Dr Matiu Ratima, who learned te reo Māori as an adult. “If you want to learn to speak Māori, it’s not a case of merely learning a language and then you end up a reo speaker. Your identity changes too. It’s like you have to be reborn.” (Photo supplied)

Matiu Ratima knows what it takes to learn te reo as an adult and succeed. After a late start, he became a reo teacher, graduated from the language school Te Panekiretanga o te Reo, and gained a PhD that explored the personal, social and environmental factors that help adult learners become fluent speakers.

Atakohu Middleton, who was 36 when she finally started applying herself to te reo, asked Matiu about his reo journey and what learning and teaching strategies work for adult learners.

(This kōrero was conducted in te reo Māori and then translated into te reo Pākehā.)

*

Ka mōhio pai a Matiu Rātima ki te nui o te mahi hei whai e te pakeke kia matatau ki te reo. Ahakoa he pakeke ia i te wā i tahuri tūturu ki te reo, i eke panuku a Matiu. Ināianei, he kaiako o te reo Māori, he Ika ā-Whiro o te Panekiretanga o te Reo, ā, i whiwhi ia i te tohu kairangi, ko te kaupapa ko ngā āhua ā-tangata, ā-papori, ā-taiao e āwhina ai te tauira pakeke ki te kaha kōrero i te reo.

E 36 ngā tau te pakeke o te kairīpoata a Atakohu Middleton i te wa i huri tūturu ia ki te whai i te reo Māori. Nāna a Matiu i uiui kia mōhio i pēwhea tana haerenga reo me ōna whakaaro mō ngā rautaki me ngā momo whakaako e āwhina ai te hunga tauira kia koke. 

(I kōrero rāua i te reo Māori, kātahi ka whakapākehātia tā rāua kōrero.)

 

Atakohu: I ahu mai i whea te tino hiahia ki te whai i te reo Māori?

What made you want to learn te reo Māori?

Matiu: Ahakoa he pakeke au i te wā i tahuri tūturu ki te ako i te reo, nō mātou ko aku tuahine te waimaria nā te mea he tangata kōrero Māori taku pāpā. Ahakoa kāore ia i aro nui ki te kōrero Māori ki a mātou, te hunga tamariki, ka rangona te reo i te kāinga i a ia e kōrero ana ki ngā whanaunga, ki ngā hoa ki Murihiku (i tipu ake mātou ki Murihiku).

Even though I was an adult when I committed myself to learning te reo, my sisters and I were lucky as our dad was a reo speaker. Although he didn’t speak Māori to us, we heard it at home when he was talking with his relatives and his friends at Murihiku (where we grew up).

He tangata hapori taku pāpā. I kōrero ia ki runga i ngā marae o Murihiku, i tautoko i ngā mea o Ngāi Tahu i aua wā rā i te whakapau kaha ki te whakapiki reo. Nā reira, waimaria mātou i kawea mātou ki ngā marae o te Murihiku me Ōtepoti nei, ka rangona te reo. Nā reira, ahakoa kāore au i tīmata ki te ako tae noa ki ngā taupakeke, kua waia kētia ngā taringa. He āwhina nui tērā.

Dad was a community-minded person. He was a kaikōrero on Murihiku marae and supported Ngāi Tahu activities in the days they were putting a lot of effort into revitalising their reo. So we were lucky to be taken to marae in Murihiku and Dunedin where you’d hear te reo. So although I didn’t start learning until I was an adult, my ears were already attuned to the language. That was a big help.

He aha tō pāpā i kore ai te reo i whakaako ake ki āna tamariki?

Why did your dad not teach his children te reo Māori?

Nāku anō tērā pātai ki a ia. Ko tana whakahoki: Ko tana whakapono me ako te tamaiti i te reo Pākehā i roto i tēnei ao Pākehā. Tērā pōhēhē tērā, engari koirā te whakaaro i aua wā rā. Koinā tonu te whakaaro o ētahi!

I also asked him that question. His reply: He believed that children should learn English in this Pākehā world. That was mistaken, but such was the belief in those days. Some people still believe that!

Tēnā, whakarāpopotohia mai tō haerenga reo.

Summarise your reo journey.  

Ko te tino, tino o ngā whakarāpopototanga, he mea tīmata i te whare wānanga [o Ōtakou]. I oti i a au taku Bachelor of Arts i te reo Māori, kāhore he reo Māori. Ehara i te mea nō te whare wānanga anake te hē i pērā. I pērā ngā momo whakaako i aua wā rā, he ako mā te pukapuka, kāore i tino whakakōrero i te ākonga.

