Cross-party support for Te Reo in schools?

It’s high time we all worked together and supported our national languages in schools starting with Te Reo Maori.

I agree with Tim Groser that learning Te Reo should be available to all children and it’s great to hear the message from an unexpected quarter. The earlier children learn languages, the better. And as Tim Groser said, it’s about more than learning kupu hou (new words), its about learning to see through new eyes and understand another culture. His comments are a clear recognition that many people who are Pakeha or Tauiwi do not understand the First People’s culture or language. It is a good idea. It is a Te Tiriti o Waitangi issue. We need to protect Te Reo Maori as a taonga.

Alex Barnes, a Pakeha who was educated in kohanga reo, was on Radio New Zealand on Sunday talking about his experience of Te Reo and how it assisted him to also learn German as an AFS student. Being multi-lingual is normal in so many parts of the world but we have lagged behind.

Learning Te Reo gives us the opportunity to build a greater understanding and respect for tangata whenua. Learing Te Reo doesn’t automatically result in a shift in the heart, but the opportunity is created by being exposed to the values expressed in the language. We can also encourage our children to understand why the indigenous language is precious and how ignoring it or mispronouncing it creates hurt.

However, before this vision can be realised, we must build the capacity. Our colleges of education need political support and resources so that quality Te Reo teaching can be a priority for the next cohort of trainees.

We can also ensure that Te Reo is first and foremost available to those from whom it was stolen. A friend from my school days was beaten on her first day of school for speaking Te Reo. Thankfully, those direct assaults on language and culture are now unacceptable, but a malign culture of neglect is very real. I want all political parties to support the goal of Te Reo for all children, and I tautoko (support) everyone who stands up for Te Reo, not as an elite option, but as the cornerstone of our Te Tiriti based identity in Aotearoa.


72 Comments Posted

  1. Language is an anonymous, collective, and unconscious art; the result of the creativity of thousands of generations. -Edward Sapir, anthropologist, linguist (1884-1939

  2. BJ – your idea of controlling machinery through the parallel port – while possible – doesn’t address COBOL’s fundamental limitation in that it can’t do what Assembler or C or Turbo Pascal can do, which is to access the hardware found on the computer. Adding extra hardware because of software limits is actually an admission of defeat.

    Similarly adding Maori words for electron, proton, neutron, etc is also an admission of defeat. Science is best taught using English as this is the language most spoken in the scientific community.


  3. A good programmer can write FORTRAN in ANY language 🙂

    Actually older than Fortran is the machine language and assembly language… but that HISTORY is not so important as the future, and if you imagine ‘C’ is going away I have a bridge somewhere that I’d really like to unload.

    FORTRAN is the language of science. C is for the hardware weenies. LISP abd Prolog have fans in AI. Ada is purely about reliable code and C++ is the spawn of Satan himself. No, I think I got it right 🙂

  4. BJ, your programming language example was a bad one. If one looks at the history of languages, we see one language that was there at the beginning, is still used now, and will still be used in 50 years: FORTRAN. All other languages are as ephemeral as the leaves on a tree; here one day, gone the next. Only the one true language has outlived them all.

  5. Trevor

    If I wanted to use Cobol to control machinery I WOULD have to convert its limited I/0 into something else, but if it can cause different characters to appear on a parallel printer, and can read input from a keyboard, it can be used for control. It would completely suck , but it COULD be done. I think the limitation is that one couldn’t use it directly, but I am quite sure the same control program could be written in Cobol as in any other language. I/O is a hardware, not a software, limitation.

  6. greenfly said
    “learning a Maori word for, say, electron gives you a look into a world view that is different from your own, to your advantage”

    but the Maori world view did not include atoms, protons, neutrons, electrons or nuclei and the Maori language lacks words for all of these, so how can trying to teach this in Maori possibly help?

    And my other questions go unanswered…


  7. Or desirable! There is so much more complexity around language, meaning, emotion, culture, understanding…. if you don’t have any glimmer of understanding what we are saying to you, then it is your language that is impoverished, not ours. Impoverishing it further does not serve any useful purpose at all.

  8. AA

    Problem with the academic theory on a standardised world language is that, for practical reasons outline, it is totally unobtainable.

    False associations? Rubbish.

    Practical examples where it demonstates, just in a very slight manner, the impracticalities of what you are suggesting.

    Up there with one world currency, one world order of government, or seven billion people living in harmony.

    Unobtainable so why pursue the fallacy that a standardised language is possible?

  9. @ AA

    I think you were referring to me rather than Gerrit 🙂

    And yes, I agree with you point regarding false associations.

    It is a cheap rhetorical trick to be sure, but it is also immensely useful in popping the absurd bubbles of absolutism of which you seem quite fond, so please forgive me.

  10. @ AA

    To me, not standardising language is like not standardising mathematics. It’s just a silly thing to do. It creates problems and inefficiencies with no real advantages.

