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Language trauma how to shift from guilt to compassion!

Language trauma how to shift from guilt to compassion!

In the weekend just gone I had some ask “E hia te wa roa ki te Reo Haerenga?” how long have you been learning Te Reo for? While it was an easy answer to say “8 years”. It set off some deep reflection on the haerenga to developing fluency in Te Reo Māori thus far.

I remember naively sitting in my first class 8 years ago thinking it would take 5 years of night classes to get there. I have no doubt that for some night classes are enough. However, for me the eight years have consisted of night classes, a full year of immersion, weekly tutoring since last year and seeking out lots of other spaces to listen and speak Te Reo Māori - and I am still so far away from fluency or being ‘matatau’. I know many speakers talk about learning Te Reo Māori being a life long event. Which I have no doubt over.

What I do know is learning Te Reo has meant facing language trauma within my own whanau head on. It has required time, energy, sacrifices, putea, dealing with negative self-talk, digging deep for kaha and lots of mixed emotions along the way.

Some of the weekly built in times/spaces for my Reo this year include:

  • Kura Po, weekly 3 hour night classes.
  • Monthly noho for kura po
  • Weekly 1 hour tutoring sessions
  • Listening to podcasts
  • Watching pepe ma with my kotiro
  • Korero Māori with my kotiro most of the time

I also sit with the reality this often does not feel like enough to get to where I want to be fluency wise, and some weeks its a stretch to just do the one of above. So this newsletter is a bit about navigating language trauma the guilt vs. compassion needed to keep going.

Language trauma refers to the psychological and emotional distress experienced by individuals or communities resulting from the suppression, loss, or erosion of their native language. This form of trauma is particularly significant for us as Māori, where language is not merely a tool for communication but a crucial component of cultural identity and a gateway to our taonga. Language trauma exists prior to and continues into the reclamation journey from my own experience.

Language trauma can manifest in complex emotions, including feelings of guilt and inadequacy, which can deeply affect those struggling with the loss or revitalization of their native language. Understanding and addressing these feelings is crucial in healing from language trauma and fostering language resilience.

For many including myself, the journey of language reclamation is burdened with guilt, fear and negative self-talk. These thoughts and feelings often stems from feeling not "enough"—not fluent enough, not active enough in learning, or not engaged enough in Te Ao Māori. These can lead us to shy away from language spaces due to fear of judgment or whakama about our level of language proficiency.

This avoidance, in turn, can create a cycle of guilt and disengagement, reinforcing the very barriers to learning.

The internalization of such negative feelings can lead to a stifling effect on one's psychological state. The pressure to meet personal or others expectations can be overwhelming, leading to avoidance behaviors where we may withdraw from opportunities to use the language or engage with others. For me, I have noticed at times this withdrawal not only slows language development, but then takes aways opportunities to learn.

I know from a psychological perspective a negative mindset can profoundly impact the process of stepping into the mana of one’s Māoritanga (Māori identity and cultural heritage), particularly in the context of language and cultural learning. These mindsets around our reclaiming our Reo can emerge as inner negative voices - which may sound like the following.

"I'm not good enough"

"I'll never be able to learn this"

"I'm too whakama to try"

"I'll never fit in with the Māori community"

"I'm afraid of making mistakes"

These all become barriers to learning making us feel inauthentic, sense of isolation of we even end up feeling isolated.

So do we do - well we need to build compassion.

Building Compassion and Language Resilience -

The path to overcoming these challenges and nurturing language resilience lies in fostering compassion—both self-compassion and collective- compassion within our communities - those directly and in-directly related to learning, speaking and that whakamana Te Reo Māori. Here are some of the ways I am trying to shift from a space of guilt to compassion.

  • Cultivating compassion involves recognizing that learning and using a language, especially one that is being reclaimed after suppression, is a challenging process filled with ups and downs. It's essential to acknowledge personal efforts and accept where one is on their language journey without self-judgment. Embracing one's efforts as part of a larger collective effort can alleviate personal pressure.
  • Language learning spaces need to be spaces of encouragement where mistakes are seen as a natural part of learning. By fostering an environment that celebrates small victories and views hapa (mistakes) or setbacks as normal, communities can support each member's growth and resilience.
  • Changing how we think about reclaiming our Reo can have a profound impact. Instead of viewing it as a series of benchmarks to achieve, it can be helpful to see it as a lifelong journey where progress and participation vary. This shift can reduce feelings of inadequacy and increase motivation.
  • While it is vital to encourage individual learners, there is also a need for collective responsibility in language revitalization. Communities can thrive by sharing the responsibility for language transmission, ask yourself how am I turning up to tautoko others?
  • Recognizing that every small step in language learning is a step toward resilience can empower individuals and communities. Celebrating these incremental achievements can foster a more positive outlook and sustain motivation.

By building compassion and reframing our approach to learning Te Reo Māori we not only improve our individual experiences but also strengthen the collective effort needed for revitalization.

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