Some common questions and answers
The Māori language is a taonga that gives our country its distinct and unique cultural indentity. For Māori to thrive as a language of everyday use, we must encourage its use in our homes and communities as much as possible.
The home is where people spend most of their time in the company of their family. Here Māori people make the rules about using a language. We can choose to speak Māori in this environment. To learn a language, children need positive attitudes and lots of exposure to the language. In homes with children, parents are a major influence on their children and can create a setting which encourages children to learn and speak Māori. If you believe that the Māori language is important, and make an effort to learn and use it, your children will also come to think that is important and worth learning. Parents can begin to expose their children to Māori on a regular, daily basis by using whatever Māori language skills they already possess.
Speaking Māori at home is not an all-or-nothing affair. Most Māori people have some knowledge of Māori. Start by using what you know, and aim to increase your range on a regular basis.
There are a number of ways for you to do this, including:
- attending a Māori language class
- spending time at your local Kōhanga Reo
- reading children's Māori language books with your children
- labelling household items in Māori
- finding someone more fluent than you, and spending time with them.
If you have learnt some Māori before - at school or at home - you will be surprised how much you remember, and how quickly it will come back to you. Remember - repeated exposure will help the learning process.
Any use of the Māori language at home will help your children to develop Māori language skills. Using Māori will provide language examples that the children will imitate, and it will teach the children that it is normal to use Māori at home.
Once the basic foundation has been set, you can send your children to Kōhanga Reo, Kura Kaupapa Māori, or a Māori immersion programme. There, the kaiako [teacher] will extend and develop the Māori language skills of your children.
There have been some studies that show that one parent can provide the necessary language input for a child to develop very good language skills. Some researchers believe that the roll of mothers in language development is especially important, because mothers are usually the ones most involved with the child during the early years. It is also possible that, in time, your partner may become interested. He/she will be learning some Māori too, possibly without realising it, through passive exposure to the language that you use.
No. Children (and adults) can learn and use two languages with ease. In fact, more than 60 percent of the people in the world - over 2 billion people - are bilingual. Children have plenty of time for language learning as they are growing up. They are constantly exposed to the English language through television, friends and neighbours, shopping and entertainment, and through family members. This will ensure that the children grow up with a good knowledge of the English language.
Learning a language takes time. We often underestimate how much time is needed to fully learn a language, and expect instant results. Some researchers have suggested that it can take five to six years of constant exposure to a language for children to become fluent. This requires a large commitment by parents to use Māori on a daily basis, often in a very repetitive manner. It also means, however, that you have a good deal of time to increase your own Māori language skills. It pays to start speaking Māori to your children as soon as possible - even while baby is in the womb.
It is important to build up your confidence about speaking Māori. The best way to do this is practice, and the best people to practice with are your children. Start slowly, and gradually build up the momentum. You may also want to make contact with other people in a similar situation, to swap ideas and experiences. Kōhanga Reo whānau are a good starting point.
Don't despair. Children will grow up surrounded by English, and it is normal for them to imitate what they hear around them. However, if you speak Māori to your children, and you send them to a Kōhanga Reo and Kura Kaupapa Māori, or a Māori immersion programme, there is a very good chance that they will become fluent in both Māori and English. This means that, as they grow older, they will be able to make conscious decisions about which language they speak. Don't try and force your children to speak Māori. That could cause your children to develop negative attitudes to Māori, and put them off more.
No. Language mixing is a natural process that can occur for a number of reasons. It is not a sign of confusion or slow development. Language mixing can occur because the children don't know the word for an idea or thing in one language. It can occur because the children have only experienced some things through one language.
Language mixing tends to decrease over time as the children learn to
differentiate between the two languages.
There are many places that you can go to for some help and advice. The best starting place is your local Kōhanga Reo - there are usually nannies and kaiako to help you and your children to increase your Māori language skills. In some areas, there are Parents as First Teachers programmes and Early Childhood Development Units. The Parent Educators and staff are professionals in child development, and they may be able to provide advice about the language development of your children, and what you can do to help. Look for details in your local White Pages, or at a Community Advice Bureau.
If you want to know more about research and findings in this field, some useful books which you might find in your local library are:
Arnberg, L. 1987. 'Raising children bilingually: the pre-school years,' Multilingual Matters, Clevedon.
Holmes, J. 1987. 'Providing support for the language learner,' in Hirsh, W. 1987. "Living Languages: bilingualism and community languages in New Zealand, " Heinmann, Auckland.
Saunders, G. 1982. 'Bilingual children: guidance for the family' Clevedon, Multilingual Matters 3.
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If you want more advice or support, do not hesitate to contact:
Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori
PO Box 411
ph (04) 471-0244
fax (04) 471-2768
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