    While mathematics can be regarded as a language in some senses, it is deficient in the key area: metaphor. Furthermore, mathematics is explicit, rigid and by necessity, boolean. Human language is not.

    Language is a tool – not a thought, not a culture. It is a communications tool. Likewise, it should be developed and standardised.

    To reduce language to merely being a tool, reduces Shakespeare to merely being words. In reducing something so complex to the mechanistic, the written word is reduced to an instruction manual, not a method for evoking thought.

    For the sake of efficiency let’s not fall pray to romantic notions of human language but rather, regress to simple, and unambiguous universal grunts, howls and squeaks.

    It’s terribly efficient and seems to work pretty well for cats and dogs.

  11. Andrew, I think you not only have a complete lack of understanding of language, but a humour bypass as well.

  12. Gerrit: Did you know that with enough false associations (taking a principle and misapplying it – or mis-comparing it) you can make any idea or argument look feasible or unfeasible, at least to those who are simple-minded (and no, I am not suggesting you are). This was my earlier point to you when I asserted that your point was actually pointless.

  13. For the purpose of standardisation of the uniform we need ALL males to shave their heads so that I can be as uniform as the rest.

    My head is refusing to grow hair so that for me to conform to a universal male uniform, ALL males must present themselves to the barber for an at least a number one haircut.

    Ladies need to sort out what their standard haircut is going to be.

    As for standard language, never ever going to happen. A thought suistable only for an acadamic to try and implement.

    Who will police that we call a seaside holiday house just that and not a crib (South Island) or a bach (North Island)

    Who will persuade and enforce that Australians change their descrpbtion of a cossie to swimming trunks? Similarly will we need to drop our desription of togs.

    And will this first generation family of NZL’ers need to revert back to using “family” instead of the “whanau” we now use?

  14. Standard bread should be supplied standardly half-toasted, thus getting rid of the unnecessary distinction between ‘bread’ and ‘toast’ and the many variants of the latter.

  15. Greenfly – it wasn’t binary. It is a pentary code, i.e. has 5 distinct symbols, comprising three different 0 symbols and two different 1 symbols, which I have attempted to represent using ASCII characters. But the message is English.


  16. Actually BJ, your computer language exercise reveals that not everything can be done in any language. While I can write C or assembler code to do anything a COBOL (Commercial and Business Orientated Language) program can do, the opposite is not true. A COBOL programmer does not have access to the operating system or hardware so is restricted to input and output operations on keyboard, screen, printer and files, which of course is no problem for the sort of tasks that COBOL programmers write programs to do. But I couldn’t use COBOL to control machinery.


  17. Andrew

    You really are misunderstanding the fundamentals of language and grammar and what they mean to us as humans. I suggest a book… “Grammatical man”.

    I suggest a bit of reflection on the difficulty of thinking WITHOUT using language and grammar to subdivide reality into interacting elements which follow useful rules… and can be symbolically combined in new ways.

    …and having that reflection in mind, then consider the differences between two languages that subdivide differently, and use different rules, to come up with new ways of understanding reality.

    Language is far more useful than merely a tool of communication.

    Lets do that same exercise using computer languages for real ones… they are good at/for different things. C, Basic, Fortran, Cobol, Ada, Java, Lisp, Prolog, Assembler, Haskell, Erlang… There is no real obstacle to writing ANY program in ANY one of those languages. Theoretically at least there is not. They contain the tools to make the tools if nothing else. No programmer would consider them all equal however… nor equally useful for any given task at hand. They subdivide the problem space differently and bring different ways of thinking about the problems along with them.

    It is the same with human languages, and an appreciation and understanding of more than one of them is a very useful thing indeed, and if properly selected can double your chances of getting a date in most parts of the world.



  18. Trevor – the advantage to learning more than one word for something is greater flexibility in thinking and the exercise the learning provides for he mind. Young people learn to learn by learning a second third or fourth language (see Tim Grosers’s epiphany). Also, learning a Maori word for, say, electron gives you a look into a world view that is different from your own, to your advantage. It broadens your mind – that’s gotta be a good thing.
    We should all be ‘good at languages’, and more than one of them. It’s pretty easy and most of us learn one sooner or later.

  19. Binary, etc are not languages. They are means to convey the words of a language. For example

    …. . .-.. .-.. — .– — .-. .-.. -..
    still conveys an English message familiar to many.

    But getting back to teaching Maori through immersion, what are the Maori words for “electron”, “nucleus”, “stamen” or “carburetor” and what advantage could there be in actually learning Maori words for these?

    And if you try teaching science or mathematics in Maori, will this not disadvantage those students who would be good at science or mathematics but who are not good at (human) languages? And wouldn’t students who are struggling with science or mathematics be even more disadvantaged if they are also not good at languages?


