What does it take to Revive an Indigenous Language?

Updated: Feb 13



Ko taku reo, taku ohooho, ko taku reo taku mapihi mauria.

My language is my awakening, my language is the window to my soul.




He Ara Poutama mō te reo Māori is a project that Nicholson Consulting is incredibly proud of. It’s a research tool that uses data to understand how we can revive an indigenous language to thrive today and into the future, and the type of analysis used to build the tool is a world first.


He Ara Poutama mō te reo Māori was built to support the joint vision of the Maihi Māori and Maihi Karauna strategies; a vision of a future where everyday conversations in te reo Māori are the norm.


Today, we’re sharing a bit more about our internal journey, the thinking behind and the value of this tool. 2022 also marks the 50th anniversary of the Māori language petition, which pushed for active recognition of te reo Māori. It seems fitting to publish this article now as we see He Ara Poutama mō te reo Māori as a tool that will keep us moving us in the right direction. It’s our hope that more work like this will be commissioned to support the revitalisation of indigenous languages like te reo Māori in Aotearoa and around the world.



In 2018, the government announced a huge goal – to have one million te reo Māori speakers in Aotearoa by the year 2040.



That same year Nicholson Consulting and our friends, Kōtātā Insights, developed aspirational ideas of what a te reo Māori pathways to success project would look like. We pitched the best idea to government agencies: To build a model that would combine multiple datasets to forecast and demonstrate how different factors might support this goal between now and 2040. A joint belief from Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori (the Māori Language Commission) Te Mātāwai, and the Ministry of Education saw He Ara Poutama mō te reo Māori signed off in 2020, and Nicholson Consulting and Kōtātā Insights got to work.



To make progress towards a different future, you need to know where you are starting from today. We began gathering data from a range of sources to capture an accurate picture of the current state of te reo Māori capability in Aotearoa at a community level. By analysing data from a range of sources, such as data from the IDI and Te Ataarangi community class information, we were able to determine that (as of June 2021) 185,000 people can hold a conversation in te reo Māori and 71,000 are fluent speakers.





The next step was to identify factors that influenced a persons’ te reo Māori capability. We found a range of key drivers for proficiency and ability, such as having a speaker in the household, the number of speakers in the community, education, a parent’s ability to kōrero Māori, and being of Māori descent.



We built a model that brought all this research into one place and could forecast how different initiatives (such as more whānau enrolling in community classes) might support Aotearoa to get to one million speakers by 2040. To achieve this, we used a statistical technique called microsimulation. This technique looks at a person’s traits and uses information about how people with the same or similar traits have changed their ability to speak te reo Māori over time. By understanding how individuals who currently have the capability to speak te reo Māori progressed on their language journey, a microsimulation allows us to gather an idea of how likely different individuals are to progress on their own path if they are exposed to similar conditions in the future.



To make it easier to understand what the possibilities were with a microsimulation we built a prototype app that’s accessible to the three commissioning organisations. This has since been toured around agencies with representation at Te Papa Kōrero. Responses have been very positive with the main question being ‘what’s next?’ It’s our hope that these organisations will be empowered through this model and continue to breathe life into it by making essential changes today that will lead Aotearoa towards the goal of having one million te reo Māori speakers by 2040.



If you’d like to learn more about this meaningful mahi, get in touch by emailing hello@nicholsonconsulting.co.nz.





You can also access the full He Ara Poutama mō te reo Māori report, which includes key insights, here.







A huge shout-out to the Māori data science team from Nicholson Consulting who worked on this project: Ernestynne Walsh, Kylie Reiri, Ben Ritchie, Pip Bennett, and Dani Lucas


Our partners at Kōtātā Insights - Conal Smith, Luisa Beltran-Castillon and Atawhai Tibble



Big thanks to Michael Plank, Andrew Sporle, Arapine Walker, Te Aorangi Murphy-Fell and our Kāhui group for peer reviewing this mahi.

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