Winning the language tug-of-war

Winning the language tug-of-war

Sophie Tamati is on a quest to revive endangered languages around the world, but she's starting here at home with te reo Maori. 

Speaking at Tedx in Auckland, Tamati says the Hika Group, which develops mobile apps to teach the Maori language to English-speakers, was inspired by her time as a school principal in the central North Island.

"The school tug-of-war involved a school team, which includes some of our senior pupils and a couple of staff members, pulling against the parent team who were almost always big, burly bush-shirt-wearing lads," she says.

"But just when it looked as if the dads were getting an edge, there would be a 'nek minnit' moment. And suddenly, all the school children would put a hand on that rope and start pulling for their team."

The school team always won the tug-of-war, and Tamati believes that the Maori language can be revitalised against the odds in the same way. That's why in 2009, when she was 50 years old and a global recession was beginning, she stepped out of her comfort zone, mortgaged herself "to the hills", and started Hika. 

"I'm believing in [a] nek minnit moment, where all New Zealanders, irrespective of age, gender or ethnicity will put their hand to the rope and pull with team reo Maori," she says.



The Hika Group has released two apps for Android and iPhone, Hika Explorer and Hika Lite. Hika Lite was released during Maori language week last year, in July. Within two days it had over 30,000 downloads on Apple's App Store, shooting it to the top of the 'most popular free apps' list in New Zealand. It held that spot for the rest of the week, says Tamati.

Hika Explorer was launched early this year for the education sector and for speakers who want "more than Hika Lite can offer". 

"Hika means spark," says Tamati, "and I believe that it is the spark to fire up our nation to ensure that te reo Maori becomes a linguistic legacy for future generations."

"If we do that, we define who we are as New Zealanders – a nation of people who cared enough to save a language."

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