Part of a series of posts (possibly a short one) using the Te Whanake series of Māori language learning resources to explore what makes a good or bad language learning resource.
One section of the Te Whanake (TW) that is easy to comment on is the vocab. In this case, we are referring only to the textbook series, not the other resources, although for the most part the resources support the textbook and thus use the same words.
I’m not sure of the publishing date, but TW was obviously published some years ago now. Update: Te Kākano and Te Pihinga, both 1989; Te Māhuri 1992; Te Kōhure 1996 – thanks ahuamohio 😉
This has led to the rather obvious problem of some of the vocab being dated, and many useful words not being included. Rather than (or as well as) a word list about, say, the body parts of birds, it would be useful to have words like: type, print, save, upload, download, post, blog, facebook, webpage… These are some of the words a student needs in order to have a conversation with their teacher and class mates about handing in an assignment, for example. Obviously these word lists would also become dated, but it is an example of where an update/supplementary material is much needed, and I dare say this is an issue for any language textbook anywhere in the world.
The large number of loan words (transliterations of English words into Māori) in TW is actually another example of how the vocab lists have become dated. There are two reasons for this. One is that some of the Māori words that have replaced loan words are actually newly created and wouldn’t have existed at the time of printing, or existed but were not well known. The second reason is that I believe there has been a cultural shift away from loan words and towards original Māori words, so although certain loan words may have been popular some years ago, they are now not generally taught and not well-regarded.
It seems that TW has tried to provide an interesting variety of topics in its reading material and vocabulary, and to talk about many things that are relevant to te ao Māori. However, this has meant that I have learnt word lists such as the aforementioned bird body parts, names of cetaceans, 12 words to describe the appearance of people’s hair, 50 words for various “sounds”, and so on, but I am coming up short when trying to have a conversation about everyday things.
The vocab contained in TW seems to be rather unique. I am not sure where the original corpus originated. The accompanying dictionary is very different in content to the other available dictionaries I have looked at. There are also cultural differences – for example the vocabulary of people involved in Kura Reo is very different to that of TW in terms of basic words. This may be an age thing again – possibly the langauge has moved on from where it was when TW was published. Or maybe it’s just a thing.
This is not a comment on vocab content but on organisation. There were some words in the text that were not defined in the vocab listing at the back of the book or that were used in a way not listed – this was particularly annoying. There were words used in the text that weren’t in the word lists and vice versa . For me, this indicates that the purpose of the word lists was confused – are they to support your use of the text, or to extend your vocab for use outside of the text? Personally, I would have found it a lot more useful to have a list of words that I could learn so that I could understand the text, and then maybe a list of extension words at the end of the chapter.
The vocab of the first book was quite reasonable, although subject to the issues above (except Unuseful Wordlists) and then Unuseful Wordlists came into play and it got weird.
I learnt literally every single word in every word list, plus any other words I found in the text, for the first 1.5 books (and then fewer and fewer after that) so any issues about vocab were very obvious to me. Eventually the word lists became so long and impractical that I just gave up learning them at all. A lot of my classmates didn’t even look at them past the first book because they were so daunting and weren’t useful to them.
I have to say that I do think that learning vocab is a very useful and important part of one’s studying. Most of the words I know came out of TW which gives me a bit of a wierd array of vocabulary, but has been mostly functional, and has enabled me to sometimes surprise people with knowledge of a weird, unexpected word, which has been fun (and looks much more impressive than it really is)!
Edited to add:
It was mentioned in the comments that the vocab section in the back of the textbooks was only Māori to English. Although I understand this from a space and cost saving perspective, as a student that was actually really annoying! Yes, you could use a separate dictionary, but, you know, we didn’t want to. It’s not a big deal, but its something that should be weighed up when considering how to make the perfect textbook (if there was such a thing).