Learning Teo Reo (Part One)

Maori and Pakeha on the beach at Kororareka (Russell) in the Bay of Islands

Poet Judith Holloway says she’s tried to educate herself in te reo once before. ‘But it was more difficult than I expected.

‘Though thrilling, in a special way. Spouting Maori words and phrases with a bit of a flourish, all by myself, I was able to imagine myself back in pre-European days.

Swanning about on the beach at Kororareka.

The big chief of the area, five generations back, my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather – I imagined being his daughter.

Maybe he’d tell me to do something. He’d maybe watch to make sure I did it correctly, according to tikanga.

Probably I would have taken shortcuts, as is/was my style. I’d be told off – probably in a kindly fashion.

But I’d no doubt argue – as I did with my actual father. I would resent hierarchical stuff, especially Male versus Female stuff. ‘Why isn’t everyone equal?’ I might ponder, even ask it aloud! ‘How come some people are slaves? Why do you men always fight? It’s ridiculous and unfair!’

“I’d like to think in Te Reo!’

Yes, I’d like to be able to say such things in te reo Maori….to think in te reo.

In fact, I’d like to be able to discuss things in any language, in whatever language comes naturally to the person I’m talking to. I’d love to be a linguist of a high order. I’m from a mix of ancestors (Maori/French/Irish/Norwegian/English), who spoke a pot-pourri of languages – but the only one I can actually speak and understand properly is English.

I really wish I’d learnt te reo Maori when I was a child because when you’re a kid you learn languages by osmosis, on the wing, as you absorb most of life’s lessons.

When you try to get to grips with any new thing when you’re older – especially when your memory’s failing (as mine is now, at 83) you have to pick it up and remember it little by little, rule by rule.  

Unless you happen to be very musical. Musicality apparently gives you a handle on linguistics.

You have the gift of being able to take in a language in as you take in a song. It’s how a baby learns to speak and absorb word-meaning.’

(Part Two tomorrow)

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