Little speech: on Maori

In his ‘state of the nation’ speech in January Andrew Little didn’t mention Maori at all – see Maori 0f Little importance? – but since then Labour’s Maori MPs, candidates and votes have been talked about a lot.

In his Congress speech yesterday Little had to mention Maori, and he did.

And, get this, after the election, at least 1 in 4 Labour MPs will be Māori.

We are going to have the largest representation of Māori MPs of any party, ever, in New Zealand politics.

It’s common for opposition parties to talk in positives in their speeches, like ‘the next Prime Minister’ and from his speech “to all of our dedicated activists and organisers who are going to sweep Labour to government on September 23rd“, and likewise, claiming “at least 1 in 4 Labour MPs will be Māori” presumes all Labour’s electorate MPs will retain their seats and they will improve their share of the party vote. Neither are guaranteed.

Through all these policies and in every decision, Māori will be at the table.

If they have Maori party members and Maori MPs then yes, they will be at Labour’s policy table, but it doesn’t mean they will be influential. 1 in 4 is 25%, from from a majority vote.

Māori aspiration sits at the core of Labour’s vision for New Zealand.

That’s vague and means little in reality.

And that’s all on Maori in the speech. Nothing specific, no policies addressing Maori issues beyond “the Kiwi dream” generalities.

Two contentious Maori issues flared up last week, partnership schools and prisons. On schools:

Thank you for the policy you launched yesterday of health teams in all our schools, which is just one of the ways we’ll bring a fresh approach to our neglected mental health services.

On prisons – nothing.

On the Treaty of Waitangi – nothing.

If Little wants Maori voters to step up and tick Labour in September’s election then Labour may need to step up with some actual policies that will give them some incentive, and promises of policy rewards.

Time to try Maori prisons?

When I first heard the suggestion by Maori MPs that a Maori run prison be set up in Northland my immediate reaction was nah, we shouldn’t have separate penal systems. But I’ve thought it through and think that it merits serious consideration.

Maori disproportionately feature in prison  and re-offending rates. The current system is not working well. So why not try something different that tries to address core problems.

Critics often say it is up to Maori to fix their own problems, and this Maori Prison proposal does exactly that.

Newshub: Labour proposes Māori prison to fix rising numbers

Labour has come up with a radical solution to the high number of Māori in jail – it wants a separate Māori prison.

It wants to convert an existing prison into one run entirely on Māori values.

“A prison based on Māori values, not exclusively for Māori but for anybody, but they’ll know that the values that the prison will be run under will be based along Māori lines,” Labour’s Corrections spokesperson Kelvin Davis told Newshub.

Why not try it? It can’t do much worse than the current penal system.

There are 10052 prisoners and 5077 of them are Māori, making up 50.5 percent of the prison population.

Mr Davis says if Labour wins, he wants to make one of New Zealand’s 18 prisons a prison for Māori, run by Māori on Māori values.

“Why don’t we just try, have the courage to try one of those 18 prisons and run it along kaupapa Māori lines,” he said.

The Maori party supports this: Māori Party backs Māori-run prisons as ‘inevitable’

It is just a matter of time before New Zealand introduces prisons run by Māori applying Māori values, the Māori Party says.

Prime Minister Bill English shot down a proposal, by Labour corrections spokesperson Kelvin Davis, on the idea this morning, saying rehabilitation efforts already took Māori values into account.

“It’s incorporated into our [prisons] where it’s appropriate,” he said.

And it’s obviously not working very well.

“We just didn’t see the point in trying to designate – you know, a prison’s a Māori prison and other prisons are not Māori – because actually there’s going to be Maori in all our prisons.”

However, Māori Party co-leader Marama Fox said she had repeatedly raised the idea with the government and did not think it was dead in the water just yet.

“Eventually, in the future, this is going to be inevitable.

“I don’t think it is happening now, but we need to look at what is the pathway to get there – and that is what we’re in discussions about.”

Andrew Little sort of supported the proposal but then as good as ruled it out.

Labour leader Andrew Little said the idea was worth debating, but was not Labour’s official policy.

He did not have “a firm view” on whether separate Māori prisons should be introduced, but said the prison system was not working and something needed to changed.

Mr Little suggested it was sometimes important to have a public debate before forming official policy.

“I’m glad that we’ve got an MP… coming up with creative ideas, new ideas, fresh approaches. That’s important.”

