Starting out- Start small

Like any marathon, learning and using the reo as an everyday part of your life isn't an easy task. It will take work and for a while it might feel like you aren't getting anywhere either. But with persistence and perseverance, if you keep up the effort it will eventually get easier and you will start to hear the differences around the home.

Try some of the following to get you started.

Build your vocab up

Set yourself a limit of 10 new words a week, make sure if they are items or activities that you are going to use or for things around the home. Take the time to label these items as it will make it much easier to remind yourself of the words if they are right in front of you every time you need to use them. Make sure everyone in the family is introduced to the words and knows that you are only going to use the Māori word for that item or activity from now on.

A phrase a day - keeps the reo doctor away

For those of you who are really motivated. At the start of the week find seven new phrases that you think you are likely to use during the week. From 'Oh Buggar!' to 'Would you like a drink?' Start with one phrase, which you commit to using on that day, and add on the others as the week progresses.

The phrases don't need to be hard, they might even be variations of the one's you already have i.e. 'would you like some bread?' or 'would you like one of these?'

Meal times

By focusing initially on times when the whole family gets together to start using te reo Māori ensures that everyone is aware of what is happening and has the opportunity to participate. Meal times make fantastic choices. Start by trying to incorporate more reo into that one area. You can begin by identifying things that you need Māori words for. If you are focusing on dinnertime this might be for things like salt, pepper, plate, food etc.

Then try working out the sorts of things that you say at the dinner table. Start off with the simple stuff first like some basic phrases i.e. "pass me the butter, give her the plate, Mum this is a delicious meal."

Gradually you can build up how many new words and phrases you use in this activity. When the family has reached the point where they are feeling confident speaking Māori in this area start adding on other activities around the home, which are Māori speaking activities.

[link leads to He Arataki Family language plan]

Choose a Pirihimana

When changing the language of your home it is usually very hard to keep everyone motivated and on track. Let the kids take turns at being the Pirihimana or Reo Policeman for the day. The job of the pirihimana is to remind everyone to Kōrero Māori and also to keep everyone on track with a system of fines for people who don't speak Māori after being reminded. Fines can range from dishes, to raking the yards, to taking the dog for a walk, to putting the rubbish out etc. Put a list up on the fridge to keep track of everyone's fines.

Make it into a game

Sometimes your effort in terms of growing and using the reo can slacken off. A great way to keep this energy up is to make it into a game.

For whole families - where everyone becomes a Pirihimana

  • Every time you hear another family member speaking English you are allowed to fine that person

  • Whoever has the least number of fines (1 fine = 1 point) at the end of the week gets a reward of some kind. It might be choosing Friday night's takeaways option or their choice of movie for Saturday night

  • A chart is kept of the winners each week and the person who wins the most weeks over one year is given a special big prize for that effort

  • A great way to motivate everyone is to get the final prize sorted so that everyone knows what it is as an extra incentive to keep trying

For Couples

  • Get a list together of 10 new words or phrases or whakataukī or a mixture of all. Make sure everyone has their own copy of the list

  • Each list runs for seven days

  • You get two days to learn the list

  • On day three any person with the list is allowed to challenge any other at any time

  • The person who is being challenged at that moment has to provide the equivalent for that word in the other language

  • If the answer is wrong, the challenger scores one point

  • If the answer is right, the challenger scores no points and then has to answer a question from the list. If they get this wrong the other person scores two points

  • First to 20 gets a reward, a back massage, a foot rub, taken out to dinner

Recognise and reward effort

A little praise goes a long way. Be sure to recognise the effort that other members are putting in to their language and reward it. It can make the difference between an enthusiastic family and a family who are only going at it half heartedly. Praise for development regardless of how small will be great for your child and their confidence with the language.

Make time to talk

One of the biggest areas that your can affect change in to increase positive attitudes and behaviours to language learning and use is by simply making the time to talk with your child, and encouraging them to talk back. Do this when there are no other distractions around like TV. If children aren't responsive to questions or offer little conversation get them to tell you about something that interests them. Engage with them at this level and ask questions about what you hear, to encourage further discussion and use of language.

Take an interest.

Stimulating Experiences

The most important thing about raising bilingual children is that their experience of language is positive, stimulating and enjoyable. It is crucial that a child's attitude to and motivation for expanding their language is fostered continuously. To do this they need to be able to explore the language in fun and positive ways, your role then is to find or create these stimulating experiences and get access to them.

As Colin Baker so aptly puts:

"The role of a language gardener is to provide stimulating soil - a variety of pleasurable environments for language growth."

Plan your way forward

Planning your way forward with te reo is a great way to keep you and your whānau on track with your Māori language goals. The He Arataki - family Māori language planning kit is a great tool to get your family started with language planning. It allows you to:

  • Work out what you want to achieve with te reo Māori

  • Identify some practical steps of how to achieve your goals, using everyday life activities as a guideline

  • Break down these steps down into monthly and even weekly work plans so you know what you should be doing and when

  • Track your progress against these steps and see how well you are doing

To start you own whānau Māori language plan click here

How do you know if you are getting anywhere?

