A University of Otago research project, which looks at how Dunedin families pass te reo Māori on to their children has led to the development of an innovative Māori Language App, called Aki.

Aki (which means to encourage) is a free Māori language vocabulary and phrase-learning app for iphones and ipads, that involves participants in an interactive game. Its aim is to develop Māori language skills, particularly in young people.

One of the developers was rūnaka member, Dr Katharina Ruckstuhl, who says the project is the culmination of research that started in 2010 involving herself, research students and fellow academics the late, