A Massey PhD student says the future of Te Reo Māori rests with the younger generation and more needs to be done in schools to encourage children to use the language.
Palmerston North’s Hinurewa Poutu, who also teaches at Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Mana Tamariki, is passionate about reviving Māori language and hopes her research will provide insight into how Māori speaking teenagers are using the language.
“I’m looking at the frequency and the places where they [teenagers] choose to speak Māori in the hope that we can identify where we need to focus all of our energy to revive the Māori language,” Ms Poutu says. “It’s very clear that once kids hit their teens they prefer to speak English among themselves in social situations. Everything that is cool and trendy is in English like texting, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter and these have a huge influence.”
Ms Poutu (Ngāti Rangi, Te Āti Haunui a Pāpārangi, Ngāti Maniapoto) has based her thesis on the influences on Māori language use among teenagers who have attended Māori immersion early childhood or primary schools.
“There has been very little research in examination of the nature of where we use Māori particularly in the teenage years because the future of Māori rests on them.”
She says it’s possible that teenagers are resistant to speaking Māori because it is compulsory to speak the language in immersion schools.
“We have to decide is compulsion too much? Is it pushing them away from the language? What can we do to encourage a more positive attitude towards speaking Māori where they don’t feel like it’s a school rule and have to do it?”
Ms Poutu says Māori language does need to move towards being compulsory in mainstream New Zealand classrooms – even if it’s just learning how to correctly pronounce vowels in Māori.
“It is a national language so it belongs to all of us, Māori and non-Māori, so I believe giving the option to those who want to learn it, is important. Our schools play a role in making sure Te Reo isn’t lost. If we want Te Reo Māori to live, survive, and flourish we’ve got to make sure we put it in all environments – home, school, books and be able to discuss higher level academic theories in our language.”
She has worked at Te Kura Kāupapa o Mana Tamariki for eight years, and has also worked as a presenter, Māori language consultant, and associate producer for Māori media. She is also a member on the New Zealand Constitutional Advisory Panel.