The very, very short story is that I started learning at university [Otago]. I completed my Bachelor of Arts in te reo Māori, but I still couldn’t speak Māori. It wasn’t just the university at fault for this. It was the nature of te reo teaching at that time — book-learning rather than getting students talking. 

Nā reira, i oti i a au taku tohu, nā, kātahi ka haere mai ngā kaumātua o taku takiwā ka kōrero ahau ki a rātou. Kātahi rātou ka rakuraku i te upoko: “He aha kē rā te kōrero a te tamaiti nei?” Ka kōrero rānei te kaumātua mai ki a au, ko ahau kē te mea e rakuraku ana i te upoko me te whakaaro: “He aha kē rā te ia o ngā kōrero kaumātua nei?”

So I completed my degree, and along came some kaumātua from my area and I spoke to them in Māori. They scratched their heads and said: “What’s this kid on about?” When they spoke to me, I was the one scratching my head and thinking: “What on earth are these guys talking about?”

Kātahi ka pātai atu au ki Anituatua Black: “Me pēhea te whakapiki reo kia taea ai te kōrero ki tēnei hunga kaumātua?” Koirā tana kaha akiaki ki a au, kia haere atu au ki Te Kura Takiura. Nāna i kī mai: “E puta koe i tō kōhao, tuatahi, haere atu koe ki wāhi kē, haere ki tangata kē, ki ngā rekereke o ngā mea mōhio ki te kōrero Māori. Mā te noho roa ki ō rātou nā taha, mā te whai i a rātou me ā rātou tohutohu, tautoko i a rātou kaupapa, ā, ka ora, ka puāwai tō reo.” I haere atu au ki reira, kotahi tau i puta rawa tōku reo ka pai. Ehara i te mea i puāwai taku reo, engari i puta te reo.

So I asked [the late] Anituatua Black: “How can I improve my reo so I’m able to speak to these kaumātua?” She strongly encouraged me to go to Te Kura Takiura. She said: “Firstly, get out of your comfort zone and go somewhere else, go to different people, sit at the heels of people who are skilful Māori speakers. By spending lots of time with them, by following them and their advice and supporting what they’re doing, your reo will grow and flourish.” I went to Auckland, and in a year, my reo had really improved. It wasn’t in full flower, but I was speaking it.      

He aha ngā wero nui ki a koe i a koe e tīmata ana i tō whai i te reo?

What were the biggest challenges when you started learning?

Ki a au nei, ko te whakamā te tino taupā o ngā taupā ki te puāwaitanga o tō reo Māori. Mēnā ka whakaaro koe: “He aha te take kāore koe i tipu mai e kōrero Māori ana?” ko te katoa o tō ao he ao Pākehā, nē? Ka haere koe ki tō wāhi mahi, he reo Pākehā te reo kōrero. Ka haere koe ki te kura, ka haere ki te mahi hākinakina, ka haere ki te mahi ngahau, ko te reo Pākehā anake.

To me, shame is the single biggest obstacle to the growth of your reo. When you think: “How come you weren’t raised speaking Māori?” you realise your whole world is structured by English. You go to work, everyone speaks English. You go to kura, to sport, out to do fun stuff, and the only language is English.

Nā reira, mehemea e pērā ana ko tō tuakiri, he tuakiri reo Pākehā. Mehemea e hiahia ana koe ki te kōrero Māori, ehara i te mea he ako noa i tētahi reo, kātahi ka puta atu ki te ao hei tangata kōrero Māori. Ka rerekē tō tuākiri. Nā reira me mate koe, me whānau mai anō hei tangata kōrero Māori kia eke koe. Ko koe tonu tērā tangata o mua, engari he tangata hou koe ināianei. He rerekē ngā hoa, he rerekē tō mahi, he rerekē ō mahi ngāhau, he rerekē o mahi hākinakina. Me kimi ao hou, he taiao hou kia ora ake tō reo nā te mea kāhore tō reo i ora i tērā ao i reira koe e pōkaikaha ana.

So if that’s your world, your identity is that of an English speaker. If you want to learn to speak Māori, it’s not a case of merely learning a language and then you end up a reo speaker. Your identity changes too. It’s like you have to be reborn. You’re still the same person you were before, but now you’re a new version. Your friends are different, your activities are different, your leisure activities are different, your sports are different. You have to find those new places and spaces to nourish your reo because your reo won’t thrive in that other world.

