I've worked with hundreds of kids, sharing Te Reo Māori and New Zealand Sign Language and I have never once had a child say "nah, not for me." "I can't learn languages" "I don't have a language brain" "I don't need that." But I hear it from adults all the time! What changes in us? Is it that our brains are so full of other stuff we can't cope with the thought of learning one more thing? Or is it fear of making a mistake? Or plain old racism, cynicism and ignorance?
I think it's different things for different people, a mixture of all those things, and probably a whole lot more. What worries me is that we are the biggest influence on our children and we run the risk of passing on our own insecurities around language learning to them. At some point, most of us change from open books to locked boxes. Most of us stick with our one language and never challenge ourselves to think beyond our own comfort zone. So how do we prevent that happening? Think about the message you send your child. Show them you'll give it a go with them and you're not afraid to make a mistake. Be enthusiastic when they show you Te Reo Māori they learnt at school and even more, ask them to TEACH you! Use positive language around learning languages, "I'll give it a crack" rather than, "you can't reach teach an old dog new tricks!"
I went to one of the most isolated schools in New Zealand last week and shared my books and my love for Te Reo Māori and NZSL with them. These are real country kids, farmers' and farm workers' children. They were so excited to learn more Te Reo Māori to add to the great job their pākehā teachers are already doing. They were over the moon to explore NZSL and actually communicate using sign language. They took my lesson far beyond what I'd planned and were creating phrases and finding words to use with each other. But perhaps the best quote of the day was a wonderful 12 year old girl who said, "I've got a girl who is Deaf in my netball team and I'm going to use NZSL with her now." That's what it's all about whānau, connection. Whether it's a connection with someone from the Deaf Community, a not yet verbal baby, Māori co worker, or Māori tikanga/culture, it's all about connection. Making a movement towards each other. So learn from your kids, let their love of learning, enthusiasm, and willingness to make mistakes rub off on you a little.
Arohatia ngā Reo! Cherish the languages!