Everyone in New Zealand will talk te reo

Scotty Morrison backgrounds the latest book in his massively best-selling series on teaching Kiwis to speak te reo.

If I’m honest, I fell in to writing books much in the way I fell into studying Māori language. I’d gone to Waikato University planning to focus on a sports degree. My older brother knew the ways of university and told me to choose lectures that fit between Monday and Thursday, so I’d get a three-day weekend. Genius. So I duly found the only lecture that would fit on a Thursday – Māori 101. I was no great student to begin with, C+ is not champion stuff.

But once I started living with native speakers I became immersed in te reo Māori, my grades improved a lot, I had some revelations that I call "seeing the matrix" of the reo, and awakened a deep passion and guiding light for my life. I met people who changed me irrevocably, such as Professor Wharehuia Milroy, to whom I dedicate my latest book, Māori at Work: Ko koe te rūānuku i tangata ai au, i tau mai ai te aroarowhenua o te whakaaro nui kia raukuratia te mahunga, te ngākau, te wairua ki te reo Māori. You were the doyen who converted my thinking and revealed the many benefits the Māori language provides, spiritually, emotionally and philosophically.

I feel a huge responsiblity to all the great teachers I’ve had, and the transformative power that te reo Māori has had for me, and that’s part of what drives me to offer whatever I can for the rejuvenation of our language. So when Jeremy Sherlock from Penguin Random House asked me to write The Raupō Phrasebook for Modern Māori in 2011, I was very humbled, and thought that would be my once in a lifetime experience of writing a book. I wrote that book as I have them all: thinking of who will end up reading it, what they want to know, the things they want to say, what trips us all up, how to keep them entertained and express the depth, cheekiness and spirituality of Māori language.

Most of what I wrote was informed by learning experiences I’d had, what I’d seen my own students struggle with, and experiences bringing up our children in Māori. The chance to update the sort of books I’d used at university felt like a privilege, so I did my best, typing around 55,000 words with two fingers (I still can’t touch-type), and thought that was my bucket-list achievement ticked off. It turns out Jeremy had very astutely read the changing tide of goodwill towards te reo Māori, and people who would want to learn and go as far as buying that book – sales are now 45,000. There’s no way I saw that coming.

Next, Jeremy asked what I thought of writing a self-directed learning guide, and Māori Made Easy was born. I had studied language revitalisation in many forms, and worked in these areas for a long time, so I knew there were a few things I wanted to achieve: to instill the idea that spending 30 minutes a day working on your reo skills is a realisitic approach to language learning; to focus on the 20 per cent of vocabulary people will use 80 per cent of the time; to minimise the linguistic language terms that put many New Zealanders off; and make things easier for teachers, so they could pick up the book and have a ready made lesson to use.

Te Wānanga o Aotearoa was instrumental in the production of the four A4 workbooks that came out of the original, A5-sized book. TWOA realised a more functional-sized book to write in would help their students and because of their large student base, it made the reprint gamble worthwhile for my publishers. It was gamble that paid off, and the first workbook still pops up on the bestsellers list, which makes me imagine a new person buying it and saying, "OK, I’m going to get some more Māori language under my belt", and I’m right there for that person, cheering them on from inside my book.

My personal motivation may have been for the kaupapa more than cash but I respect the commercial investment Penguin Random House have made in the name of reo revitatisation, knowing Māori reference books aren’t an easy market. My wife Stacey and I are grateful this relationship has grown organically and with trust. When Jeremy asked us to write Māori at Home, we were free to design our up-and-go survival guide for different contexts of whānau life, which is what our own experiences have taught us is most helpful for whānau using te reo Māori with their children.

Māori Made Easy 2 followed and is my offering to all the students who push through the 30 weeks of Māori Made Easy (incidentally, a few readers have suggested it should be renamed Māori Made Less Bloody Hard) to make it to an intermediate stage, and I wrote that book on some integral language parts that will help escalate the skills of intermediate learners. Now, I’m about to release Māori at Work, which meets a growing need and desire for te reo Māori in workplaces around Aotearoa. In delivering satellite classes for Massey University for TVNZ staff, onsite at TVNZ, I’ve been seeing real-life examples of the language people are hungry for, and their interest and aroha for te reo Māori helps drive my mad dashes to deadlines.

Over the last 30 years I’ve seen so much change in the way te reo Māori is valued, and always hold in the highest regard the reo champions who fought for our language to be recognised officially and protect its mana. They’re the reason why people like me have a kaupapa to write for.

Māori at Work: The everyday guide to using te reo in the workplace by Scotty Morrison (Raupo, $35)

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