Go to National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa Go to Te Ao Hou homepage
No. 48 (September 1964)
– 46 –


Teaching Maori
to Adults

There are many idealistic and sentimental discussions about the Maori language which are of little practical use to the teacher in the field. There is no doubt that adult students are showing more and more interest in Maori language, society and culture, and it is therefore important that there should be discussion on the various principles involved in teaching any language successfully —the methods, reading lists and suggestions for scope of courses.

Single-mindedness is given to teaching by having in mind clear goals, by offering syllabuses, by clearly outlining principles and methods. Many teachers would welcome ideas on what to teach and how to put it across, for at the present time many of them are forced to rely on trial and error.

Some Problems

Because of local variations in idiomatic expression, in vocabulary and in the pronunciation of some words, some teachers argue that there is no such thing as standard Maori. On what basis then do we correct translation and essay work? Do we base standards on the revised Maori Bible, Grey's ‘Nga Mahi a nga Tupuna’, Ngata's ‘Maori Grammar and Conversation’, or the Maori that is spoken by the Maori elders of the district? I would recommend the Maori Bible, and in conjunction with it the correct idiomatic language of local elders.

Some argue too that far too many transliterations are being included in Maori speech —that the Maori which ought to be spoken is ‘pure’ Maori. ‘Pure’ Maori as such can only be spoken on the marae or on ceremonial occasions where the language is formal and highly specialised. It must be realised that Maori as a living language must undergo change; some words are borrowed and others become obsolete.

It is relevant too to mention the contentious point regarding the marking of long vowels, either by the use of the macron, or by doubling the letter. Some advocate that they be not marked at all, as for example in the revised Maori Bible. I do believe that for beginners and for those whose knowledge of written Maori is marginal indeed, the marking of long vowels is an important and convenient teaching aid. Of the two methods I prefer the use of the macron. Once greater facility in the use of the language is achieved, the macron can be dispensed with.

A Language Certificate?

Teachers of the Maori language are in short supply, not only in the schools but also for adult classes. One way of overcoming this would be to institute a language certificate in Maori. A course of this kind would also extend the knowledge of those interested in Maori language, society and culture, and it would provide a basis for the understanding of Maori attitudes and values. To make such a course a living one, teaching would have to be mostly in Maori. Aspects which emphasise the promotion of understanding could be conducted in English.

Suggested Framework For an Adult Education Course

The subject matter could be studied under the following headings:

Language: Elementary, intermediate, advanced, marae etiquette.

Maori Arts: Action songs, stick games, poi and haka.

History, Society, Culture: Before 1840, after 1840, contemporary.

Maori Crafts: Weaving, carving, kowhaiwhai, tukutuku.

Maori Food

The contents of a two or three year course could be as follows:



Elementary Maori either 27 or 54


Intermediate Maori 27

History to 1840 10

Pre-Pakeha Society and Culture 10

Maori Arts 20


Advanced Maori and marae etiquette 27

History after 1840 10

Contemporary Maori society and culture 10

Maori Arts 7

Teaching Techniques

The co-operation of the student is the

– 47 –

greatest ally in teaching Maori. At each stage one must show him that he is succeeding— proceed at such a rate that he does succeed— make it live so that he gets a kick out of it. Interest may be aroused and maintained by varying teaching techniques, individual research and talks, visiting speakers, letter writing, discussions and by the presentation of a well-balanced programme of language, society and culture.

Such an approach needs energy, patience, persistence and good teaching techniques, bound together with faith in the students.

Comments on Language Study

Local diction. A teacher of Maori must have a fair knowledge of local speech, colloquialisms and dialectal variations, and be able to differentiate between slovenly Maori and the correct idiomatic Maori of the tribe. Dialectal variations, such as synonyms in vocabulary exercises, variations in expression and pronunciation, can be taught as the lesson progresses.

Direct Method. This is the best of all methods, the students modelling their speech on the teacher's. At all times his enunciation and idom must be clear. In every session this may take the form of five minutes' spontaneous and brisk conversation, oral reading, oral comprehension, recitation and vocabulary exercises, prepared talks and dictation. Another method that I use when working from a set textbook is to issue all instructions in Maori—by speaking slowly and repeating what is required several times, if necessary using sign language at the same time.

Vocabulary. All new words must be heard, spoken, seen and spelt. Every lesson is a vocabulary lesson, though at the beginning of each session five minutes must be set aside for revision exercises based on learnt vocabulary and for the introduction of new words. I suggest that this time be used also for the introduction of dialectal variations and colloqualisms, e.g. motuka (motoka—East Coast); enei (wenei — East Coast, weneki — mid-North Island); mauria—haria; kei roto i te wai—kai ro wai; riwai—taewa—parareka. Most words are more readily appreciated in whole sentences, phrases or passages which may be memorized. Proverbs or whakatauaki with brief explanatory notes could be used for this purpose also, for example at the end of the lesson or in the discussion period. Note though that frequent revision is very important.

Dictation. Much attention must be given the mechanics of written Maori. It is essential to do this before serious translation and writing is attempted. Connected prose can be given periodically, but it is wise to present isolated sentences, using learnt vocabulary, in each teaching session during or after the vocabulary period. They may also be used to illustrate or introduce a new rule and to reveal such common errors as the linking of prepositions and articles (i/te); the linking of the particle ‘a’ and prepositions with the personal pronoun ‘ia’ (a/ia) (i/a/ia); passive terminations and causative prefix disconnected from their bases (karanga-tia, whaka-hoki); omission of particles ([ko] te mea nui ke), and prepositions and articles (ki runga [i] te [i/te] whare). Dictated prose may be either the teacher's own compositions, excerpts from suitable books, or else corrected paragraphs from the work of students.

A typical dictation lesson may take the following form. The teacher reads the extract twice then students begin writing on the third reading. Students read the sentences while at the same time the teacher writes the piece on the blackboard, then students mark their own work, passing it afterwards to a neighbour for checking. There may be a group reading of the extract, and if suitable students may memorize or translate it.

Translation. This must be taken regularly at all stages, the quantity and quality varying with the class. As with dictation, sentences should cover the vocabulary and grammar taught at each stage. For elementary classes, translation work is best confined to sentences or simple connected prose. The following procedure may well be adopted by advanced classes: read the passage several times to understand it and to get the spirit of it, and underline any difficult word and link it with some stem or root. Do not translate word for word, but translate whole thoughts or sentences. Choose the best word possible to convey the spirit of the original into the receiving language; do not be tied to specific words so long as the meaning is transmitted into the receiving language. Beware of flowery language; use natural English. Do not translate into the work something that is not in the original. In Maori, particles should not be omitted or inserted in incorrect places.

Grammar. Should be introduced as the need arises. Do not always insist on the logic being understood before the construction is used, as

– 48 –

very often the logic behind a grammatical approach is seen quite some time after the operation has been mastered. Teachers who are not fluent in oral Maori generally put their faith in the maximum use of grammar. ‘No substantial transfer of grammatical knowledge to written or spoken English [Maori] is proven.’ (Post Primary syllabus, 1955—p. 11.) However, the teacher will achieve most through methods in which he has confidence.

Comprehension. Plenty of oral and written comprehension is recommended. On a selected passage there may be based comprehension questions, extracts for dictation and memorization, vocabulary exercises, parts of speech (grammar, etc.) and passages for translation.

Composition. Subject-matter of essays must appeal to students' natural interests; weekly events or local history with which they are familiar are among the subjects which may be suitable. At first, the teacher may have to demonstrate to beginners how to express in Maori a few plain facts briefly, clearly, concisely and accurately. Reading and discussions would supply the necessary background to a topic. The following procedure might be adopted: jot down all ideas as they occur, rearrange in sequence, write best literary Maori naturally and sincerely. Neat writing and setting out are essential; watch spelling, omission of particles and prepositions, etc.

Marking written work. A variety of marking methods are essential: tick, initial or an encouraging comment, or an assessment.

Corrections. These can be gone over with each student once in a while (though this may be impracticable with a big class). However, the study of corrections will be a valuable means of revision for the student.

Exercise books. One for Maori history, society and culture; one for vocabulary, model sentences, dictation pieces for memorization, corrected passages, essays proverbs, etc.; one as a work book for translation work, etc.

Teacher's notebook. As the human memory is not infallible, it is advisable to keep a teacher's notebook in which may be written such things as local district idioms, colloquialisms for elimination in written work, common grammatical errors, vocabulary notes, students' weaknesses, copies of short revision tests, and certain expressions for memorization.

Mr Dewes added a most useful bibliography to this article. Unfortunately lack of space makes it impossible to publish it here, but it will appear in a later issue of ‘Te Ao Hou’.


One of the main topics at this year's conference of the N.Z. Federation of Maori Students, held last May in Wellington, was the contribution which Maori culture can make to modern New Zealand society, and the practical steps which must be taken to bring about a wider appreciation of our cultural heritage.

In particular, remits passed at the conference urged a greater emphasis on the teaching of Maori studies and the Maori language in all schools and Teachers' Training Colleges. The conference also asked the N.Z.B.C. to consider devoting greatly increased time on radio and TV to items of Maori cultural interest.

Eddie Durie was elected the new president of the Federation, Mac Burt as secretary and Ari Paul as treasurer.

It was interesting to see that a large number of those who attended the conference where non-Maoris.