Te reo Maori is the most popular second language among Wanganui secondary school students but a local advocate wants everyone to become more familiar with the language, culture and history.

Figures from the Ministry of Education show Wanganui had an average of 379 students per year signed up to learn the language from 2012-14.

Awhina Twomey, who works at the Whanganui Regional Museum as kaitiaki taonga Maori, said the Maori language was a taonga (treasure).

People should try to protect and preserve it, as opposed to Maori culture being consigned to dusty shelves or museum cabinets.


"The beauty of the language and the depth of the knowledge that's held within it can only be passed on if you have that language," she said.

It was encouraging to know students were studying Maori but she questioned teachers' level of ability in te reo. She wants adults at schools to learn the language, so they can converse in it and show it is normal.

Ms Twomey speaks with her children in Maori at home and in town, and often receives comments about it.

"The day that me speaking Maori to my children is not a sideshow is the day I look forward to ... when it's just a normal part of life."

She wants the Government to invest money into teaching about New Zealand's history. Education would help people understand why some might feel upset or ripped off by the Treaty of Waitangi or why others felt Maori were getting a good deal, she said. Wanganui District Council promotion and marketing manager Lyn Cheyne said visitors to the area were increasingly looking for an authentic, interactive experience and te reo would contribute strongly.

Visitors enjoyed hearing the stories, traditions and history of a place or activity as part of a tourism experience, as it provided a greater feeling of connection and understanding, she said.

"Te reo allows for those stories to be told and explained in a way true to Maori tikanga and kaupapa, and as a result has greater resonance with a visitor."

Across the country there has been a steady drop in secondary school language enrolments since 2008, according to Ministry of Education figures.


There was a 19 per cent decrease in students signing up to learn a language other than English between July 2008 and July 2014.

Head of student achievement at the Ministry of Education, Graham Stoop, said leaning a language was increasingly important to ensure Kiwi children became confident, connected global citizens.

"As the market for goods and services has become increasingly globalised, language is more important than ever." Dr Stoop said learner numbers tended to taper off at senior secondary level but, over the past 10 years, there had been an overall increase in language students, especially in primary schools.

"Students are learning languages from an earlier age and there has been a steep rise in students taking Mandarin, as parents increasingly see Chinese as an important language."

He said quality teaching was critical and the Ministry of Education aimed to increase the number of qualified language teachers.

Nationally, at a secondary level, te reo Maori, French, Japanese and Spanish were the most studied languages, with te reo taking out the top spot.

Tokelauan, Korean and Niuean had been the least popular since 2008, gathering no more than three dozen students across the country each year.

-Maori Language Week - Te Wiki o Te Reo Mori - begins on July 27.