Ki taku nei titiro, kāore te tamariki e paku whakamā ana i āna hapa, engari te tauira pakeke. I tō nei whakaaro, nā te aha te whakamā i pupū ake ai ki roto i te tauira pakeke?

From my observation, kids have no worries at all about making mistakes, but it’s a different story for adults. Why do you think adult learners get so embarrassed about making mistakes?

Ko te mea matua ki ahau, kāore anō te tamaiti kia rongo i te taumaha o ngā rūkahu pakeke e mea ana, “Me pēnei koe kia tika, me pērā koe ka tika, ki te kore, he mate kei te haere.” Kāore anō te tamaiti kia rongo, kāore ia i te kawe i te taumaha o tērā whakaaro, nā reira kāore ōna whakamā.

The main thing, as I see it, is that kids haven’t yet felt the burden of the rubbish that adults tell themselves: “You must do this perfectly, you must do that perfectly, and if you don’t, something bad is going to happen.” Kids haven’t yet heard that and they don’t carry the burden of that sort of thing, so there’s no shame.

Ko te wehi te mea nui o te whakamā. Kei muri i te whakamā, he aha te tangata e whakamā ai? He wehi nōna kei takahia, kei kitea ka takahia tōna mana. Me tuku koe i tō mana. Ki te kore e taea e koe te tuku i tō mana, ka raru koe.

Fear drives shame. Behind the shame, why are people ashamed? Because they are frightened of being trampled on, or of being seen as one whose mana can be trampled on. You have to let that go. If you are unable to, you will run into problems.

He aha tō karere ki aua pakeke e rongo ana i te whakamā?

What’s your message to those adults who feel that shame? 

Taku titiro ki roto i te akomanga, mēnā ka rongo te tangata i te whakamā, te nuinga o te wā, e rua noa iho ngā huarahi ki ōna whakaaro. Tuatahi, te whawhai ki te tiaki i tōna mana. Tuarua, ko te oma atu, wehe atu. Engari ka wareware tātou i te huarahi tuatoru, arā, ko te noho i te tau o te whakamā.

I have seen in classrooms that if people are feeling embarrassed or shy, there are only two pathways in their minds. One, act to protect their ego. Two, run away, leave. But we often forget the third option, and that is just sitting with that shame.

Koirā tētahi āhuatanga e kite nei au mō taua hunga tino tere ki te ako i te reo i ngā tau pakeke. Ka tere kite rātou kāore he take o te tohe ki te tiaki i tō mana, kāore hoki he take o te oma atu i te wāhi kei reira te kōrerotia o te reo. Engari ka taea e rātou te kata ki a rātou anō. Mēnā ka nui te hē, ka nui te hapa. Ka pakaru mai te katakata i te wāhi i taua wā tonu rā, ka ngāwari te huarahi whakamua. Ki te kore rātou e taea te kata ki a rātou anō me ō rātou hoa ako, ka taumaha, ka roa te huarahi, ka taumaha te mahi.

There is a common factor that I see about those who are very quick adult learners. They quickly see that there is no point trying to maintain their ego, and there’s also no point running away from that environment where te reo is spoken. Rather, they are able to laugh at themselves, even if they make lots of mistakes. They burst into laughter straight away, and that makes progress so much easier. If they are not able to laugh at themselves and their classmates, they make it hard for themselves and the journey will be long and hard.   

Me tūwhera te ngākau ki ngā hapa, pēnei i te kī a Pānia Papa: “Nau mai te hapa!”

They need to open to their hearts to errors, like reo expert Pānia Papa says: “Welcome the mistakes!”

Mēnā ka taea e koe te noho, ka rongo koe i te whakamā, ka pakaru mai te kata pea, kāhore rānei kei te āhuatanga o te tangata. Engari te mea nui ka noho tonu koe, tāria te wā kia tau

If you are able to sit and feel the shame, you may laugh, or not, that’s up to the type of person you are. But the important thing is to sit with it, and over time the discomfort will subside.

He aha ngā kupu awhina ki ngā tauira e hiakai ana ki te whanake i ō rātou pūkenga reo? 

What’s your advice for those students who are really hungry to develop their reo skills?