Asked whether it could become official policy before the election, Mr Little said the party was at the “tail end” of its policy formation and the idea was not there.

So he wants to kick the can down the road and fob off the initiative.

But Labour are also trying to secure a big proportion of the Maori vote and are promoting the possibility that 25% of their MPs after the election will be Maori. So why not have 25% of their key election policies addressing big Maori issues?

But one of Labour’s Māori MPs, Adrian Rurawhe, said he would like to see it become formal party policy.

“It’s totally in line with how staff in Māori focus units already operate. So lifting it to another level would have really good outcomes.”

National MP Nuk Korako also said he liked the idea and planned to raise it with Corrections Minister Louise Upston.

“I think a Māori approach to anything is really important. Not only just prisons. If [Kelvin Davis] can get some traction on that, that would be great,” he said.

Mr English said it would not be desirable to create the impression of “some sort of separate system”.

So not just Labour’s Maori MPs, but also a National Maori MP supporting it. And the Greens: Bigger dreams needed for prison reform

Te Taitokerau MP Kelvin Davis is keen to see Northland regional prison at Ngawha run on kaupapa Maori lines, with Greens and Maori Party MPs also sympathetic to the idea.

Unfortunately both Little and English are dismissing it.

Who is more likely to shift on this when they think it through, National with pressure from the Maori Party, or Labour with pressure from their Maori MPs, and perhaps the Maori Party and the Greens?

Others are warming to the idea too.

Martin van Beynen: ‘Lamentable’ Maori incarceration figures demand fresh approach

The idea of special prisons run entirely on Maori values sounds like it is worth a crack.

Things couldn’t really get much worse if you look at the statistics about Maori imprisonment.

Given these lamentable figures and the cost to society – including to the families of offenders – just about anything is worth trying.

The reservation I have with the idea of Maori values is that it’s difficult to know what they are and if they are really going to make a difference.

Nothing much now seems to be making a significant difference, so something else, anything else, is surely worth a try.

Duncan Garner: Why not try a Maori prison? The current penal system is an abject failure

I’m asking for everyone to think outside the square for a few minutes. Please. I support trying a kaupapa Maori prison – run by Maori, for predominately Maori, along Maori lines. Is your blood boiling yet? Bear with me.

The reality is prison is mainly a Maori issue. And the current prison system is an abject failure – they’re just a finishing school for crims and a recruitment dream for gangs.

I’m not talking about the baddest ones. I accept they probably can’t be helped and being locked away is the best answer.

Maori prisons will still be tough jails. Yes, we lock them up each night. But we also take them home to be taught who they are and to meet their whanau.

I’m not suggesting all our jails go this way – let’s just try one. The prison experiment over the past 70 years has been a debacle. Rehabilitation is woefully low, recidivism is painfully high.

What’s the worst that can happen? It doesn’t work? Too late – we’re there. Make Maori responsible for turning around Maori. That’s tino rangatiratanga if I’ve ever seen it.

I liked Labour MP Kelvin Davis’ call for a Maori prison this week. Labour leader Andrew Little didn’t have the balls to support Davis – it’s election year after all and it’s time to re-start peddling all this tough on crime bollocks that politicians spout. Plus Labour prefer their Maori MPs on the doormat to be walked over.

It’s time to try something genuinely new.

It’s contradictory to demand that Maori sort their own problems out and then refuse to let them try.

A Maori prison must be worth a try and must be given a go.

 

Make or break weekend for Little?

This weekend could be make or break for Andrew Little’s ambitions. Same for Labour as they have their election year Congress (a party conference with PR rather than conferring),

Labour have failed to impress voters since Helen Clark lost the 2008 election. In every election this century Labour has lost support and have trended downwards since 1938.

Embedded image permalink

Lately Labour has been polling in the high twenties, hardly improved on their a record low election result in 2014 and well short of where it needs to be if they want to be in a strong position to lead a coalition government.

Andrew Little took over the leadership after the 2014 loss but two and a half years later he is struggling to appeal to voters.

Little and Labour are trying hard to address those issues, but while they talk about them they have been slow to come out with clear or decisive policies. Little is reported to be announcing something on housing in his big speech tomorrow.

An issue not on that list but probably critical to Labour’s chances is ‘Maori’ Little didn’t mention that word at all in his January ‘state of the nation’ speech.

