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Meet Drops, the new international app that bridges te reo Māori with the world

Te reo Māori has set sail for an international audience this week with the launch of Māori for iOS and Android on multi-language learning app Drops. The Māori app release will include almost 2000 words to enable vocabulary comprehension that, according to linguists, provides a sufficient understanding of 80 to 90 percent of New Zealand's native language. Drops was crowned Google Play’s ‘Best App of 2018’ and  is the first major multi-language app to add te reo Māori, and could be a useful tool for those closer to home (*cough Don Brash cough*). We talk to the Hungarian co-founder and chief executive officer, Daniel Farkas, about its choice to step into te reo Māori.

The app is comprised into categories such as food, objects, transportation, and others, where users to swipe an image to match a corresponding word on screen. These visual mnemonics help users learn, and remember new words and phrases easily. Further, the app is aided by Māori broadcaster, Te Aniwa Hurihanganui, whose voice-overs can be heard throughout the new Drops app.

Hurihanganui states, “Alternate learning platforms like Drops not only give New Zealanders the chance to learn our native tongue; they bring our beautiful language to people across the world.”

The language app enters the market amid a stark revitalisation period for te reo Māori in Aotearoa. Despite 2013 census data showing a gradual decline in speakers of New Zealand’s native language, te reo classes across the country have been widely-reported as being booked out.

Farkas says, “Helping to preserve and promote smaller languages around the world is a cause very close to my heart, so it’s been exciting to see New Zealand’s genuine interest in the revitalisation of te reo Māori.

“Te reo Māori has a rich history, with words and phrases uniquely tied to the values embedded in their culture. We worked with native translators to create a seamless experience for learners of all ages and all levels — from parents who grew up speaking Māori, Kiwis starting their learning journey, through to international tourists interested in New Zealand’s unique and magnificent language."

Its qualities could also be useful for educational purposes, such as encouraging te reo in schools. This initiative has largely reached consensus among political parties: the Greens have pushed for te reo to be compulsory in schools, Labour has called for te reo to be "integrated" into the school curriculum by 2025, and National has encouraged children to be taught te reo at an early age. Possibly, these tools could enable both educational providers and students to learn te reo Māori.

“We see Drops having a place in all language learning curricula around the world. Why? Three reasons: one, it’s fun and super easy to incorporate in any curriculum. Two, it’s based on proven mnemonic learning principles and three, unlike most language learning apps, we’ve built Drops to be used as an independent app and as an auxiliary tool for language teachers. We did this because we believe that learning a new language requires interaction with and instruction from native speakers of that language," Farkas says.

“We also plan to expand the vocabulary available and build in powerful tools for educators in the future.”

Drops also presents an opportunity for those further afield in the world to learn and appreciate te reo Māori. It’s allegedly the fastest growing language app in the world (5x year-on-year growth) with more than 10 million users.  

Farkas says, “People are fascinated by cultures and languages different from their own. Often, the more distant the language and culture are to us, the more fascinated we become. We’ve noticed this particularly with the launch of both Hawaiian and Icelandic worldwide.

“Both languages have relatively few native speakers, and a very small minority of those speaker live abroad, so we weren’t anticipating a huge reception. But, as it turns out, both have become extremely popular languages on the platform.”

Te reo Māori joins a suite of 30 or more other languages on the application, which has recently included the fellow Pacific language, Hawaiian. Franks says the move is part of an effort to actively revive indigenous languages.

“There is an undeniable beauty to both Hawaiian and te reo Māori, and we’re happy to be able to introduce these languages to a broad global audience."

So, what separates Drops from other language apps that promote te reo ​Māori, such as ‘Reobot’, who harnesses artificial intelligence to get more people conversing in te reo Māori?

“There’s global exposure for one. Because Drops is used by over 10 million people globally, adding te reo Māori to Drops introduces it to language learners around the world.

“Secondly, the visual nature of Drops lends itself to some of the more visual te reo Māori words. There was a great interaction between our illustrators and our te reo Māori translation team about the word hongi. She had researched the meaning of the word and drawn an image she thought represented it well.  He then replied with some small, but culturally important nuances. To me, this exchange demonstrated how important simple visual mnemonic imagery can have in conveying even the subtlest of linguistic differences. And it is in visual mnemonics where Drops excels.”

Drops is available for free on iOS and Android, with a premium version available for $9.99 monthly, $69.99 yearly, or $159.99 for lifetime access.

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