I whakarōpūhia i roto i taua tuhinga ko ngā mea e hāngai ana: Te tangata me tōna kotahi; he rōpū āhuatanga, āwhina anō hoki mō te te hapori reo kei reira te tangata e ako ana; ā, me ērā kei tua atu o te toro o te ringa o te tangata, me kī, mō te hapori whānui o te moutere rānei, te wāhi rānei kei reira te tangata e noho ana.

In my thesis, I grouped together factors relating to: the learner on their own; the language group or community in which the student is learning; and those things that are out of his or her hands, so the wider community or the place the learner lives.

Kia aro nui ki ngā āhuatanga hāngai ki te tangata me tōna kotahi. Kei roto i tērā kete me kī ko te āhei ki te ako, he nui ngā āhuatanga ki roto i tērā. Mehemea e kaha ana koe ki te whakakākā i ngā oro, i ngā reo, i ngā kupu, he āwhina nui tērā.

Let’s look at factors relating to the learner alone. In that kete is the capacity to learn and there are many aspects to that. If you are able to retain and mimic sounds, speech and words, that’s a big advantage.

Ko tō mōhio ki ngā rautaki pai mōu anō he mea nui tērā. Me whakarite wā, wāhi tāima rānei kia āta wānangahia e koe he aha ngā rautaki kei te whakamahia, kei te whakaputa hua rānei ērā rautaki kāhore rānei. Ki te kore, me kimi rautaki hou, wāhi hou, kaiako hou, he aha atu rānei.

Your knowledge of your own learning strategies is another big factor. You need to make time to carefully consider the strategies that you are using and whether or not they are producing results. If not, then you need to quickly seek out a new strategy, a new place, a new kaiako, or whatever it takes.

He aha te momo whakaako e āwhina ai te ako i te reo?

What are the sorts of teaching styles that assist in learning te reo?

Taku titiro i tēnei wā, kāore i tua atu i te communicative language teaching, arā, he momo whakaako kei te kimi i ngā wheako tonu o te akonga, ā, kei te whakakōrero i te akonga. Mō ngā tau tuatahi, tuarua, tuatoru rānei i te timatanga o tō huarahi ako, kāore he take o te whakapau tāima nui ki te wetereo. He mea nui kē ake kia tīmata ki ō wheako, he aha ō wheako.

Mehemea he kaiako ahau, e kimi ana i te hāngai i tētahi mahi. Mehemea he tangata whutupōro koe, e tika ana kia hāngaia e au he kēmu, he mahi ngahau rānei e hāngai ana ki tērā ao, mā tērā e tere ai tō maumahara ki ētahi āhuatanga e hāngai rānei ki ngā kupu hou. Ngāwari te whakamaumahara i ngā kupu hou mehemea e hāngai ana ki ō wheako, ki ō mahara. Ki te kore e hāngai ki ō wheako me ō mahara, he uaua te maumahara me te whakamahi i ngā kupu hou.

From my perspective at the moment, there is nothing better than communicative teaching, that is, a sort of teaching where you’re always looking to learners’ own experiences, then getting them to talk about them. In the first, second or third year, at the begining of your learning journey, there’s no point spending a lot of time on grammar. It’s far better instead to start with your experiences, what your experiences are.

If I’m a teacher, I’m looking to relate to some sort of activity. If you’re a rugby player, it’s appropriate that I devise a game or a fun activity that relates to that world, and that way, your recall of aspects that relate to new words will be fast. It’s easy to recall new words if they relate to your experiences and your thoughts. It’s hard to remember and use new words if they’re not relevant to your experiences and memories.

He rautaki rawe tērā. He aha ētehi atu kupu āwhina?

That’s a great strategy. Do you have more advice?

Tuatahi, whakamāoritia tō ao katoa tō wāhi mahi, ō wāhi whakangahau, ko te taiao. Mēnā ka haere koe ki te taiao, kimihia ngā kupu mō ngā āhuatanga o te taiao e ngākaunui nei koe. Mehemea he tangata whutupāoro koe, he aha ngā kupu whutupāoro? Ētahi tangata ka tāpiritia te kupu ki runga i te pouaka whakamakariri, te umu, aha noa atu nei.

First, completely Māorify your world — your workplace, where you go to have fun, your environment. If you go outside, look for words that relate to your favourite parts of nature. If you are a rugby player, what words are there for rugby? Some people stick words on their fridge, their oven and the likes.

Tuarua, kimihia he hoa mōhio ake i a koe, he hoa e kite ai koe ia rā.

