Category Archives: language learning
New Zealand Graduating Standard 3.b:
“Graduating teachers have knowledge of tikanga and te reo Māori to work effectively within the bicultural contexts of Aotearoa New Zealand.”
I’m going to be honest and say that I’ve been putting off posting on this particular standard for quite sometime. Then I noticed an incoming search to this blog that kicked started this post:
“how am i to teach te reo when its not my culture”
I have no idea if this person is a teacher or a student teacher but I do recognize the sentiment, responsibility deflection. On one hand I totally get where the teacher is coming from. I didn’t learn te reo Māori at school and despite a lot of my cousins being Māori speakers, my grasp of the language is pretty bad.
But then I thought to myself, wow there’s actually a huge amount of privilege in being able to say “I’m not Māori why should I have to teach te reo?” Because what the anonymous searcher was really saying is “my situation is uniquely difficult in ways you can’t even fathom, so of course I am exempt from having any control over my response to it.” Another words, I don’t want to so how can I make this problem go away.
But there are avenues for non te reo speakers to start teaching Māori . The first option is to start learning the language, even if it is just alongside the kids, being open to learning is important. You could enlist expertise from the kids inside the classroom or reach out to classes offering te reo lessons via skype. This all easy to do once you get out of the mentality that te reo teaching is just to hard for you. Because while the teachers of today might not be guilty for the decisions of the past, we are responsible for helping keeping te reo alive in New Zealand today.
Of course teaching te reo isn’t the only time people go into responsibility deflection mode. I’ve become fascinated at the way we cast ourselves as the victim of circumstance to cover our inadequacies.
“That lecturer marked my essay down.”
“My associate teacher was unsupportive.”
“The kids were terrible today.”
Why do we do this? Because taking responsibility for your actions, especially your poor actions, is a hard pill to swallow. But the good news is that in my experience you get better at it each time you do it. Then you start to realize that carrying around all that negative energy doesn’t do anything except make an already bad situation worse. What’s more that grudge you hold against change is only allowing an idiot to live in your head rent free.
The biggest shift in my thinking during the my course has been making the leap from deflecting responsibility to accepting it. I’ve come to realize that while snarking is occasionally healthy in the short term but ultimately the only person’s behaviour I can really change in my situations I don’t like is my own.
So the reason I’ve been delaying posting on this standard is because my te reo really isn’t that good and I don’t like to admit that it’s not good because I don’t like to lose face. However my next learning step is incorporating te reo into my practice, so I’ll be taking up my own suggestions at about using tikanga and te reo Māori in the classroom even though I don’t feel 100% competent right now and keep open to learning on the way.
New Zealand Graduating Teacher Standard 4.e
Graduating teachers use te reo Māori me ngā tikanga-a-iwi appropriately in their practice.
The other project I had to undertake for specialist week was a group assignment on language learning. The task was to create a teaching resource as a group. We were given the option of making a poster or powerpoint which all sounded so 1990s. I emailed our lecturer to ask if we could hand in a link rather than an actual file. He said yes which meant we got to submit a prezi with youtube clips rather than a boring powerpoint presentation.
We decided to focus on the teaching of mihimihis and think that getting students to create a digital mihimihi would be an ace language learning activity.
Last week I went to an art show held at my last placement. It was great to see my former students and their families again as well as see the art projects I had helped the kids create come to fruition.
During the show I was chatting away to my Korean student‘s family who were excited about my move to Wellington. Though they pointed out that there aren’t many Koreans down that way so I wouldn’t get much of a chance to practice my Korean! As were chatting, naturally I talked about their child. The student had an English name that we use in class but it felt so wrong in the context of speaking Korean to continue using it so I reached for the student’s Korean name.
That split decision reminded me of what it must be like for so many of our learners to live in two separate worlds. The one world is that at home where they speak a different language, a different world view and even have a different name from the one they use at school. But should teachers be condoning this practice? Because using ‘English’ names as a replacement to a child’s name really, really bothers me.
I understand that there may well be compelling reasons for changing names to make life easier in a foreign country. I had a Korean name gifted upon me by my students which is a portmanteau of my surname and the Korean slang term for teacher. Because Korean has no ‘st’ or ‘f’ sounds my name is pronounced Seu -te -pa -ni. So alongside my Korean name sounding a bit nicer to my ears it is obviously a lot easier for Korean people to pronounce. So it is important to acknowledge that part of the reason children are given English names is so that teachers don’t lose face by mispronouncing a child’s name incorrectly.
There’s also the issue of teasing. I quietly suggested to a student who was going to America that he might want to change the transliteration from ‘Bum-Suk’ to ‘Beom-Sook’ to avoid problems. Likewise anyone named Jill might be advised to use their middle name if they are in the Land of the Morning Calm.
So I understand why some children might be given English names but to be honest I find neither of these reasons particularly compelling.
Because surely our classrooms and schools should be places where children are free to be their authentic self?
Shouldn’t that start by using a child’s real name?
New Zealand Graduating Teacher Standard 6.d
Graduating Teachers promote a learning culture which engages diverse learners effectively.
I speak Korean. I don’t speak the language particularly well, but alongside living in the country for four years I also attended night classes at Seoul National University. As a result of my study I can read and write 한글, the Korean alphabet Hanguel, and can also hold up a basic conversation. Since I moved back to New Zealand a few years ago, my Korean has largely laid dormant, except when I was ordering food at Korean restaurants and very occasionally at my previous job.
However at my current placement I get to speak Korean every day. There are a number of teachers visiting my current school to study about the New Zealand education system (which has a very different pedagogy from the Korean one). I love surprising the visitors when I start speaking to them in Korean as I’m usually the first non-Korean they’ve met who will natter away in 우리 말 (our language).*
If you had walked into the classroom yesterday, when the student-led conferences were taking place, you would have heard languages from across the globe being spoken not only by the students and their families but also by my Associate Teacher and I. Obviously my speaking the family language changed the tenor of the relationship between myself and the parent and student but what was surprising was that this relationship also changed the relationship of the other children.
The students were curious as to why I could speak ‘student A’s language.’ They didn’t say it, but the learners undoubtedly noticed that while ‘student A’ is Korean I am not. My current placement is a really multi-cultural school so the pupils are well accustomed to the idea that some children speak different languages at home than they do at school. But I’m guessing that the kids know that immigration is the reason behind people speaking more than one language as the rates of second language learning in New Zealand, especially of non-European languages, is quite poor. So it is hardly surprising that the idea that a Pakeha teacher who obviously grew up speaking English could also speak an Asian language would be something that piqued the children’s curiosity.
I explained that I had to study very hard to learn Korean but I really enjoyed it and hopefully one day I will speak Korean as well as ‘student A’ speaks English. Hopefully as a result of this encounter the students who grew up speaking English in their households might be open to the possibility of learning another language in the future. But more importantly the students saw a teacher learning which is perhaps the most powerful lesson of all, you never stop learning.
*Koreans typically express possession in the plural, ‘our mother,’ ‘our language,’ ‘our country.’
New Zealand Graduating Teacher Standard 1.d
Graduating Teachers have content and pedagogical content knowledge for supporting English as an Additional Language (EAL) learners to succeed in the curriculum.
Our key topic this week was English as Additional Language (EAL) learners, which is the current phrase to describe students who enter school speaking another language. This topic got me reflecting about my own experiences in learning language and living in another country.
When I first arrived I knew NOTHING and felt completely disorientated and confused, basic stuff was such a trial. I once remember trying to buy two pieces of chicken and ended up with two boxes of fried chicken. Needless to say I ended up eating nothing but fried chicken for a week after that incident.
I started formally learning Korean after about 18 months living in the country. By that time I had already picked up a lot of vocabulary and grammar off the kids and the taxi drivers (in a country of no street names, you quickly learn left, right, straight and stop).
You might be surprised to know I had already learned the alphabet. This was done by listening and reading the station names being announced on the subway station rather than transliterating Korean sounds into English (which was a cumbersome process). Although reading signs where I already knew the sounds like ‘McDonalds, Starbucks, Pizza Hut’ etc. were also good ways of cross-checking my reading progress.
But then I started taking evening Korean classes for foreigners at one of the universities which was when my language skills improved. While I easily had the largest vocabulary of the class, my grammar was particularly shoddy and I didn’t understand the rules of the Korean alphabet well enough to write. Going to formal lessons gave me a framework for my prior learning and my language skills improved quite rapidly from stammering words out, to forming actual sentences and even managing to accomplish tasks like getting the air conditioner in my apartment fixed. The class also gave me an opportunity to practice the language with people who had a similar level to me.
I tried to practice Korean as much as I could outside of class, and often tried to talk to other teachers at the middle school I was working at. Out of all the members of staff the person I enjoyed practicing my Korean with the best was the school’s Japanese teacher. This may seem odd but is actually quite logical. My limited grasp of Korean meant that the English teachers would switch to English as soon as I got stuck. While those staff members who knew no English often found it difficult to communicate with me because they had no experience of learning a language themselves and in many cases I was the first Korean learner many of them had met. However the Japanese teacher, who didn’t speak much English, understood how to communicate with me because was not only a language learner herself but was obviously teaching a language for a living.
1. Speak slowly and clearly
No you don’t have to be like the ugly tourist and over-exaggerate your pronunciation, in fact that will make it harder for the learner to understand you. But slow down and make sure you pronounce each word clearly. New Zealanders in particular are good at running words together ‘youwannagrabsumfushunchips.’ This was something I didn’t notice until I spent a few years abroad and found myself adjusting to the New Zealand accent when I called home.
2. Use simple sentence structures
‘Close the door please’ is a lot easier to understand than ‘would you mind closing the door for me.’ Likewise conversation fillers like umm, ahh, yeah, right are more verbal noise that the learner has to decipher. Avoid ‘thinking out loud’ around language learners. It goes without saying that idioms, slang and colloquialisms are also bothersome for those learning a new language.
3. Give time to for the learner to formulate a response
As a second language learner my pet hate was people not giving me enough time to think. Sometimes it takes a while for a second language speaker to process what they’ve heard and rummage around for the correct grammar and vocabulary to respond, so be patient! Moreover some learners might not yet feel confident to speak up but that doesn’t mean they aren’t learning (think of me on the subway station).
4. Let learners make mistakes
Me: Kimchi good taste.
Japanese teacher: Yes Kimchi tastes good.
What I liked about talking with the Japanese teacher was she was very good at finding ways to let me know about my mistakes but did so in a manner that didn’t make me lose confidence. In the above example the teacher acknowledged that I thought kimchi tasted good but still let me know the correct grammar for next time.
5. Group work is important
Learning languages is a social process. Yes learning grammar and vocabulary is important but not having an opportunity to use language with peers is what I valued most from the classes.
My experience has made me mindful of how hard learning a language is (ok I could have learned an easier language). Doing so while also having completing regular school must be a difficult and frustrating process. What amazing people EAL learners are.
What languages have you learned in the past? How has this influenced your teaching practice?
New Zealand Graduating Teacher Standard 6.e
Graduating Teachers demonstrate respect for te reo Māori me ngā tikanga-a-iwi in their practice.
During my first time at university I was one of the student representatives on the university council. Aside from arguing with the powers-that-be to keep student fees down, I sat through A LOT of graduations. I think in one year I went to 15 ceremonies. The one ceremony that I remember quite vividly was where the projection screen went offline halfway through Gaudeamus igitur. This meant that the audience not only had to stumble through that song but then the national anthem without lyrics. While I expected that very few people knew the words to the Latin song, I was stunned at the sudden increase in volume when the English version of the anthem rolled around. Here were a group of university-educated people who didn’t know the Maori verse to our national song.
The reason I bring up this story is because today is Waitangi Day, which for any non-New Zealand based readers is the day New Zealand commemorates the signing of our founding document. Not many New Zealanders seem to know that the actual Treaty, yes the very one signed on this day in 1840 by Captain William Hobson and the assembled chiefs of the northern tribes at Waitangi, is on permanent display in the Constitution Room at Archives NZ in Mulgrave St, Wellington. Archives should be open today. Go there.
For anyone not in Wellington then I suggest you read this pre-released this chapter of a Waitangi Tribunal report on the state of Te Reo. In short the language is in danger of becoming extinct: the diminishing numbers of younger speakers of Te Reo Maori mean older speakers passing away are not being replaced.
Reading that report should be a call to arms to all those entering teaching to learn Te Reo. Instead of viewing the maintenance of Te Reo as being a Maori issue which will only be resolved in the Maori education system, we all need to take ownership of the problem to keep the language alive. One private school has already taken up the challenge and made Te Reo a compulsory subject for all its year 9 students.
There are many Pakeha, myself included, that pepper their conversations with Te Reo and have abandoned the use of English greetings in their emails. In some ways, this is a positive development. We acknowledge that we have, or at least are supposed to have, a with relationship Maori and are expressing this relationship through language. The increasing usage of Te Reo both in daily life and through the media has undoubtedly contributed to a far richer New Zealand culture.
But is learning a modicum of Te Reo and trotting it out on regular basis enough? When I’ve pressed a couple of friends why their level hasn’t progressed much beyond a few dozen words and a couple of set phrases the answer is all too often that they don’t have the time to learn the language. However if learning Te Reo really was a priority, wouldn’t they find the time to learn it properly?
I’m sure the economically minded would immediately assert that such as an exercise is a waste of time. Shouldn’t New Zealand students, who already have low rates of second language learning, study something useful like Mandarin. This assumes that the two activities are mutually exclusive, when in fact they are complimentary. The skills that you need to learn a second language are in fact readily transferable to learning a third, fourth or even fifth language.
But why Te Reo? Because despite their sometimes vocal protestations of, dare I say it some Pakeha, Te Reo is actually a language for all New Zealanders. Over the coming hours many a drunken Hakas or screeching versions of Pokarekare Ana will be performed by Expats in various watering holes around the planet in celebration of Waitangi Day. The presence of an indigenous culture is one of the few ways Pakeha New Zealanders can easily differentiate themselves from the other white countries that were former British colonies. But its a shame it takes a visit abroad for many New Zealanders to acknowledge the importance of this relationship. Surely if we seek to benefit from biculturalism, we all have a responsibility to actively nurture the culture and learn more about it including the language.
I know things have changed a lot since I left school (which was 15 almost years ago) and that it would be a lot harder to a child to go their entire schooling career without ever taking a class in Te Reo (my fancy-pants primary school taught students French). But to get started here is a list 100 words of Te Reo every New Zealander should know. Oh yeah and the anthem