He will need to do much better tomorrow, without getting tangled up trying to appease two distinctly different voter groups, the ‘middle New Zealand’ said to be essential to ‘win’ an election, and the Maori vote that Labour are putting so much hope on while giving them little in the way of policies – Little has ruled out two policies promoted by Maori candidates and MPs this week, partnership schools and Maori prisons.

Labour’s Maori electorate MPs (and Labour’s strategists) have created a problem for themselves by not standing on the party list.

While party vote is essential for Labour’s overall success, six Maori MPs have to win their seats again or they are out of Parliament, so they are going to put more effort into their own interests.

The controversies over partnership schools and Maori prisons is indicative of this.

Somehow Little is going to need to overcome this perception…

…without annoying voters who don’t want preferential treatment for Maori.

If he doesn’t deal with that successfully then whatever he says about housing, inequality, poverty immigration and economy may not matter much.

This could be a make or break weekend for Little.

It’s still over four months until the election, but there are signs Little could be losing support from within Labour and signs that confidence in Labour is really struggling, again (or still).

Little’s speech will be important – what he says and how he delivers it, but more important than the PR driven RA RA will be in the next week or two when the contents and ramifications of the speech sink in amongst Labour’s MPs, candidates and rank and file.

If they are not happy and confident amongst themselves – and that is difficult to fake – then voters are going to remain unimpressed.

Hooton on Labour and Maori

Yesterday Matthew Hooton promoted his weekly NBR column with a provocative headline (with a promise of similar from Duncan Garner):

A Labour staffer responds:

Hooton’s column isn’t up on the NBR site yet (it will be behind a pay wall anyway) but he pushes some different buttons via Twitter:

Garner’s column doesn’t appear to be up yet either, but it could be a testing weekend for Labour at their election year conference (they are calling it a ‘congress’) with the focus on a speech on Sunday:

Upcoming events

Sunday, May 14, 2017 at 01:30 PM

Amokura Gallery, Te Papa in Wellington, New Zealand

Andrew Little’s Congress Speech

Join hundreds of Labour supporters, as Andrew Little announces a fresh new addition to our housing plan ahead of the 2017 election at Labour’s Congress in Wellington.

In his last big speech, his ‘state of the nation’ address in January, Little didn’t mention Maori at all – see Maori 0f Little importance?

He won’t get away with ignoring them again on Sunday.

Labour’s Maori challenges

Labour have got themselves into a tricky situation with their Maori agenda. They have promoted the fact that they stand to end up with a quarter of their MPs as Maori – but are struggling to deal with Maori issues credibly.

Vernon Small: Labour and Little are on the horns of a dilemma over Maori issues

Standing in the “Lange room”, in front of the made-for-television screens screaming “Labour”, he launched into his opening remarks ahead of this weekend’s election year Congress.

First up was the shape of the Labour caucus and a likely strong Maori presence; “we will have at least 12 Maori MPs”.

With six MPs in eminently winnable seats opting off the list, the Maori caucus may have been hoping tactically to get some list MPs higher up.

If that was the plan, it mis-fired.  In striking its list and meeting any ethnic, gender or regional “quotas” the party takes into account the likely seats it will win. On that basis Maori will be well represented, as Little noted.

But that hadn’t stopped a blast of criticism and disappointment from Jackson and others, with some highlighting the “bad look” of having no Maori candidates in the top 15 of its shop front to the voters.

Those attacks clearly frustrated the hell out of Labour’s top table, with chief of staff Neale Jones turning to social media to publish a list with Maori seat MPs added in caucus order. It showed Kelvin Davis at between six and seven with Nanaia Mahuta and Meka Whaitiri all in the top 15.

Hence Little’s opening shots. But he went further in his pitch to Labour’s most reliable voting bloc.

But while he may have offered an olive branch to Maori he was also wrestling with the reality of that very Maori voice in his own caucus – not helped by a dreadful Morning Report interview on charter schools where he just sounded evasive.

Little has really struggled with dealing with the party’s strong opposition to partnership schools versus strong Maori of them.

It’s a familiar dilemma for Labour with echoes that go back to the foreshore and seabed debate and the short lived “Closing the Gaps” programme in Helen Clark’s first term.

How do you balance specific Maori concerns – including Maori-specific solutions – while looking over your shoulder at the reaction of your other core constituents … and a pursuing Winston Peters?

Given Little’s sweeping and principled stance about the ubiquitous role of Maori, how does he achieve his high-flying vision without – as Maori co-leader Marama Fox puts it – muzzling his own MPs?

