, I am the first to admit my Māori pronunciation is not always perfect, or in fact, anywhere near. At times, it is downright abysmal. Try as I might, my Devonshire twang and the same inability to roll my Rs that drove three consecutive French teachers to near tears as they listened to me tortuously and ineptly read aloud from Guy de Maupassant's collected works, can leave me struggling with even the simplest of phrases or words in Māori.

Advertisement

And that's a shame, because while those French teachers argued French was the most beautiful of languages, after nearly 20 years in New Zealand, I disagree. The most beautiful language is Māori. Don't believe me? Try saying mōrena out loud without smiling. It's impossible isn't it? Even with my lack of perfect pronunciation.

Thankfully my children (half-English, half-German, 100 per cent Kiwi) have not inherited my lack of skill in this area. Growing up in New Zealand, they, like their friends, all embrace and use Māori words in their daily life. From their toddler years, they have been encouraged to kanikani (dance) or pakipaki (clap), to eat their kai, and to soak in the Māori language and culture around them.

While this is great, and I freely admit to being incredibly jealous of my 12-year-old daughter's ability to roll her Rs so beautifully, I wish my children were learning more than they are.

Their primary school, like many others around the country, does not include te reo Māori as a set subject in the curriculum. At high school, my son has just had to make choices on his subjects for next year, and while subjects such as science, math and English are compulsory, learning te reo Māori is only an option alongside Spanish and Japanese. This is not a criticism of the specific schools, but rather the state of a national curriculum that treats the indigenous language of our nation as an optional extra.

That attitude leads to adults who mumble rather than sing the words of the Māori version of God Defend New Zealand, who mispronounce place names such as Taupō or Tauranga, and call our beautiful maunga Egmont instead of Taranaki.

That attitude, in part, is why te reo Māori is listed as one of the "vulnerable" languages on Unesco's endangered languages list. This is something we need to change.

Te reo Māori should not be an add-on, an option or a choice. It should be something we all use in our daily speech as naturally and confidently as we use English words. While it might not yet be on the curriculum in every school, we can put it into action in our daily life right now. By using words such as whānau, kai, hīkoi, aroha or wai as naturally as we say family, food, walk, love or water, and making every effort to pronounce them correctly, we can all do our part to uphold the mana of the language.

the theme for Māori Language Week this year is Kia Kaha te Reo Māori - Let's make the Māori language strong, and that is something we can all do, by giving the language the mana it deserves.

Advertisement

As I have said, my pronunciation is nowhere near perfect, but that doesn't stop me trying, and it shouldn't stop others either.

Please, give it a go, don't be too whakamā (embarrassed), but instead korerotia te reo (keep speaking the language), and together lets celebrate the beauty of New Zealand's indigenous language and help preserve it for generations to come.

Heoi anō tāku mō nāianei (that's all for now).
Ilona