Secondly, find a reo-speaking friend who’s more knowledgeable than you, a friend you see every day.

Tuatoru, kia rite tō hinengaro, tō tinana, tō wairua, me tō tuakiri i ngā wā mōhio nei koe kei te haere koe ki tētahi mahi ako reo Māori ka uaua ki a koe. I pērā au i etahi wā i a au e haere ana ki Takiura. He uaua te haere atu ki reira ia rā, ia ata. Ka rongo au i te whakamā mai i te timatanga o te rā ki te mutunga, engari ā tōna wā, ka heke, ia rā, ka heke, ka heke, ka tae ki tētahi wā, ka taea e au te whakaputa kōrero, ka tuwhera mai taku wāha. Kātahi ka tūmeke ōku hoa me te kī: “He reo Māori tō Matiu!”

Third, prepare your mind, your body, your wairua, and your person at those times you know you are going into a language-learning activity that will be hard for you. I did that when I was going to Takiura. It was hard going there every day, every morning. You feel that shame from the beginning of the day to the end, but eventually that lessened and there came a time when I was able to say something, and my mouth opened. Then my friends were so surprised, they said: “Matiu does have the reo!”

Tuawhā, ko te 80 me te 20 ōrau. Mō te hunga kei te timatanga, 80 ōrau o tō tāima whakapauhia ki te kōrero, ki te whakarongo rānei. Ki te kore e taea e koe te noho tahi ki te tangata kōrero Maori, he tino taonga te pānui. Engari 20 ōrau mō te wānanga i te wetereo. Kaua e ako i ngā ture reo ki waho rā o te horopaki o te kōrero, he moumou tāima tērā.

Fourth, there’s the 80/20. For those beginning, spend 80 percent of your time speaking or listening. If you are not able to be with reo speakers, reading is of great value. On the other hand, spend 20 percent learning grammar. Don’t learn the rules of grammar outside some sort of meaningful context, that’s a waste of time.

Kua rongo au i ētehi tāngata e kī ana ā te wā whakawhānau mai ai ā rātou tamariki, ka huri rātou ki te ako i te reo Māori. He aha te hē o tērā momo whakaaro?

I’ve heard some people say that when their kids are born, then they’ll start learning te reo. What’s the problem with that sort of idea?

He karo tērā. Koirā te mate o te tatari nē, he wā anō mō te tatari, he wā anō mō te mahi. Mehemea ka roa koe e tatari ana, kia tūpato koe, e kore rawa e tae ki te wā. Me te mea anō hoki i a koe e pakeke haere ana, ehara i te mea ka ngāwari haere te huri ki te ako reo hou, ahakoa he aha tō pakeke. Ahau e kaha whakapono ana, ehara te pakeke i te ārai ki te ako i te reo, engari kāore e taea te karo i te maha o te rangahau e mea ana kia eke koe ki te taupakeke hei mua i tō tahuri ki te ako, he uaua.

That’s just avoidance — that’s the problem with waiting. There’s a time to wait, and a time to do. If you’ve been waiting a long time, be warned, the time will never come. It would also seem that as you get older, it doesn’t get easier to learn a new new language, whatever your age. I firmly believe that age isn’t a barrier to learning te reo, but one can’t avoid the amount of research that says if you are an adult by the time you start learning, it’s harder.  

 

Dr Matiu Tai Rātima (Whakatōhea/Ngāti Pūkeko) is a senior lecturer in Mātauraka Māori at the University of Otago in the School of Teacher Education. He is a former secondary school teacher and the father of three Māori-Sāmoan young men. Matiu is a staunch advocate for te reo Māori and culturally responsive teaching in New Zealand schools. He was formerly the co-chair of Te Rū Rangahau (The Māori Research Laboratory) and writes on culturally responsive teaching and learning, and on the teaching and learning of te reo Māori. Matiu is a keen surfer and all-round waterman and an active student and coach of Brazilian jujitsu.

Dr Atakohu Middleton (Ngāti Māhanga, Pākehā) is a news and features journalist whose lengthy career has encompassed outlets as diverse as Radio Waatea, the Guardian (UK), the New Zealand Listener, the Sunday Star-Times, and the New Zealand Herald. She lives in Tāmaki Makaurau. Her book Kia Hiwa Rai, on Māori journalism in Aotearoa, was published by Huia and released this month.

© E-Tangata, 2024

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