I’m not gonna lie to you. I have not exactly been the perfect Māori-speaking, language-transmitting, ū-ki-te-kaupapa-ahakoa-te-aha kinda Māmā. Despite my best intentions to speak nothing but te reo to my daughter from birth, that simply hasn’t happened the way I imagined it would.
Basically, I’ve fed her a combo of English and Māori from birth, with the first year being about 2/3 te reo Pākehā, then the second year about 2/3 te reo Māori, and then, just when we were edging up to 100% kōrero Māori whenever it was just us two, she had this huge negative reaction to te reo Māori and refused to speak to me in Māori at all. She’d even yell “speak English!” at me. It was pretty devastating, and as a result I pretty much totally dropped the ball. I have a lot of theories as to why she had this reaction, and there are a hundred reasons why I’ve been inconsistent with my own reo use throughout her life: sleep deprivation, vocabulary gaps, lack of Māori-speaking whānau, etc. But I might leave all that stuff for another blog post. What I want to talk about here is something amazing that has happened in the last year – her fourth year and my year of changing tack.
Kua hoki mai taku kuru pounamu ki tōna reo Māori, ki te reo rangatira!
Still plenty more that we could do to cement te reo Māori in our everyday lives, not claiming to be perfect, but once again me and my kid are speaking to each other in Māori. It’s choice. Every day we seem to climb a little bit higher up the ladder, with her answering me in Māori more and more often, and trying out new constructions I haven’t heard her use before (I guess she has been listening all this time). I nearly passed out from joy when I walked past her room the other day and heard her playing with her sylvanians completely in Māori. Usually when she’s alone she either uses English or a mixture of English and Māori. I haven’t heard her playing by herself in Māori since she was two! EEEEEEEE!
Anyways, the title of this blog post is: Ten ways to trick your kid into speaking Māori again, and, as you might have guessed, I’m gonna share some of the stuff that worked for us! Obviously every whānau is different, so take what suits you and leave what doesn’t. You won’t get any judgement from me – I know what a long and windy road it is and I am far from perfect myself! Heoi anō….
- Language domains
This one is a bit nerdy, but I know that having “language domains”, i.e. spaces that you always use te reo Māori in even if you speak English elsewhere, is a really good strategy for language transmission. Wanna know the first language domain I focused on making Māori for us when we came back to our reo? Te papa tākaro. Yup, the playground. I wanted to really make that playground space a Māori speaking place for us because it’s so fun there and I wanted her to associate those good times with those kupu Māori. Has an added benefit of being like a speed-dating service for meeting other Māori-speaking whānau too. Any time I hear some stranger at the park saying: “Me haere tāua ki te tīemi?” or “E piki i te arawhata!” I just go over and basically force them to be my new friend.
- Don’t just use Māori to tell your kids off!
Hehe, obviously if you already speak completely in te reo, then sometimes you’re gonna be telling your kids off in te reo too and that’s sweet as. But far waho, I know so many parents who barely ever speak Māori to their kids EXCEPT to tell them off. Talk about giving them a negative association with the reo! I used to do it too – I think partly coz if we were in public then I felt safer that no-one would be judging my parental discipline coz they wouldn’t understand me hehehe! But I stopped with it. I just didn’t want her main experiences of te reo to be kōhete! Nowadays, now I’m back to speaking Māori most of the time, I do sometimes need to lay down the law in Māori, but while we were still switching languages constantly I would always make my grumbliest kōrero in English and my most special, loving kōrero in Māori. Which leads me to my next point…
- Make some loving and fun traditions that include te reo Māori – like nicknames and special kōrero.
I have a million little nicknames for my pīpī paopao in te reo Māori and when I cuddle her up and say them with love, I just know that these are the moments in childhood that kids cling onto – the times they feel safe and secure and good about themselves. I want her to associate that feeling with te reo Māori. We even have little love poems we say to each other:
Ka nui te
and silly poems too: “Mitimiti matimati makimaki ē!” (I say that one whenever she’s got kai smeared all over her
Use waiata whenever and wherever you can. There are thousands of choice-as waiata for kids already out there – my girl is so obsessed with Tohorā nui and Whatiwhati tō hope – but also just make up waiata as you go, all day every day. Any task can be a waiata. They don’t have to be Grammy-nominated, genre-defying musical works of art. They don’t even have to be in tune! just make your life one big waiata and the reo side of things will get easier. Here’s a crappy recording of me singing our toothbrushing wai: “Taitaia ō niho!” (don’t judge me!)
- Be clever with your screen-time
We try not to rely on screen-time too much in our whare. We got better things to do than watch tv anyways! But, oh my lord, if I could hug a made-up character I would give Dora Mātātoa the biggest awhi of her life. Because we limit screen-time, and because TV is so attractive to little kids, I’ve made an effort to limit her screen time to mainly te reo Māori shows. Dora and Umizoomi 4 lyf!! What is so choice about Dora is that Nina has hardly ever seen the English version, so she thinks Dora is Māori and ever time she sees Dora’s face on another kid’s backpack, or Dora lunchboxes or stationary or hats or shoes or duvet covers or beer cans (ok I made up the last one – thank god) it reinforces that idea that te reo Māori has some social currency. That it’s cool to kōrero Māori. I credit Dora with turning the tide back to te reo in our home. And I am pretty hardcore protective of letting her ever see the English language version. I want her to think Dora is Māori for as LONG as I can.
