Israeli inspirationinto revitalising Maori language

December 20, 2015 by Keren Cook
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Visiting Israel recently for a week has provided valuable insight into aiding the revitalisation of New Zealand’s native language  Te Reo Maori.

Jeremy Tatere MacLeod

Jeremy Tatere MacLeod

 “Only one in five Maori can speak te reo” are the kinds of statistics that highlight the danger of the language being lost, says Victoria University of Wellington’s Professor Rawinia Higgins.

At her inaugural lecture, this year in July – held at Victoria’s Te Herenga Waka Marae, Professor Higgins’ described the current position of te reo in New Zealand as ‘static’.
 
“Nothing significant has happened that suggests we have made an overwhelming shift in Māori language activity, and perhaps the changes to the Māori language strategy in 2014 suggest that we are regressing.”
 
Professor Higgins says indigenous peoples around the world look to Māori for leadership in this area and she believes it is New Zealand’s responsibility to review strategies and our current position so that other nations do not end up on the same road as us. 
 
“New Zealand initiatives like Te Ataarangi (a language programme), Kōhanga Reo (Māori language family programme) and Wānanga (tertiary institutes) have been adopted by other nations in an effort to reverse language shift.”  
 
The trip to Israel for Director of Te Reo and tikanga at Ngati Kahungunu Iwi inc, and Jeremy Tatere MacLeod offered full immersion into the Hebrew language and culture while visiting Tel Aviv, then Bat Yam and Jerusalem.
 
“The Hebrew Language is a great example of how a language can be revived through a determined and concerted effort.” 
 
In Israel, Hebrew along with Arabic, are now the primary languages, with Hebrew fully revived. The nation is trilingual, with all road signs posted in 3 languages: Hebrew, Arabic and English.
 
Tatere MacLeod says: “It is important to have a sense of need for the language. Without identifying a need people will not see the necessity to learn.
 
“The Hebrew language provided the identity and nationhood for the state of Israel,” explains MacLeod.
 
Ful immersion into the Hebrew language is provided by the Israeli Government. A six month, free Hebrew Language lesson program is on offer to migrants through approved learning institutions – these known as Ulpan. 
 
During this time Migrants learn enough Hebrew to help them settle into a new life, and learn the essentials to everyday life. This also increases employment opportunity.
 
New Zealand offers various Maori language programmes such as Te Ataarangi, a method which has been at the forefront of the language revitalisation for 30 years.
 
However, MacLeod says the biggest challenge is creation a sense of nationhood here, where there is an actual need for the Maori language in New Zealand.
 
“It is important to have a sense of need for the language. Without identifying a need people will not see the necessity to learn.”
 
MacLeod is now focused on a role that will see him work to revitalise Te Reo through inter-generational transmission. In simple terms, this means: It begins in the home, and that parents who are fluent in Maori use the the language and teach it to their children.
 
“It’s the ultimate holy grail of revitalisation and without that the language will ultimately die,” says MacLeod.
 
Te Reo is a language that constantly evolves. It is likely that it will be a different language in the future, and these changes are respected and embraced. 
 
In particular, young people constantly create new words and colloquialisms and that is key to keeping the language attractive to the younger generation.

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