Te Ahu o te Reo

Exploring the health of te reo in Māori homes and communities

NZCER – Te Wāhanga has completed research on the health of te reo Māori in homes and communities. Te Ahu o te Reo explored how whānau in nine communities were working towards re-establishing te reo Māori as a secure, living language and a normal means of communication in daily life. The communities were: Kaitaia, Tāmaki Makaurau ki te Tonga, Te Wairoa, Matawai, Tauranga Moana, Taranaki, Te Uru o Tāmaki, Rūātoki, and Ōtautahi.

The findings from Te Ahu o te Reo will inform funding and delivery of programmes to help ensure the best results for te reo Māori. A set of recommendations will inform action by national and local government, and in the education and broadcasting sectors.

Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori, who commissioned the research, will work with Te Mātāwai to address the recommendations.

We produced reports that present the findings from each of the nine communities in depth. The reports highlight challenges and opportunities that whānau experienced as they pursued their goals and aspirations in maintaining, revitalising and normalising te reo Māori in each community. 

Te Ahu o te Reo is about te reo Māori in the 21st century. It builds on the seminal Māori language survey carried out in the 1970s by Richard and Nena Benton, which showed that the Māori language was in a perilous state across Aotearoa. Eight of the communities that took part in that survey were involved in Te Ahu o te Reo.


The project’s name references the past and the future

Dr Patu Hohepa named this research project ‘Te Ahu o te Reo’.  The meaning of the name is two-fold, and references both past and future. Te Ahu o te Reo is linked to the whakataukī, ‘Ko te reo te tūāhu o te mana Māori’. This whakataukī likens te reo Māori to a tūāhu or altar because of its important role in maintaining our culture, our marae, mana Māori, our tikanga and our identity. It refers to the idea of having a significant place for te reo Māori. At the same time Te Ahu o te Reo encourages us to look ahead to the future and to move forward to revitalise our language. The name reflects the dynamic nature of language, and retains a connection to the original whakataukī. It is about where we have come from, where we are now, and where we want to be in regard to te reo Māori.


The research methodology for Te Ahu o te Reo

Te Ahu o te Reo is a kaupapa Māori research project. Kaupapa Māori has a particular focus on research as a process of transformation. As a kaupapa Māori project, Te Ahu o Te Reo is grounded in te ao Māori. It was undertaken by Māori, for the benefit of Māori, with Māori decision making throughout.

The methodology is fully explained on pages 4 to 9 of the report. These pages answer basic questions about how the research was done.


How is Te Ahu o te Reo related to other research about
te reo Māori?

Te Ahu o te Reo uses a methodological approach with some similarities to that used by Richard Benton’s team for the sociolinguistic survey of Māori language use published by NZCER in 1978.  Like that survey, the researchers for Te Ahu o te Reo interviewed households within communities.  Eight of the nine communities we researched had been included in the earlier survey. Te Ahu o te Reo differs in that it included a community from the South Island and we interviewed tamariki as well as adults.

Te Ahu o te Reo questionnaires drew on several sources:

  • the Benton survey from 1978
  • Statistics New Zealand’s Te Kupenga (2013)
  • Te Puni Kōkiri’s Health of the Māori Language (2001) and Attitudes to the Māori Language (2000 2003, 2006, 2009) surveys
  • research done by Victoria University of Wellington

We used the same measures for self-assessment of language proficiency used in Te Kupenga (originally used in the 2001 Survey of the Health of the Māori language).


Who did the research?

The research team for Te Ahu o te Reo was made up of members of NZCER–Te Wāhanga, Te Kawa a Māui at Victoria University of Wellington (VUW), lead community researchers, community researchers, project advisors, and NZCER colleagues.

The project was coordinated by Te Wāhanga, in close partnership with the VUW team members.

The lead community researchers were responsible for leading and managing fieldwork in their own communities, including identifying and working closely with community researchers.


How were the communities selected?

The communities included in Te Ahu o te Reo were chosen in consultation with Te Taura Whiri i te reo Māori. We worked with our project advisors and some of the lead community researchers to make the final selection.

We aimed to include a cross-section of communities in terms of these criteria:

  1. Communities identified in the 1970s survey by Richard Benton and his team as being strong in te reo Māori
  2. Communities that had small numbers of proficient reo Māori speakers in the 1970s, but have since used targeted reo revitalisation strategies to strengthen their use of te reo Māori
  3. Communities with high populations of Māori speakers
  4. Communities with low populations of Māori speakers
  5. Communities that represent diverse urban Māori realities
  6. Communities that represent diverse rural Māori realities
  7. Communities that volunteer to participate and are actively working on Māori language revitalisation.


How many people were interviewed?

The researchers aimed to interview between 70 and 80 participants in each of the nine communities. The researchers interviewed 606 participants: 448 adults and 158 tamariki (18 and under).


How were the interviews done?

Most of the interviews were done kanohi-ki-te-kanohi (face-to-face) and took from 60 to 90 minutes.  We were not able to interview everyone who wanted to contribute to Te Ahu o te Reo so we created an online survey so they could have a voice. 


What were the findings?

The key findings are summarised on pages xvii-xx of the report, and on pages 11-25. They are organised under the research questions, which were:

  • Who is using te reo Māori and who are they using it with?
  • Where is te reo Māori being used and what is te reo Māori being used for?
  • Why is te reo Māori being used in particular situations or not?
  • How much te reo Māori is being used?
  • What is need to further support communities and whānau to normalise the use of te reo Māori in homes and communities?


Kaitaia Report


Matawaia Report


Rūātoki Report


Taranaki Report


Tauranga Moana Report


Te Ahu o te Reo Report (English)


Te Ahu o te Reo Report (Māori)


Te Uru o Tāmaki Makaurau Report


Tāmaki Makaurau ki te Tonga Report


Wairoa Report


Ōtautahi Report