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My woeful Māori pronunciation means I owe Tūhoe an apology
10 September 2018

I owe the people of Tūhoe an apology.

I have trouble pronouncing Māori words properly, and back in 2010 did a woeful job on Te Urewera - or as I called it on air, 'U-re-wear-raz'.

I can't even begin to describe in writing how mangled this came out, but it undermined the credibility of the important story I was trying to tell.

It was disrespectful to Tūhoe and I regret it to this day. I apologise for that. Like many Kiwis, I can't pronounce Māori words the right way.

It doesn't mean I don't want to, just that I struggle - I don't get it, and I often can't do it right the first time around.

So I have to check myself nearly every time I come across even one word of Te Reo. I find some words really tricky and I have to try hard to avoid shockers.

Obviously my job means I am reciting names, place names and phrases on a daily basis, so I am always on the alert and work hard to make sure I get it correct.

It isn't easy, and when I am under pressure I find my pronunciation noticeably deteriorates.

The list of problem words is long - but simple words like 'Whanganui', 'Waitangi' and even 'Māori' itself have caused me strife at times. Luckily, the recording booth often means I get the chance to check and re-record.

I have also had the great benefit of plenty of support and training from work and lots of help from friends and colleagues.

Sadly in the early days, some really bad ones made it to air - not just 'Ureweras' but a mangled 'Ikaroa-Rāwhiti'. That Ikaroa-Rāwhiti shocker is another particularly painful one for me, as it was highlighted on a Māori Television item about poor pronunciation - which was really embarrassing.

So out of respect for the language, the people and our audience, I have worked on getting it right.

The problem for me getting it is that Te Reo is like a foreign language to me - sad but true. The basic fundamentals don't come naturally, so there can be a mind block when it comes to Te Reo because of years of saying it the wrong way or being able to avoid using it.

That doesn't mean I don't pronounce it right - it just means getting to the correct pronunciation is difficult for me. For instance, tonight on The Project I put a bit of work into saying All Black Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi correctly.

The reason I have difficulty is because growing up, even the word 'Taranaki' was mispronounced - I learnt the wrong version. It is not even that long ago our mountain was called 'Egmont', and there was no chance it would ever be referred to as "our Maunga".

Local place names like Waitara, Hawera and Oakura were routinely butchered by pretty much everyone, and I learnt really bad habits.

This is not an excuse but an explanation.

I believe that not being exposed to the correct pronunciation at a young age now means I find it difficult to pick up the important nuances of Te Reo. I'm ashamed to say that I find pronouncing it difficult, but I do.

This is why I am a supporter of mandating the teaching of Te Reo in our schools; I think it would have helped me and many other Kiwis like me.

Teaching it in schools means more people could speak it, more people could pronounce it properly - and it was in more general and correct use, becoming exponentially more powerful along the way.

The minds of our children would be unlocked to the wonders of a new language, rather than closed like mine.

Thankfully, times have changed with Te Reo since I was growing up - and now my 69-year-old Dad is learning Te Reo, and the language is everywhere in our kindergartens and schools.

But I would love to see it go further.

As for me personally, I will never give up trying to improve - because in the end, it comes down to respect.


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