- Stage “random meetings” with other Māori speakers in the community.
A few years ago, on our awesome Facebook group, He Tamariki Kōrero Māori, we had a thread where all of us who lived in Te Whanganui a Tara posted all the places we knew of where there were Māori speaking staff – shops, restaurants, cafes, post offices, museums, petrol stations, the tip etc. I even called around some places to find out what shifts their Māori speaking staff worked (stalker much?) and would purposely go during those times so my kid and me could interact with people in our community in te reo. It worked like a charm – I think sometimes all our kids need is to see that their reo is valuable in their community. Who cares if it’s a teensy weensy bit staged – if we are all successful in raising these kids as reo-speakers, then maybe one day we will be able to specify “Māori-speaker” when we call for a plumber. That is like, my dream hahaha
- Get a new toy for them and tell them it’s a Māori-speaking toy – that it doesn’t understand te reo Pākehā.
I mean, this one might not be a surefire success for everyone, but for us, so far, so good! Lol, or maybe my kid is just gullible…
- Read, read, read, read, read, read, read books in te reo Māori.
I mean, I just can’t stress this one enough. Just get your hands on every reo Māori book you can find – look through EVERY picture book on the shelf in your local opshop and you’ll probably find some – and read them to your kid, they’ll love it. Maybe they’ll even read to you… It’ll probably be really good for your own reo too. If you can’t find many – get some new English books from the opshop and stick white stickers over the English kupu and rewrite your own Māori translations.
- Don’t force them to speak Māori to you if they are pushing against it, but don’t let them stop you from speaking it (that was my big mistake).
We all have different opinions on this one, and believe me, I am not judging anyone who makes a different choice from me. But just for us, I am not that into all those tricks like pretending not to hear your kid unless they speak Māori, or taking away privileges or punishing them unless they speak Māori. In our whare, everyone gets to choose what language they speak. I just feel like it’s not authentic for me to pretend not to understand her if she speaks English. Because I do, and she knows damn well I do, so it seems like a weird lesson to teach her. I also don’t want her to feel like it’s a drag to kōrero Māori – or that she has to do it to earn my love and respect. I want her to be able to speak Māori so she can make her own language choices. That’s why I need to push myself to keep feeding it to her, if I don’t, her only choice will be English. She is so awesome with her whakahoki kōrero Māori mai lately, but she still does often respond in English (or half and half) and I’m ok with that. What I do do though, is repeat back to her what she has told me but in Māori – just to make sure she knows how to say it if and when she wants to. Yeah, I mean, no judgement from me – but this is what works for us. For our reo and for our relationship.
- Build your communities up!
In a way this has been the hardest one for us, partly coz no-one else in our whānau can speak Māori and partly coz we haven’t sent her to kōhanga (don’t get me wrong, I love kōhanga reo – but it just didn’t work out for us for various reasons). I have loads of mates who are Māori-speakers, but lots of them don’t have kids, or their kids are the wrong ages, or they live too far away or I am working when they are free (I work weekends – so no Kāinga Kōrerorero events or anything ever suited us). Still though, we’ve worked on it and we do have some kiddie spaces where we are free to kōrero now. Regardless though, for most people it hopefully won’t be so hard and this is kind of the most important “trick” of the lot – so even if it is hard, you gotta try anyway 😛
Check out kōhanga and puna reo if you haven’t already. If that’s not possible, give some support to whatever ECE your kid does attend (my kid’s centre, while mainstream, is super awesome and I do my best to support them with their reo). Check out Kura, Wharekura and even Te Ātaarangi classes (for the parents who go along!) Check out Kāinga Kōrerorero. Check out our pages: Hei Reo Whānau and He Tamariki Kōrero Māori. If you’re in Tāmaki: check out Māori 4 Grownups. If you’re Kāi Tahu – check out Kotahi Mano Kāika (even if you’re not, go look at their MEAN website and free resources!) Check out other random Māori speaking parents that you see on the street. Make some playdates. Make some spaces where it’s normal to kōrero Māori. Make some reo-friends.
Hopefully, a lot of you will read this post and think, “Oh, wow, I have never had a problem with that!” I know that a lot of Māori speaking whānau have a solid Māori-speaking community to lean on in a way that me and my daughter don’t really have yet. But my hope is that for some of us who are really struggling, that this post might contribute some ideas… or even just show you that you’re not the only one. And if you ever see some over-excited, under-slept, ultra-caffeinated lady in the park speaking Māori with a cute little ginger-haired four year old, it might be us! Haere mai ki te kōrero! xxx