  20. 00011001100001100001100000110011001100100011001101000100011001100011001100001100110010000011001100001100000110011011010001100110000110011010

  21. Your only hope, Andrew, is to go binary. Clean, simple, standardised. And beautiful. The poetry! The soaring prose! The mystery! The subtlety! If only, if only, W.Shakespeare had had binary at his finger tips – what a waste of ink that man turned out to be! And don’t get me started on James Joyce or Dylan Thomas – they wouldn’t know the meaning of ‘standardisation’! Philistines!

  22. Standardise clothes and soup yes – not so sure about the bread at this stage. I think you would have to standardise wheat first – in fact, the only kind of agriculture you could have might be temperate zone plants. None of those messy tropical things.

  23. AA@5pm Language is a tool – not a thought, not a culture.

    Andrew, i suggest that you go away and try and think about this without using any language in the process. In particular, try to think about standardisation without thinking “standardisation”.

  24. It’s interesting, but the middle class has always put solid pressure on their young to speak and write “proper” English. Why? Because they know their kids must know it so they can communicate well with *anyone* – not just their schoolyard in-group. So they are born into some standardisation pressure. Civilisation demands standardisation, at least for the executive classes. I’m just talking about expanding the principle, and expanding it into an international civilisation.

  25. Gerrit:

    You can standardise it, with progressive updates. It can be standardised *and* living. You should look at my original link on this post (up top). But ultimately, people will generally need to respect what will be considered “proper” English for the day.

  26. Andrew,

    How can you standardise a language when it is constantly changing? Try reading the standard english language that Shakespeare wrote with today’s “modern” english.

    Then try and read the developing “txt” based language of today that will become the new english tomorrow.

    You simply cant standardise something that is in a constant state of development or change.

    Neither can you change language intergration, typically as we have in NZL with english and Maori.

    We are all “tutu-ing” the language.

  27. To me, not standardising language is like not standardising mathematics. It’s just a silly thing to do. It creates problems and inefficiencies with no real advantages. Language is a tool – not a thought, not a culture. It is a communications tool. Likewise, it should be developed and standardised. These romantic associations people attribute to language are just pathetic. And besides, we’re evolving to what I ideal anyway. It’s just going to take a long time – longer than it should.

  28. Gregor, i think your wrong. I think that if we can establish a standardised bread then people will not feel the need to toast it.

  29. +1 Sam & solkta

    However, I think we are all missing a golden opportunity to take it back to first principles.

    I suggest we standardise thought which will then naturally cascade into all other areas of human development and interaction. For too long have we been subjected to the tyranny of non-conformity!

    Then and only then, will we reach our ultimate, glorious goal of ‘One language, one uniform, one soup’.

    PS – might I suggest we establish standard toast to go with the soup?

  30. Fashion is the most obvious thing for early standardisation. Everybody wearing different clothing, very untidy. An International Uniform could lead to enough shared identity to spawn an international language and, ultimately, standard international soup.

  31. Sadly Andrew, you’ve failed.

    Possibly you should look at a standarised approach to ripostes.

  32. How can we even talk about standardising language when we can’t even agree on what we want for dinner?

    The first step is a Standard National Soup. Why didn’t Labour do anything about this during their nearly ten years in power? Don’t they care?

  33. @AA

    Some things should be standardised and some things shouldn’t. Some things should be nationalised and some things shouldn’t.

    Compelling arguement 😉

  34. @ Andrew

    Developing an internationally standardised [education], which would naturally be [commerce], should be our priority. Learning [music / history / moral philosophy / medicine] or any other obscure [field of study] is fine, but I think this practice belongs to private culture clubs – not national initiatives.

  35. Shunda’s onto it – let’s go Glossalalic!

    שמי הוא shunda ואני מלא רעיונות מצוינים!

  36. Developing an internationally standardised language, which would naturally be English, should be our priority. Learning Maori or any other obscure language is fine, but I think this practice belongs to private culture clubs – not national initiatives.

    King Andrew has spoken.

  37. Janine – I’m sorry, Kemo Sabe is an unauthorised use of univEnglish.

    Please refer to Andrew as ‘Trusty Scout’ and report to your local language controller for doubleplusgood relinguification.

  38. You’ll be the deciding authority then, Andrew?
    Thanks ever so much.
    I’ll have Parson-bird thanks. It’s part of my cultural heritage. Tui’s too hard to say correctly. And to spell. Should have two ‘i’s, did you know that? Tuii.

  39. Who will win the tui/parson bird tussle though, Andrew?
    Traditionalist Maori or traditionalist pakeha?
    Ya can’t have it both ways! One word good, two words bad.
    Standardisation is what we want.

  40. greenfly:

    You can incorporate Maori words, where appropriate, into an internationally standardised English. English is just the base – the standardisation is what we want.