You have to ask whether he is being too timid or is in thrall to nightmares from the Clark years and the advantage National took of divisive issues.

It comes amid some worrying sign from the party’s internal polling, which puts Peters increasingly in the driver’s seat to determine the direction of the next Government. Labour is weakening below 30 per cent and NZ First is on the rise – even as National is more vulnerable as its vote erodes into the low 40s.

Given the importance of a show of unity, and the need to focus on Little’s keynote speech on Sunday the pressure will be on to keep dissent on the down-low.

But that doesn’t make it go away.

It won’t make the media ignore it either. I think Little will be interviewed on both The Nation and Q&A in the weekend. He will need to have worked out a more credible and convincing way to explain how he is going to deal the horns of his Maori dilemma than he has done so far this week.

 

Time to rethink the tobacco problem?

Violent robberies of dairies and service stations have increased, with tobacco products often being the target. Is it time taxes on tobacco were reassessed?

I received this by email:

I find the zealotry of Turia on tobacco incredibly naive.

NZ has a huge problem with P and cannabis, not to mention black market tobacco, precisely because the taxes of tobacco have been increased so sharply. It was silly to think you could tax it out of existence, people can and will use substitutes. Entirely foreseeable side effects and banning dairies from selling tobacco will only run owners out of business and shift robberies to petrol stations and supermarkets.

I can understand the zealotry of Tiriana Turia to an extent, as Maori have been affected disproportionately by adverse effects of smoking. She drove the substantial increase in tobacco tax, and this has been effective in lowering rates of smoking.

Smokefree NZ: What are our smoking rates and how are they changing?

Smoking rates in New Zealand Aotearoa continue to reduce, with 17% of adults currently smoking, of which 15% smoke daily (this has dropped from 25% in 1996/97).

Although 605,000 New Zealand adults still smoke, over 700,000 have given up smoking and more than 1.9 million New Zealanders have never smoked regularly.

That means over 2 million people, over half the population, must have smoked regularly at some time in their lives.

Smoking has changed in the last half century from a socially acceptable (by those who smoked) widespread practice to a fringe activity.

Social pressure against smoking and rising prices are having an effect overall.

  • Youth aged 15–17 6% (down from 16% in 2006/07)
  • Young adults 18-24 24% (down from 28% in 2006/07; however this age range now has the highest smoking rates of any age group)

Younger people are smoking much less, perhaps due to price pressure as much as peer pressure, but rates jump when they have more money available.

However Turia’s concerns are obvious when you see this demographic:

  • Māori adults 38% (40% in 2007)

That’s over twice the overall rate, and it has hardly come down. So price pressure can’t be working effectively.

  • Pacific adults 24% (26% in 2007)

That hasn’t moved much either.

Is it time for a rethink on how to address this? Maori and Pacific people may need different incentives to quit smoking (or better, to not start smoking). Rising prices just seems to give some an incentive to steal.

Maori and Pacific Island people also figure disproportionately in unemployment and low incomes. The price of tobacco puts even more financial pressure on them.

Logically one might think that $20 a packet of cigarettes – that used to be a common daily consumption level – would be a huge deterrent, but for some demographics it obviously isn’t working much.

Why do young people start smoking in the first place? Not getting addicted is an obvious aim, but prevention is proving difficult amongst Maori in particular.

Further increases in prices are likely to increase related crime, increase deprivation and push some to other drugs – cannabis must be getting price competitive, and smokers must be more easily tempted harder drugs as well.

It looks obvious that a rethink and a different approach is needed.

It’s easy to see what is not working, but it’s a lot more difficult to come up with effective solutions.

Andrew Little versus kaupapa Maori

Andrew Little stirred up Maori politics yesterday with comments on RNZ that slammed the Maori Party. There was a significant reaction via media and on Twitter.

RNZ: Māori Party ‘not kaupapa Māori’ – Andrew Little

Labour leader Andrew Little claims the Māori Party is not kaupapa Māori after hitching its wagon to National, as a new deal between the Māori parties is signed.

Speaking to Morning Report today, Mr Little said the Māori Party hitched its wagon to National, but nothing had changed in terms of Māori over-representation in prisons and unemployment – so it had no influence over National.

He said they had conceded on every important issue.

“In the end, what it comes down to is – how do Māori have the strongest voice? Not just in Parliament, but in government. At the moment it comes through the Māori Party, which is two MPs tacked on to a National Party that doesn’t need to listen to them on anything if it doesn’t wish to. It’s all grace and favour stuff.”

