There are a lot of ways out there to learn a language – and TV, of course, is one of them, what if the sheer number of languages popular American programmes like “The Simpsons” have been dubbed into is anything to go by (plus, listening to Homer Simpson speak excitedly in German about his love of doughnuts is even funnier than in English in this writer’s humble opinion). And kids’ shows that help teach another language are – also of course – a key part of that.
And among the ranks of Kermit the Frog, Dora the Explorer and Grover is a cast of animated woodland sprites who speak Te Reo Maori – and, in the process, are educating young people about Te Reo.
Season two of Takaro Tribe, created by Cinco Cine Film Productions, will screen on TVNZ 2 weekdays at 6.40am starting on Monday, May 28. Each episode covers the adventures of five woodland sprites, each named after a Maori vowel, who live in the enchanted Wao Arap? (“Alphabet Forest”), along with Papa Rakau (“Tree Father”), and K?k? (“Pond Mother”). The characters are voiced by well-known Maori actors and performers, including some of the cast of the Te Reo version of the hit Disney animated film Moana.
The show was developed by Nicole Hoey, who says it has been 10 years in the making. “For a long time I’ve been playing around with creating a children’s show based in nature,” says Hoey. “I was initially inspired by patupaiarehe, the naughty fairies of Maori mythology and, from there, the characters evolved over time. A lot of my friends have trouble with sounding out the Maori vowels, so I thought I’d turn them into characters.”
The five characters’ adventures over the 20-episode series centre around discovering everyday objects from the human world. They then use repetition, comedy and music to work out what the objects are used for, and how the objects’ names are spelled in both English and Maori – which, of course, helps viewers learn the languages since they can also follow along.
The animations are based on original drawings. Cinco Cine’s head of post-production, Campbell Farquhar, worked with Hoey to write the show. “The show is primarily aimed at children aged two to five, but we wanted to try and hit a range of ages,” says Hoey. “Little kids love the dancing and singing, while slightly older kids enjoy trying to trace the letters along with the characters.”
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Amie Mills, children’s and digital commissioner at TVNZ says: “The Maori population is young, and growing in Aotearoa and we believe in the importance of fostering biculturalism and bilingualism in the content we make available to our tamariki.”
Hoey, who is Ngati Kahu, has worked in television production for more than 30 years. Her credits include the award-winning children’s show P?kana (now in its 18th year), more than 700 episodes of the educational drama series Korero Mai, and the highly acclaimed dramatisation of Witi Ihimaera’s Nights In the Garden of Spain.
Hoey is passionate about ensuring all children are exposed to Te Reo Maori, and is committed to playing a part in establishing this as part of all tamariki identifying te reo as part of their identity. “The beauty of our language is that it’s unique to New Zealand. When my son was at school there weren’t really any cartoons that related to Aotearoa. I wanted to create characters that would become part of the identity of children growing up in New Zealand. My dream is that every Kiwi kid 20 years from now – whether their background is Chinese, Muslim or Samoan – has the Takaro Tribe as part of their New Zealand identity kit.”
An entirely te reo version of the show is scheduled to be shown on Maori Television in July.