Growing interest . . . A group of 2018 te reo Māori students in Oamaru. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Two years ago, Sophia Leon de la Barra started offering community Te Reo Maori classes in Oamaru.

Inspired by the growth in interest over the past two years – 60 adult learners are now enrolled and attending weekly night classes – Miss Leon de la Barra has decided to offer more local “opportunities for linguistic learning” by launching the Oamaru Language School next month.

She plans to offer private and group lessons in Spanish, as well as short courses in Italian and Maori, and is seeking interest from other local teachers to offer more languages.

Originally from Australia, Miss Leon de la Barra said learning Te Reo Maori through Te Wananga o Aotearoa in Dunedin was life-changing.

“It really helped me to connect with the land and the culture, and to feel at home here in Aotearoa,” she said.

“Learning languages is a great way to not only cross a cultural divide into another way of thinking, but to keep your brain sharp. Studies have shown the brain benefits from improved memory, concentration and critical thinking skills.”

All of the students learning Te Reo Maori in Oamaru over the past two years had different motivations, she said.

Some were interested for professional development, others wanted to revitalise the language and learn more about the culture. One grandmother wanted to learn the language at the same time as her granddaughter did at school.

For Te Reo Maori classes, Miss Leon de la Barra has been using the Takina method of teaching, focusing on an interactive, kinetic experience.

She said it enabled learners to build “real-world conversational skills” by learning vocabulary and sentence structures in a way that becomes second nature in everyday language contexts.

It was a significant shift from the traditional way of teaching languages, but it made it easier to learn a language and use it immediately in daily life.

Miss Leon de le Barra learned Spanish as a child, and Italian in her early 20s. She will be offering private and group lessons in both languages to teach real-life conversational skills that will enhance travel and cultural experiences.

“In Maori there is the whakatauki ‘ko to reo te taikura ki te ao marama’ – that means ‘language is the key to understanding’.

“Learning to converse in a language is a fantastic gateway into meeting people and having a genuine cultural exchange, it will open all kinds of doors.’

Miss Leon de la Barra is seeking expressions of interest for Spanish, Italian and Te Reo Maori classes.

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