He said Mana’s Hone Harawira was all over the show, and in and out of different waka all the time.

That’s a bit ironic. Harawira responded on RNZ:

Mr Harawira said the Labour leader’s comments about his deal with the Māori Party were inappropriate and quite nasty.

He told Morning Report he found it quite astounding how arrogant Labour leaders could be when talking about what Māori needed.

“I think what Māori really need is to not have white guys like Andrew Little telling us what to do, and what our aspirations should be. Mana has always been clearly its own independent organisation.”

A Maori Party founder and ex leader Pita Sharples later also responded – RNZ Labour leader ‘should be ashamed’- Sir Pita:

Sir Pita  said the Māori Party’s focus was solely a Māori one, and said he was “totally insulted” by Mr Little’s comments.

“It’s that kind of using made-up phrases like that to denigrate the authenticity of Māori that really does the damage in race relations. He should be ashamed of himself.”

Sir Pita co-led the Māori Party from 2004 through to 2013, and said he was baffled by Mr Little’s claims.

“We champion and build kura kaupapa Māori schools highschools, wharekura run reo Māori language programmes and work by hui in marae and always have mihimihi, (greetings) so I don’t know what he’s talking about.”

More from Stuff:  Political attacks are in full swing as Labour and the Maori Party go head-to-head for the Maori seats

Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox says…

“He is the worst example of someone who understands Maori and relationship agreements and how to work with other parties for that matter.”

She said the party is divided over Little’s decision to bring high-profile broadcaster Willie Jackson into the party and he’s been dishonest about whether Tamaki Makaurau MP Peeni Henare was asked to stand aside in his electorate.

“What’s obvious is there’s disquiet amongst the Maori MPs,” says Fox.

Little:

Little went on to say the Maori MPs in Labour were “fearful” of a high spot on the party list because “they don’t want to give the impression they’re being held up by belts and braces”.

He said Labour’s Maori MPs were advocating for low-list places – it’s widely speculated Jackson, who is running on the list, will receive a high placing.

Te Tai Tokerau MP Kelvin Davis, who will have a fight against Mana leader Hone Harawira for the seat after an agreement between Mana and the Maori Party to give Harawira a clear run, said Little was right and it was about getting more Maori in Parliament.

He said sitting Maori MPs were prepared to sacrifice a high list place in order to get more MPs, such as former TV presenter Tamati Coffey and Northland candidate Willow-Jean Prime, in to Parliament.

“It’s the risk we’re prepared to take,’ he said.

Unless Labour improves it’s support then list placings will be of little use. Winning an electorate is all important for Labour MPs.

It’s not just politicians who have piled into Little for his comments.


Sparrowhawk/KāreareaAndrew Little and the Māori lightbulb moment

It was a great question from Morning Report’s Susie Ferguson to the leader of the Labour Party, Andrew Little.

Ok…the Labour vote is high in those Māori seats, but isn’t there a hunger from the voters in those seats for an electorate MP who is from a kaupapa Māori party?

It was a great question for two reasons (in my mind)..firstly, the fact that Susie knew what a kaupapa Māori party was, and was comfortable with the nomenclature. Props. Secondly, the answer to that question showed Little lacks a useful understanding of Māori thinking. It was a kind of lightbulb moment in reverse: he showed us he had no idea where the switch is, let alone the bulb, that could illuminate Māori politics for any of us.

[Little] Well, the Māori Party is not kaupapa Māori. We know that, it has conceded on every important issue affecting Māori in the last nine years.

[Ferguson]: They would probably take issue with that!

[Little] Well in the end, what it comes down to is: how do Māori have the strongest voice, not just in Parliament but in government. At the moment it comes through the Māori Party which is two MPs tacked on to the National Party that doesn’t need to listen to them on anything if it doesn’t wish to.

Oh boy. we have the Leader of the Opposition telling us what is and isn’t kaupapa Māori. I don’t really mind any Pākehā person voicing an opinion about things Māori. So the fact that Little is Pākehā doesn’t gall me. What galls me is that he has pronounced grandly upon something he doesn’t understand. As can be seen above he has given us a definition of kaupapa Māori.

Extrapolating from his words above we now know that a political party can only be kaupapa Māori if it wins battles in Parliament on every important issue affecting Māori.