As part of He Arataki there are two ways that you are able to monitor how well you are doing with your Māori language use and development.

Monitoring your effort

He Arataki provides you with templates that allow you to track your effort on a weekly basis. There are spaces which allow you to record each activity individually. This allows you the opportunity to reflect on how well you have done over the week and either give yourselves a pat on the back or a good shake up to put a bit more effort in.

Monitoring your language growth

Alongside He Arataki you are also able to access the online language assessment tool. This is a test which you can take to get an objective assessment of the level of your level of reo. It starts off basic, mainly in English and gives examples of Māori language use in everyday situations. You are given multiple-choice answers to select from. As you progress through the test, the level of te reo increases as does the difficulty of the questions. The assessment tool will cut off after a formulated number of incorrect answers and will provide you with a score out of 6. This mark will let you know what level of language you have according to your test. There are explanations for each mark which give you an indication of the sorts of things that people within that level are able to converse about in te reo. You are able to come back to the assessment tool at any time to see whether or not your language has progressed since you last took the test. Scores for your test can be saved on your Language Plan for future reference.

Consistency and perseverance

Some keys to making the plan work

Make sure everyone knows what is happening

Make sure the whole whānau know what's going on and what you are trying to achieve. Do this by getting everyone to sit down and complete the family language plan together.

This way no one can use the old 'I didn't know' line as an excuse for not giving it a real go. It also allows every family member, regardless of how young or old, the chance to keep everyone else in check and remind everyone of their family's commitment to the reo and your reo plan. It puts the responsibility back onto the whole whānau rather than on a certain individual or few within that whānau.

Make everyone else aware of your family's Māori language commitment

A great way to stick to your commitment when whānau and friends are over is to let them know that your family has decided to become a reo Māori speaking family and that you would like their support. They may have questions and seek reasons for why you are doing so. It's really good to get your wider whānau and friends involved and discussing this so that you can make them aware also of the issues facing the health of the language and so that any Māori language learners and speakers amongst them can offer your whānau additional support by only speaking to you in te reo Māori when they see you. But if you don't ask or tell them how are they meant to know that that is what you are doing. By letting the wider whānau know it also means there are more people to keep you and your whānau in check and on track with speaking te reo Māori as they can also serve to remind you of your commitment.

Be consistent

Once you make a decision and everyone knows what it is, stick to it. The worst thing that you could possibly do after that is deciding that it only happens when you feel like it or when it is convenient. To change the language of your household is going to be hard work, but it is going to be even harder if the whānau think that they only have to do it when they want to. Be consistent, when you make the decision to make dinner times reo Māori times, regardless of how much hard work it seems, stick it out, it will get easier the more you do it.

Also if you feel like there are times when you have to break the rules, like you might be having guests or friends over and you think that they might feel uncomfortable speaking or being around te reo Māori make sure that the family is clear that on some set occasions the rules will change, but on all other occasions te reo Māori will prevail.

It doesn't happen overnight (frustration)

Learning te reo and making it the main language within the home isn't something that happens overnight and it can't be solved by going to a few wānanga or classes, although these will certainly help. Changing the main language of a home is a hard thing to achieve and it can be very frustrating especially during times of stress to stick to the commitment when a lot of times it will seem a lot easier and faster saying something in English.

This is the hard part. Persevere. It's times like this when the kids are playing up, when dinner is smoking on the stove, when someone's been hurt, when you are running late, when anything which increases the stress levels in your house will really test you and your family's commitment.

Try and pre-empt these stressful situations and take some time out and work out what sort of phrases you might need just in case some of these things happen and keep them in your back pocket for just such an occasion. It will definitely bring down the stress levels if you already have the reo sussed out for what you need to say.

Some pathways forward

Plan ahead - know where you are going to start and get the reo phrases and vocabulary that you are going to need ready. Check out He Arataki for a great way of how to do this.

Get to some classes

Up-skilling in te reo is a great way to get the whānau on board with what you have committed to doing at home. There are now classes available for all levels of fluency, make it a whānau thing and take everyone so that you are all learning together. Check out our links page to see where the providers are in your region or ring the Māori Language Commission for more advice on how you can find reo Māori programme providers in your region.

Find some reo Māori speaking friends

A great way to support your whānau to use the reo is to show them that there are other families who are doing the same thing. By planning outings with these whānau or even just hanging out at home with them or down at the local park it will give the kids a chance to see that they aren't abnormal and that there are other kids who are on the same journey. It's a great chance also for the kids to start using their reo with each other and build a Māori language bond between them.

Make a real commitment

Announce it to your friends and family and let them know that you and your family are going to become a reo Māori speaking household and how you are going to do it. Let them know if you want their help or support and what role you want them to play. Not only can they help you out along the way but they can also keep you in check and make sure you stay on track.