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

Oamaru is paying more attention to the Maori language.

A course set up last year by Te Wananga o Aotearoa to provide active education in the Waitaki has an average of 60 people attending each week.

Te Wananga o Aotearoa kaiako [teacher] Ropata Paora, who is based at the Dunedin campus, said he was approached by members of the community who had been keen to learn te reo Maori for the past 10 years.

“With the allocation of funding, towns like Oamaru have been bypassed by the larger tertiary institutions,” Mr Paora said.

“When I had my first meeting [in Oamaru], I said ‘I don’t have any official courses I can run, but I can come and run some classes’.

“We are at a stage now where we have some specific learning outcomes that they can still show as having done personal development in te reo.”

Twenty members of the group were teachers or principals and, with the increased emphasis the government was putting on the Maori language in schools, those people would be “ahead of the game”, Mr Paora said.

“Oamaru, I’ve got to say, the people are awesome – the people are engaged and really focused in class.

“Driving from Dunedin to Oamaru, that is one of the motivating factors for me, how engaged the people are.”

At the beginning, Mr Paora was able to manage teaching the classes himself, but since the number of students grew, he enlisted the help of his son Robbie as a tutor and split the group in two, based on their abilities.

By the end of next year, Oamaru would be self-sufficient and able to hold its own classes, with some of the students moving in to teaching roles, he said.

“By the end of this year, a lot of them would be able to do that, but in terms of having a more fluent, conversational language – next year we will have 10 to 20 people who can actually really converse in te reo Maori.”

There were several contributing factors to the surge of interest in the Maori language since 1987, when it became an official language of New Zealand, Mr Paora said.

People were more exposed to the language through the media, and places like public transport.

“It has taken the nation a little while to get on board, but that has been as a consequence of lobbying and different things.

“In some aspects we are at a tipping point, where I don’t believe the language will regress.”

Mr Paora travels throughout the country for his job, and said attitudes had changed.

“If te reo Maori is the flavour of the moment then that’s cool, because this is Aotearoa – the only place we speak it.

“The fact is, for us a nation, we are going to have to get used to hearing a lot of different types of language.

“There are those that go ‘why are we learning that?’, but give that another generation and a-half – hearing things like ‘ke te pehea’, ‘kia ora’ – they’ll be natural.”

Waitaki kaumatua Anne Te Maiharoa-Dodds said she thought it was “great” the language was making a comeback.

“It is a wonderful feeling for our future generation.

“And not just Maori [who] want to learn it, other people want to as well which is wonderful.”

People were more accepting of efforts to educate about correct pronunciation of place-names, she said.

“It is part of our heritage, I think it is beautiful speaking in Maori.

“I think it is wonderful that the language will be popular – it is really advancing.”