How tech could help you learn te reo

A career in tech should take you further than just the mechanics of programming — it can be a way to build meaningful connections between people, in a way that wouldn’t have existed otherwise. Learning technology skills at Enspiral Dev Academy can help you transform ideas into reality. Here’s how one of our students built an online tool to help nurture the taonga, te reo Māori.

Tony Luisi, who traces his whakapapa back to Te Rarawa, was frustrated by 15 years of trying to learn te reo, with not much to show for it. He’d tried books, TV shows, and other things — but what he was really missing was the ability to connect easily with other speakers.

Tony Luisi. Image credit: Kimberley Single.

Tony’s one of the students currently progressing through Enspiral Dev Academy where, as part of their boot camp experience, cohorts work on their own self-directed projects as well as curriculum work.

Tony felt a lack of connection to other Māori speakers that he could practice with. This problem has driven his personal project: an app with the working title of Ki Mai.

On the face of it, Ki Mai is a chat app, with features such as a spell checker (handy for anyone who’s ever been frustrated by a spell checker that red-underlines every Maori word as “incorrect”), a translator, and a dictionary. But Tony says it’s much more than that: it’s a connector of people, bringing together those who want to practice their Māori, with others who want to speak it more.

It’s also an opportunity to understand new vernacular developments in the Māori language and how people are using them; Tony cites as an example the way Māori names for days of the week have changed in recent years from a use of transliteration (Mane for Monday) to words that describe the concepts behind the days (Rāhina, or day of the moon, for Monday). The app’s a chance for people to learn more about the way Māori is used in a contemporary context.

“It’s interesting to sit on a marae and hear the difference,” says Tony. “You’ll have kuia speaking one version of Māori, and little kids — who have been through kōhanga reo — running around speaking differently. And then my generation, and the generation just older than mine, are often struggling because we haven’t learned it.”

He plans to keep working on Ki Mai, with future developments possibly including a “gamified” component, in which users are tested on their proficiency. He also wants to find a way of linking users up with other people at the same proficiency level as them (at the moment it’s a bit of a pot luck).

Tony thinks his app has the potential to help speakers of other languages, and he’d love to take the generic components of his creation and apply it to other endangered languages, so people can use his app to converse in those too.

Tony completed degrees in accounting and computer science, then worked as an accountant for eight years, before coming to Enspiral Dev Academy. The chance to hone and refresh IT skills he’d learned eight years ago really appealed, and he hopes the new skillset he’s learning at EDA will stand him in good stead with employers.

Tony agrees that there’s untapped potential for the tech world to incorporate more of the Māori language and kaupapa Māori, and he hopes apps like Ki Mai can inspire rangatahi to get involved in tech.

We’ll keep you posted if Ki Mai goes to beta and we need your help testing it!