A new tool aims to make it easier for websites to use te reo Māori. We spoke to one of its creators about why he believes this mission is so important.
After decades of neglect and active suppression, te reo Māori has experienced a resurgence in recent years. Figures released earlier this year by Stats NZ Tatauranga Aotearoa show that the number of Māori who speak te reo Māori as a first language has grown from 18% to 23% since 2018, while the total number of New Zealanders who can speak “more than a few words or phrases” has climbed from around 24% to 30% over the same period. Sentiment towards te reo is likewise on an upward trend, with increasing numbers of New Zealanders in that same research indicating that they’d like to see the language centred in education and used more broadly.
But while those numbers paint an optimistic picture, they do also reflect a notable gap between where many of us would like our reo proficiency to be and where it actually stands. The product of a partnership between Te Māngai Pāho, Te Aka Māori Dictionary and Wellington-based digital agency Octave, ReoAko is an online app created with that gap in mind.
Using the Te Aka database as its basis, the app offers businesses a way to include simple translations of reo Māori kupu on their websites – a move which they hope will make those same businesses more comfortable and confident using te reo in those settings. The Spinoff is one such organisation – as evidenced in this very sentence, we’ve begun using the app to offer simple, on-the-page translations for kupu used in our stories.
Last week, this collaborative approach was recognised at the Designer Institute of New Zealand Best Awards, where the app was awarded the gold pin for the best Digital Product for 2022. The award judges praised the simple and impactful design of the app, saying “It’s very rare to see a third-party plugin so well-considered and authentic. It’s exciting to see that [ReoAko] isn’t a fixed mahi, but built to grow and improve over time.”
To learn more about how the app came to mind and eventually came to life, we spoke with Mike Brough, managing director of Octave.
The Spinoff: What was the genesis of the ReoAko project? When did you first see the need for something like this?
Mike Brough: It started as a natural way of promoting te reo Māori on interactive screens at Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Te Papa were looking for a way of concretely enacting The Crown’s Māori Language Strategy: “Kia māhorahora te reo / Māori Language: Every day, everyone, every way, everywhere.” The interactive screens were fully bilingual, but the reality is very few people are fluent in te reo. The challenge was in creating a way for te reo to be woven seamlessly through English content in a way that didn’t create friction. That solution was the precursor to ReoAko.
Obviously building the product itself was a very collaborative process – was that always the intent? Why do you think that was important?
Te Reo Māori is a taonga that is protected under the Te Tiriti o Waitangi. But for an organisation like Octave to develop a product like ReoAko – both from a sensitivity and a practicality perspective – it had to be done in a collaborative way with appropriate Māori organisations.
We have been blessed with the support from Te Māngai Pāho / Māori Broadcasting, who have partnered with us to develop the product. They were also instrumental in bringing Te Murumāra Foundation – owners of Te Aka Māori Dictionary – into the project. And then to win a gold pin at the Best Awards, with the judges saying that they were excited by the collaboration and authenticity of the project; that kind of recognition is hugely gratifying for us.
What do you want businesses to get from the tool?
The idea is simple: If all Kiwi encounter an ever-widening set of kupu Māori woven seamlessly into the web content that we read every day, we will slowly but surely increase our collective vocabulary. We won’t become fluent speakers overnight, but we will grow – and we’ll be honouring the mana and beauty of te reo and contributing to its revitalisation in the process.
It’s still relatively early days for the project, but the feedback we have received so far has been overwhelmingly positive. We’re proud to say that many of NZ’s largest organisations – including ACC, NZ on Air and BCITO – have now signed up to use ReoAko.
Is this the final version of ReoAko, or will the product keep growing and evolving? What are your ambitions for it?
Our ambition for ReoAko is that it plays an important role in the revitalisation of te reo Māori. What this means is that every medium to large organisation in Aotearoa is using ReoAko on their websites and we are slowly increasing the vocabulary that is being used. Starting with basic words like mahi, kupu and motu is just the start!
In the near future, we would also like to provide ReoAko to organisations like schools, non-profits and charitable trusts. And finally, we would like to make ReoAko available on intranets – we’ve had initial conversations with Microsoft and we’re really excited about the potential.