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Pacific languages app aims to teach seven Pasifika mother tongues

Alualumoana Luaitalo

A new Pasifika languages app will give anyone with a cell phone the chance to learn the basics of seven Pacific languages - some of which are considered endangered of being lost.

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

A new Pasifika languages app will give anyone with a cell phone the chance to learn the basics of seven Pacific languages - some of which are considered endangered of being lost.

Speak Pacific has been developed by the Centre for Pacific Languages, based in South Auckland, and sees an introductory level to Samoan, Fijian, Niuean, Cook Islands Māori, Rotuman, Tongan and gagana Tokelau.

Of those languages, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has classified Rotuman and Niuean as being among the world’s endangered languages. Tokelauan is considered severely endangered.

On the other hand, Samoan is the second most spoken language in Auckland and the third most spoken language in New Zealand.

Academic programmes and tutor lead, Meritiana Spandow says it is an interactive and fun way to learn the basics.

“It provides opportunities for anyone with a mobile phone to easily gain access to some free learning - regardless of where they are in the world or the time of day.

“It’s been a real team effort of collaboration with cultural and language tutors and experts.”

A new app is giving people the chance to start learning seven Pacific languages. Photo / Centre for Pacific Languages

The app, helped over the line by software developer Kiwa Digital, is to be used as an educational tool for those keen to learn one of the seven languages available - and further supports the Pasifika language courses already offered by the centre.

Work on the app began in 2022, taking content from those existing introduction courses.

The app was initiated by the centre’s previous chief executive, Tuiloma Lafaiali’i, as an innovative digital tool that would support CPL’s vision for the revitalisation and maintenance of Pacific languages in New Zealand.

Spandow said the hope is to increase the number of Pacific languages available on the app to nine.

Making sure Pasifika languages do not die with old generations

Many people who enrolled to learn a language at the centre were New Zealand-born Pacific Islanders or people who had some kind of connection to a specific place and wanted to know more as a result.

“We have others [who] are married into families that are Pasifika.

“A lot of our students share similar stories and there’s a real disconnect in between - although they identify with being Pacific,” she said.

“It’s taken a while, but really glad to be able to make [the app] available and particularly for people all over the world.”

She also acknowledged that some people felt disconnected from their mother language and there was concern that the older generation would die without the chance to pass those languages to younger generations.

Managing director for Kiwa Digital, Steven Renata, said this was a fascinating project the team was privileged to work on.

“It was easy in the sense we were working with an organisation who are experts on Pacific languages and cultures and attuned to the needs of those interested in learning them.

“It also led to the development of new material, including interactive puzzles, to add a fun element to the learning.”

Renata said they felt it was important to make the app personal; to try to replicate some of the warmth of the CPL tutor-led courses and the need to get the language text and audio perfect - for example, making sure a macron or glottal stop was present or in the right place.

Alongside the Speak Pacific App, other similar language projects by Kiwa Digital include the Fakaako e Vagahau Niue app, Takaua Tongan Language and a dedicated gagana Samoa app.

Having added Tuvalu to their courses this year, the Centre for Pacific Languages is also working on the development of Kiribati language courses and is due to add those languages to the app in time.

For more information, visit: Centre for Pacific Languages

Hero Image: Pasifika cultures and languages are live and well in New Zealand. Photo / File 

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