And then he seems to contradict his own statement by saying the Māori Party provides the strongest Māori voice in Parliament (albeit from the beat up Vauxhall being towed behind the big blue bus).

Way to build up your own Māori MPs, Andrew, by conceding they don’t have the strongest voice already.

I’ll leave it to others to defend the Māori Party’s own record. That is not my focus; my focus is instead Little’s apparent ignorance of Māori and Māori modes of thought and action.

So what do we now know of kaupapa Māori in the wake of the Little interview?

  1. No Māori affiliated with the National Party can ever claim to come from a base of Kaupapa Māori
  2. Kaupapa Māori can only ever be measured in terms of policy victories
  3. Kaupapa Māori can only ever be measured in the strength of the loudest voice proclaiming it.
  4. Kaupapa Māori can only be exercised in regards to issues directly affecting Māori.

On this definition, neither the Māori Party nor the Mana Party nor Sir Āpirana Ngata could ever be accused of employing kaupapa Māori.

Little has provided a handy rallying cry for those who would seek to undermine the Labour Māori vote. I am sure his own Māori candidates, MPS and membership will not thank him for disparaging the Māori Party in this way when they find themselves having to defend a leader who has commandeered the Māori language and insulted Māori politicians and voters in such a cavalier way.


Little seems to be struggling with dealing with Maori issues, as well as going on the attack in trying to protect Labour’s Maori seats.

He has indicated he has no interest in talking to the Maori Party about coalition arrangements.

Maori 0f Little importance?

When Andrew Little went to Ratana last week he emphasised how important Ratana and Maori issues were to the Labour Party.

RNZ: Andrew Little joins us ahead of Ratana today

Andrew Little says it’s ridiculous to say Labour has lost the support of Ratana and wider Maori voters, and he is confident in the long-standing relationship.

Transcript from the audio:

The relationship we already have is a strong one where we are talking about what’s good, not just for the Ratana people, the Morehu, but what’s good for all Maori, and what’s good for all New Zealand. That’s what Ratana stands for, what T W Ratana championed eighty ninety years ago.

We are in that discussion with Ratana all the time. It’s not just a kind of one-off what somebody says on the 24th or 25th of January.

Sounds good.

So what did Little have to say about what’s good for Ratana morehu and what’s good for Maori in his next big political outing, which was just a few days later on 29th January at the join Labour-Green ‘state of the nation’ event?

Nothing.

He seemed to thing Bill English was important, mentioning him five times. But he didn’t mention Ratana, he didn’t mention Maori, and he didn’t mention the Treaty of Waitangi once.

His speech began:

Welcome to this historic day – the day when we start this important year, united in our resolve to change the government.

We are driven by one simple premise: That we can make this great country a better place for all New Zealanders.

Maori are included in “all New Zealanders”, but there is no specific mention of Maori issues. He mentioned Waitangi once, but that was just in a diss of English.

Metiria Turei spoke before Little and began:

Me aro koe ki te ha o Hineahuone.Mai te timatanga, ko Papatuanuku te whaea whenua, ko Hineahuone te ira tangata tuatahi, he wahine.

Tihei Mauriora!

She mentioned wahine five times, Aotearoa four times, and said “Our Green values of upholding Te Tiriti o Waitangi” and “We will uphold Te Tiriti o Waitangi”.

In contrast if Maori are important to Little and Labour it wasn’t obvious from his ‘state of the union’ speech.

“A shared NZ language would be uniting”

We have had recent discussions about whether the Maori language should be taught more to children so that it becomes more widely used. alongside our other official spoken language, English.

Traveller posted this:


People often refer to what can be dropped out of the syllabus to accommodate the addition of Maori. I am not talking anything other than learning the language to fluency. I’m not talking the continuance at college, high school other than there be a general reinforcement of cultural Tikanga/Maoritanga and that it is ideally seamlessly incorporated.

From personal experience, I know that preschoolers are like the proverbial sponge and learn second languages quite naturally. How? Two of my children went to Kohanga Reo for preschool. One of them went on to study other languages in mainstream schooling very easily, something I attribute to the bilingual nature of his preschool exposure.

Of course, the impetus to converse would vary from kid to kid, depending on their sociability and parental, academic and social reinforcement. It’s accepted that learning a second language (or third, fourth and fifth) is exceptionally simple and quite natural to preschoolers.

