Matariki means that we all have an opportunity for a fresh start. Why not join in with many up and down the country to make te reo part of your new year’s resolutions?

With the start of the 27th Māori Language Week, there couldn’t be a more timely reminder of the importance of knowing one of our national languages.

But knowing our national language is more than a word or phrase here or there, it’s part of the culture, part of the land, part of a shared whakapapa. Teachers and students need to make sure that the focus on te reo is sustained beyond just one week, and then continues through the rest of the year and beyond.

The Waikato Chiefs are doing just that. Liam Messam, with the rest of his Super 15 team, are making it their goal, alongside winning their rugby games, to learn and use a new word or phrase each week for the rest of the year.

Critics will say that there are plenty of things that we learn at school that are not directly used afterwards. Since school, for example, I have never conducted a science experiment in my kitchen (except cooking!) or spent hours reading books on dinosaurs or played a recorder or ukelele. That’s not to say that there are people who don’t enjoy those things after school! My point is, though, that we learn things in school which open our minds and help us to understand how we fit into the world even if we don’t directly use them later on.

Te reo, though, is different. It is something that we use while at school, out of school and afterwards: place names, the haka, when we sing a waiata or recite a karakia, everyday te reo words and phrases. And just because English is the most widely spoken language in the world doesn’t mean it has to be the only language here. Before pākehā came to Aotearoa New Zealand, te reo was the language of the land. It shouldn’t be replaced by English any more than Māori traditions, myths, writing, art and culture should be abandoned in favour of that of other cultures.

There’s a legal duty to promote te reo Māori too. The second article in the Treaty of Waitangi guaranteed chiefs ‘te tino rangatiratanga’ – chieftainship over their lands, villages and treasured things. Those treasured things, taonga, include Māori culture and, importantly, language. A later Waitangi tribunal in 1986 agreed – and made the Crown (the government) responsible for the language’s survival. And that survival involves te reo being taught in schools.

The Māori Language Week website will have a weekly update with a new word or phrase. As the site says, “vocabulary is the building block of language”. It is also the way into a culture, into conversation, into greater understanding of one another. I hope that schools, families and individuals use the ‘word of the week’ as a springboard to delving more deeply into te reo Māori.

Maths and English are compulsory at school for obvious reasons. Te reo should be too – beyond primary school especially. Not only is there a duty under the Treaty of Waitangi, but we live in a bicultural place. We are the only country in the world that has our unique culture. We need to preserve and promote it or it will die out.

Te reo Māori is part of something precious that defines who we are as the people who call Aotearoa New Zealand home.


Article written by Ben Egerton

[colored_box color=”green”]This is an opinion-based article designed to provoke debate, discussion and further inquiry
amongst your students:[/colored_box] 

[colored_box color=”yellow”]Critical Thinking Challenges:

1. Why is it so critically important to protect – and actively promote – languages spoken by only a relatively small number of people around the world?

2. Should te reo Māori be compulsory for school students all the way through until school leaving?


[colored_box color=”green”]Practical Tasks:

1. Te reo Māori is one of the national languages of New Zealand. What are the others? Think about drawing up a list of key words and phrases that can be used each day in the classroom, and have them in all the official national languages of New Zealand.

2. Log on to the Māori Language Week website at and challenge yourself, your class and your school to learn – and use – the word a week.


[colored_box color=”red”]Have Your Say:
[socialpoll id=”2211758″]





9 Responses

  1. I don’t think it should be compulsory what happens if you are foreign and don’t want to learn Maori? So no it should not be compulsory.

  2. thats quite a long article i didnt bother read it all

    also NO it should not be compusory it should be optional 🙁

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *