Why Is It So Difficult to Pronounce Māori Words Correctly?

Well… it isn’t, technically. Te Reo (the language) is fairly consistent. But many pākehā (non-Māori New Zealanders) are so set in their ways that they refuse to even try.

I’m not having a go. When you’ve grown up hearing something pronounced a certain way, it’s incredibly hard to start saying it a different way. You automatically say it the way you’ve always heard everyone saying it.

I’m genuinely trying, and I only remember to pronounce, for example, the name of the city in which my parents live, Tauranga, correctly about fifty percent of the time.

The irony is when I first moved to New Zealand, as a child, I pronounced Māori place names more correctly than I do now. That’s because I was learning them fresh. My Kiwi friends, though, laughed at me for saying things differently to the way they had grown up saying them. Soon, I grew accustomed to the “pākehā” way of pronouncing Māori place names and thought nothing more of it.

When I was seventeen, my drama class went on a school trip to England. (Yes, it was an expensive school trip.) For the first week, we attended a school in Devon, mingling with the local students. Of course, we talked a lot about the school in New Zealand that we were from, Otumoetai College. We pronounced it ‘oh-too-mow-tie’, or the even lazier ‘oh-da-mow-die’, as we always had.

Then, at the end of the week, our drama teacher stood up to officially thank our host school, and he used the proper pronunciation of Otumoetai: ‘awe-too-moy-tie’. The British kids started laughing – they thought our teacher was saying it wrong!

(Our teacher went on to impress the British kids greatly by making them think he could speak Te Reo Māori. In a serious, speech-making tone, he reeled off a list of Māori place names. “Whakatane, Rotorua, Papakura, Waiuku…” Of course, us New Zealand kids thought it was hilarious.)

Lately, the New Zealand media has been giving a lot of attention to the issues surrounding the pākehā perception of Te Reo. Should it, for example, be the law to teach the Māori language in New Zealand schools?

I’m all for it. Learning another language is good for a child’s development, as is the instilment of a certain cultural appreciation. I also believe in making an effort to pronounce Māori words correctly, which is why I do make the effort. I don’t always succeed.

It’s not just that your brain automatically jumps to the pronunciation you’re used to hearing. It’s that when you do make an effort to say something correctly, and everyone around you isn’t bothered, it makes you feel like a pretentious wanker.

And, of course, what if you do make an effort and get it wrong?

A few times, I’ve gone to say something the correct way and bottled it halfway through, coming out with something that’s half-right; half-inarticulate mumble. Something like ‘awe-too… mow-die’. It’s silly, I know. But I’m going to keep trying.

It’s a matter of principle.

I’ll leave you with a story I heard when I first moved to New Zealand. I don’t know whether it’s an anecdote, a joke, or an urban legend, but here it is:

A couple of well-meaning English tourists were on holiday in New Zealand, and a Kiwi asked them where they were staying.

“Onehunga,” they replied, pronouncing it ‘one’ – as in the number one – ‘hung-a’.

After a moment of confusion, the Kiwi said, “Oh, you mean ‘o-ne-hu-nga’. O-N-E is pronounced ‘o-ne’, not ‘one.’”

“Oh, right,” the tourists said. “In that case would you please direct us to O-ne Tree Hill?”

10 Reasons Living in New Zealand is AWESOME

I moved to New Zealand with my family twelve years ago. At first, I hated my parents for wrenching me away from Mother England, but now I wouldn’t have it any other way. New Zealand is a great country to live in and here’s why:

1)      Nice weather

Somewhere Over the RainbowIt is common for New Zealanders to complain about the weather. The phrase ‘four seasons in one day’ is used annoyingly often, yet while it can be gloriously sunny in the morning, fooling you into leaving your jacket at home, and then bucket it down in the afternoon, it is rarely bad for long. Coming from Britain, I can confidently say that New Zealand’s weather is better. It is warmer, drier, sunnier and generally more cheerful. There’s a reason New Zealand’s famous for barbecues and Britain’s not.

2)      Beautiful beaches

Beach 1Nearly three-quarters of all New Zealanders live within five kilometres of a beach, most of which are ten times more beautiful than any beach that Britain has to offer. They are less spoiled for starters, boasting not only pristine sands of the yellow and white variety, but luxurious soft, black volcanic sand. They range from wild, rugged surfing beaches to relaxing swimming and sunbathing beaches, all with picturesque geological features. In Britain, going to the beach was a rare treat; now I can walk to one whenever I want. New Zealand’s beaches are truly a wonder.