Ask anyone who has raised kids in expat compounds, in say, Saudi. It is common for children to happily converse in Arabic, French, German, English and to switch to the mother tongue of whoever they encounter with ease.

There appears to be a ‘window’ of learning language that ‘opens’ at about the age of ten months. Infants can hear much earlier, of course, and there is some evidence that they can even hear in the womb. It is clear that they will begin to imitate the ‘noises’ they hear, and when there is a reaction from their caregivers, they begin to associate meanings with the sounds.

Over the next two years, infants acquire language at an astonishing rate. By the age of three, they have acquired basic syntax (sentence structure), basic grammar (the ‘rules’ of the language), and a large vocabulary of basic words necessary to their physical and emotional survival. Their motivation to talk with their caregivers is high: asking for something usually results in being given the thing they need.

Similarly, when the infant begins to play outside, with other children, then the motivation to talk to these children is high, and the infant will try to learn the language of play. Later on, at school, the language of the school will be important, too.”

There is considerable debate among linguists as to when the ‘language learning window’ closes, if it closes at all.

However, there does seem to be an ‘optimal’ age for language learning, when the child’s mind is still open and flexible, and not cluttered with all sorts of other learning, not to mention the society’s views on which languages are ‘prestige’ languages, and which ones are regarded by the society as of little or no importance. The latter affects motivation: children will be admired for speaking a ‘prestige’ language, and teased and bullied for speaking a ‘non-prestige’ language.

When the mind is being taught many many other things than language, there is less ‘processing space’ left for language learning. At the moment, the ‘optimal’ time for learning a second language appears to be ‘at the same time as the first language’, i.e. in the home beginning at birth to three years (providing the parents speak these two languages as their mother tongue).

The next best time for learning a second, third, and even a fourth language, appears to be between the ages of two to seven years.

A third period for learning a second language is from about ten to thirteen years of age, this is in cases when the second language is not the language of either the parents or the environment.

This is the reason behind the push to introduce ‘foreign’ language learning into the curriculum of elementary schools, in the grade when the child is about ten-eleven years old.

The ideal would be to introduce conversation to all children at pre-school level relatively intensely. As our society evolved to being more naturally bilingual the home teaching would become a driving factor.

I truly believe that a shared NZ language would be uniting rather than polarising.

http://linguistlist.org/ask-ling/biling.cfm


I agree that it would generally be uniting if children learned to speak Maori from a young age. There would be some grumbles but I think they would dissipate over time.

Children in mainstream now get taught a little Maori at school but nothing to the extent of being able to speak the language.

I’ve just spoken with a 12 year old who says they get taught some bits of the Maori language, and sing Maori songs, and but nothing conversational.

 

Should Te Reo be compulsory?

A language activist from Catalonia suggests making Te Reo compulsory.

Maori Television: Catalan Experts – Make te reo Māori compulsory

Last year Native Affairs spoke with Catalan language advocates who encouraged Aotearoa to follow the example of Catalonia by making te reo Māori compulsory here.

Catalonia is an autonomous province in Spain that includes the major city of Barcelona. It’s unique in Europe, governed by both Catalonia and Spain, with dual laws ruling the lives of those who live there.

In 1983 the Catalan government made the Catalan language compulsory in all public administrations, including schools and universities.

Now, over 4 million people speak Catalan, half the region’s population. And the language has been widely embraced throughout Catalonia.

Cristina Fons is a language activist who has been teaching Catalan for the past 25 years.

“I think that Catalan is very important, first because it is the language of the territory, of our ancestors, our tradition, and furthermore because we have a very rich history,” she says.

Cristina believes Aotearoa should follow the example of Catalonia by making te reo Māori compulsory.

And:

Humberto Burcet , a Catalan language teacher, speaks nine languages and has a PhD in te reo Māori and Samoan.

He was taken aback that te reo Māori was not more widely spoken here when he visited New Zealand.

“I went to Aotearoa to learn the Māori language, Te Reo, and for me it was surprising when I see my kids here learning Catalan….”

Like Cristina, Humberto thinks there’s every reason te reo Māori should be compulsory in Aotearoa.

“I think this is a good point to make te reo Māori available to all people who want to learn it and to make it possible to use it outside the school.”

I don’t see why te reo shouldn’t be a standard subject at school. I wouldn’t have minded learning it, it would have been more interesting and useful than the French I did.

I don’t think making it compulsory in public administrations and it shouldn’t be compulsory at University level, but it would be good if all kids became proficient.