  41. One cleaned-up version of English for everyone. Imagine the practical advantages of being able to communicate with ease to anyone on the planet. Yes please! Especially in this globalised internet age.

    Screw this cultural b.s. Language is overwhelmingly about communications. Let’s just get on with what’s practical.

  42. “I want the world to speak one language, and one language only. And it should be God’s language – English.”

    What a ghastly thought.

    And if we were to aim for a universal language, shouldn’t it be something with more speakers (such as Mandarin) or something much less messy and confused (such as Esperanto or Arabic). Politically, the only way to carry out such a project would be to choose something where there’s an equal lack of vested interests, so I’d propose Niuean.

  43. Andrew, that is so 19th century of you! Haven’t you noticed the map is no longer coloured pink in great swathes – by jingo, these other chappies have their own lingo, who would have thought?

  44. Andrew

    Language is how we subdivide the world into manageable chunks and grammar is how we manipulate our view of it. A different language divides the world differently, but describes it no less completely. Its different grammar provides for different manipulations to be easier or easiest.

    Which allows us to be flexible in English, accurate in German and Russian, artistic in French and expressive in Italian… etc. The point is that the additional language provides an additional tool for understanding the world more accurately and thinking about it more usefully.

    Not a bad result. Even though I quail at the thought of trying to add Maori at this late stage in my life.

    A useful course is the philosophy of language. The perception of the world through language is our most remarkably useful human trick, and allowing that perception to take more forms allows it to be more useful.


  45. “Maori are now an English speaking people… And the idea of forcing kids to learn an essentially extinct language is vulgar”

    Dunno about that – for a couple of days last week I was in a largely Te Reo speaking environment, and the people sitting in front of me on the train yesterday were chatting in Te Reo. Probably depends on where you spend time, but, regardless of educational value and of getting people more in touch with Te Ao Maori, I’d find it useful to have a bit more of the language on a purely practical level.

  46. Why Maori? Because it is the language of tangata whenua, the other official language of the country we live in, it affirms the place of Maori children in this society, offers the rest of us opportunity to understand our countrypeople better (thereby improving social relations).
    The Welsh revived their own language in a very similar way for similar reasons – Welsh isn’t needed as an international language either, but learning it improved educational standards greatly.
    Education is a much more subtle thing than some of you seem to understand and language is a vital component of that.

  47. @AA

    I’m not sure it’s that speculative.
    If you take the premises separately, they hold.

    1. That learning a second language improves metalinguistic comprehension is supported by research.

    2. Self determination and motivation determinant research supports the premise that second language learners tend to be more motivated – a lot of debate as to whether it is precedent or antecedent though.

    3. Neuroscientific expectation theory supports that those who feel emotionally rewarded (motivational more so than external or recognition) for educational efforts continue to excel and are more motivated.

  48. Trevor, the immersion and bilingual classes that already exist teach the other subjects in te reo – you don’t cut back, you change the way you do things. It is a fact that children who have been learning in te reo from the start pick up other languages much more quickly than those who are monolingual – our local school used the opportunity to have a Japanese intern to work with the children and the ones in the Whanau Kotahi (Moari language immersion classes) benefitted most.

  49. Improved comprehension/language skills means faster learning – better ability to learn, this ability would encourage the so called underachievers to continue with education.

  50. If you are going to spend classroom time teaching Te Reo, what are you going to stop teaching or cut back on teaching? Or are you planning on keeping the children in class longer?

    There are no other choices.


  51. Maori children being bi-lingual is one way to improve their educational performance – allocating teachers to ensure that Maori language teaching is available for all Maori who want it is an imperative both to reduce (educational and employment) inequality and to fulfill Treaty obligations.

  52. @Andrew Atkin 6:01 PM

    I think from her post Catherine accepts it is unrealistic,short-term. We simply don’t have the capacity in terms of numbers of qualified Te Reo teachers to do it.

    But it should be a goal we aspire to. Kids who learn a second language when they are young become much more adept to learning other languages later in life.

    Much to my embarrassment, and despite my efforts, I can barely string a couple of sentences together in Te Reo, Spanish, or French. And can’t speak a word of Mandarin.

    I suspect if I had been brought up bilingual in my childhood years I would be much more adept at learning other languages.

  53. Nice but unrealistic. Learning the Maori language will not make any White, Indian or China man any the wiser on Maoridom. And Maori history is not Maori culture. Maori are now an English speaking people. That is Maori culture today.

    And the idea of forcing kids to learn an essentially extinct language is vulgar. Keep it strictly as an option. That’s all I can say.

  54. Yes, it was a pleasant surprise to see Groser endorsing te reo for all children. For trade purposes naturally, but nevertheless he didn’t fall into the trap of suggesting Mandarin or Japanese as the only other languages.
    However, we desperately do need more support and training for speakers and teachers of te reo – they are thin on the ground, even in places like the Far North.

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