by Michelle Arios
Māori is a Polynesian language, and one that has had a tumultuous history. Back at the beginning of the 19th century it was the primary language of New Zealand. However, when English speaking settlers arrived to the islands, Māori was forced to take a backseat. Many new institutions, such as government and schools, conducted their business in English and native Māori people were encouraged to prioritise English in order to get ahead.
Nevertheless, the Māori language endured and at the time of the Second World War, most Māori people still spoke Māori as their first language. But, with increased urbanisation, the percentage of speakers began to decline from this point onwards until, by the 1980s, only 20% of Māori people spoke Māori as a first language.
Concerns that Māori might die out altogether prompted a revival. Māori is now recognised as one of New Zealand’s official languages alongside English, many place names in the country have been changed from the English back to the original Māori and programs have been devised for passing the language knowledge of older, native Māori speakers onto the younger generations.
That being said, finding resources to help you learn Māori can sometimes prove tricky. Here are some of the best resources available online:
Maori Television allows you to watch original Māori productions as well as English-made programmes dubbed in the Māori language. It’s a great way to hear Māori spoken fluently and train your ear to the natural rhythms and phrasing of the language. Tōku Reo is a programme specifically designed to help you learn Māori. Each episode gives you new vocabulary and sentence structures as well as homework, which will help you to consolidate all that you have learnt.
There are a number of radio stations broadcast exclusively in the Māori language. Listening and understanding without the use of facial expression or hand gestures can be a real test for your language skills. It’s another great way to develop your comprehension of fluent Māori.
The Te Taura Whiri website is a good place to look for resources. You can find a Māori word of the week, tips for pronunciation and phrases for special occasions.
The Te Whanake website is another excellent resource. Here you can find lots of different text books, dictionaries and study guides to help you read, write and practice the grammar of Māori. There are also lots of accompanying online resources that complement the books available. Podcasts and animations will help to improve your listening skills
This online Māori dictionary provides translations from English to Māori and vice versa. It’s an essential resource for any Māori learner and, if you have a smartphone, one you can use on the go.
If you’re learning a language, you need chance to practice it outside of the classroom. If you don’t know any native Māori speakers in your area, you can find people online. An online language exchange allows you to practice your Māori in exchange for helping a native Māori speaker practice the language of their choice. There are options for communication via Skype or email so you don’t even need to live in the same town to benefit from regular communication in Māori.
It’s essential that you practice your reading, writing, listening and speaking skills when learning any language. The more exposure you have and the more immersed you are able to be, the easier the learning process becomes. Using these resources, you’ll improve your language skills, learn to communicate in Māori and, in doing so, help to revitalise this rich and vibrant language.
Michelle Arios works as Marketing Assistant for BizDb.co.nz - New Zealand business database.