The example of Māori language immersion expertise in a new international study will help other programmes around the world lift their game, say University of Canterbury academics. 

The Comparative Language Input Programme was developed by a team from the linguistics department at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa. The School of Māori and Indigenous Studies (Aotahi) at the University of Canterbury (UC) has been invited to participate in the study, which analyses recordings of indigenous language used by teachers in the classroom from several countries to assess what language children are being exposed to.

UC Ahorangi | Professor Jeanette King of Aotahi says Aotearoa New Zealand’s kōhanga reo and kura kaupapa immersion schools have an excellent reputation globally and a great deal to contribute to international knowledge.

“There is a lot of immersion teaching of indigenous languages happening around the world, but a lot of people setting up programmes in various countries don’t have a lot of information about the quantity or quality of the language input needed to be effective.”

A team of three academics at Aotahi is uniquely positioned to participate in the programme. Currently Ahorangi King’s research specialities include Māori language revitalisation and the intergenerational transmission of minority languages. She also leads the bilingual theme of the New Zealand Institute of Language, Brain and Behaviour | Te Kāhui Roro Reo at UC, which also provided funding for the two projects.

UC Director of Māori Teaching and Learning Kaihautū Ako Māori Dr Mary Boyce’s PhD thesis identified high frequency words of Māori based on a one million word corpus of broadcast language. She worked previously for Huia Publishers producing resources for immersion programmes and while there used corpus data to inform her work.

Ultimately, it was the benefits that participation in the CLIP programme brought to other research at Aotahi that secured UC’s participation. Ahorangi King is leading the Tuhinga Māhorahora project, and Dr Boyce and Ms Brown are associate investigators. The project is building a corpus of children’s writing in Māori which will allow investigation of children’s written expression in immersion settings. The children’s writing has been entered into a database and analysed to test ways of providing targeted feedback to participating teachers.

Ahorangi King says that in agreeing to participate in CLIP, it was paramount that, as with Tuhinga Māhorahora, there would be a benefit to the people approached as well as informing CLIP analysis.


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