Never too late to learn: Two te reo Māori speakers reveal joys, challenges of learning later in life

Never too late to learn: Two te reo Māori speakers reveal joys, challenges of learning later in life

Learning Te Reo Māori in your adult life isn't an easy task but two late learners say it's well worth it.

Mother of three Moana Tapsell, 57, found herself back in the classroom, learning her native tongue after 30 years in the workforce. 

"It makes me feel more complete," Tapsell told Newshub. 

She said she's always felt a pull to learn te reo and she always knew that one day, she would.

Tapsell was 55 years old when she stepped foot into her first immersion reo Māori course.

She attended the course, 'He Kāinga Mo Te Reo' for two years, graduating at the end of 2021.

"You really get put on the spot, but at the same time it's a safe environment to learn"

Living in the bilingual city of Rotorua Tapsell said learning te reo was one of the hardest things she's done in her later life but it has been well worth it. 

"I'm so glad I did it, I can speak to my mokopuna (grandchildren) in Māori and they kōrero back to me"

She worked for 30 years on and off for Fonterra but when her kids grew up, she had the freedom to finish work and take on a new challenge.

"It's such a taonga (gift) to me," she told Newshub.

Tapsell said she had attempted to learn a few decades ago after the birth of her first son, but life got in the way. 

Moana Tapsell.
Moana Tapsell. Photo credit: Newshub

But she said when she began her reo journey in 2020 "the timing just felt right". And it's had a multitude of benefits, Tapsell said it helped her feel more connected. 

"When I go to a marae or to a tangi I'm not shy to stand up and talk anymore"

Now 57, Tapsell has fallen in love with learning. She has just completed her first semester of a nursing degree and believes her reo (language) is a huge asset to her nursing career.

"The whakatauki, tōku reo tōku ohooho, tōku reo tōku māpihi maurea sums it up for me"

Translated it reads, "My language is my awakening, the window to my soul."

And Tapsell isn't the only wahine who decided to learn later in life. 

Ata Armstrong recalls growing up being very familiar with the sound of te reo but being unable to speak it.

"Interestingly it's something I've spoken to a lot of people from my era about, we grew up in households where reo was spoken but was not spoken to us," Armstrong told Newshub. 

Raised predominantly by her kuia (grandmother) who spoke fluent Māori she said it was a time when they were made to believe te reo would have no value in their lives.

"We grew up listening to it but not conversing," she said. 

Ata Armstrong and her husband.
Ata Armstrong and her husband. Photo credit: Newshub

Little did she know that 60 years on she would tackle the journey to learn. 

Armstrong began learning te reo at 70 years old, although her Pākehā (non-Māori) husband began his reo journey when they met at just 22 years old.

Armstrong stumbled upon the pathway of learning te reo Māori almost accidentally, she was at a Christmas party and bumped into a friend of hers who said she was going to attend a kura reo (Māori total immersion school) ) the following year and invited Armstrong to attend with her.

Being one of the eldest in the class Armstrong said at times she felt it was difficult to retain the information.

"Sometimes I was really whakama because it felt like I was holding everyone back." 

But since completing the year-long full immersion course at the end of 2021 she's grown more confident in her speaking capabilities.

"It just gives me a lot more confidence... I feel more relaxed when I go to tangi. Now when I go to a tangi where te reo is spoken I'm not just sitting there with the whole conversation going over my head."

She said not only do you benefit from learning your language but it also caused her to reconnect with some whānau members she hasn't spoken to in a while. 

"It's more than just the reo itself but the connectedness that it brings"

Armstrong continues to speak Māori with her Pākehā husband who has a proficiency in te reo and with her children and mokopuna (grandchildren). She hopes to improve her fluency with a part-time online Māori language course next year.