3)      Lots of green countryside

In Britain, one of the main things you hear about New Zealand is how green it is. Mostly, this is meant in the sense of the ‘clean, green’ environmentally friendly image, but New Zealand is also green in a literal sense: there is a great deal of protected, unspoiled countryside. Kiwis seem to have an innate appreciation for nature – the great outdoors; God’s own – and pursuits such as camping and tramping are very popular. New Zealand’s native bush is incredibly special and the ‘bush walk’ is something you cannot escape if you come here.

4)      Unique wildlife

New Zealand Tour 2003 003Contained within New Zealand’s bush is a collection of endangered birds that exist nowhere else in the world, the most famous of which is the kiwi. I have never encountered a kiwi in the wild, but seeing a mating pair at Auckland Zoo was an enchanting (and highly amusing) experience. I’ve seen plenty of other examples of New Zealand’s unique wildlife actually in the wild, though. My two favourite native birds are tuis – songbirds with shining plumage adorned by a duet of white baubles at the throat – and keas – alpine parrots with devilish intelligence and barefaced cheek. New Zealand is also the best place in the world to swim with dolphins.

5)      Exotic volcanic activity

White Island 018Depending on your point of view, an abundance of volcanic activity may not seem like a reason to live in a country, but everything – the threat of natural disaster included – is relative, and I for one love living within easy driving distance of the utterly magical sights of geysers, hot pools, mud pools and lava flows. Britain seems boring by comparison. There’s something mysteriously exciting about the eggy smell; the steam rising around you; the thought that the hidden underworld is close at hand. Places like Rotorua and White Island are literally on the edges of the earth.

6)      Small population

Culture 3New Zealand is famous for being a small country – its population has only recently broken the four million mark. Compare that with Britain’s excess of sixty million. But what many people don’t realise is the actual land area of New Zealand is larger than the land area of Britain. No wonder it seems like Brits are perpetually elbowing each other out of the way to get to where they want to be. The people of New Zealand actually have space to breathe. To be individuals. To live.

7)      Friendly people

armageddon 13 001croppedKiwis are an undeniably friendly race. When I first moved to New Zealand, it was almost disconcerting how interested in me strangers were. Brits are so cold by comparison. They also whinge while kiwis maintain a more positive attitude. The people of New Zealand are not so judgemental – image is less important to them – and anything goes. New Zealand has no class system. People from all walks of life end up here. To me, it’s always felt like a safe place, but I didn’t realise how much I’d come to take that security for granted until I returned to England for a visit a few years ago. Kiwis smile at you in the street. If there’s anywhere in the world you can rely on the kindness of strangers, it’s New Zealand.

8)      Laid-back lifestyle

I was a child when my family immigrated to New Zealand, so while I can confidently say that school in New Zealand is easier than school in England, I have never experienced the demands of working life in any country other than New Zealand. However, every adult I’ve talked to who has tells me that life in New Zealand is far simpler than elsewhere in the western world. The wages may be lower, but the quality of life is definitely higher. Life is lived at a slower pace. There is a healthier work-life balance. In New Zealand, expectations are lower – in a good way. There is less pressure. Good enough is good enough. Go with the flow. She’ll be right.

9)      Multicultural society

Montana walkNew Zealand is a country of immigrants – even the Maori, the native inhabitants, are relatively recent arrivals. It is nice to live in a place where tribal culture and the values that go with it are still in evidence. The presence of Maori names, art, customs and tourist experiences make New Zealand unique in the world, not just another European/Americanised western country. Of course, New Zealand is a Europeanised country, but it has so many influences from so many places around the world, especially Asian countries, that it’s a complete melting pot. It has an abundance of wonderful and, compared to Britain at least, relatively cheap restaurants that serve delicious fusions of tastes. Since moving here, I’ve become a real foodie.

10)   It’s already the perfect place for a holiday

dunedin3 027New Zealand is the ultimate holiday destination – even if you already live in it. The country is so varied you never tire of exploring it, which is why I think it’s important to get your hands on a campervan. Motorhomes have become part of the fabric of society in New Zealand – you can’t drive anywhere without passing at least one on the road – and it’s easy to see why. You cannot experience New Zealand from one spot. The North Island is so different from the South, the east coast so different from the west, and it’s down the side roads that the special places lie. So my advice would be to hire a campervan in New Zealand when you come, be it to live or just for a holiday. One thing is guaranteed either way: you’ll never want to go back. Life in New Zealand is AWESOME.

P.S. – This is a list from my new website, NZ Top List. Check it out to browse more lists about life in New Zealand and the many fantastic places to go.

663 Lake Moke 038cropped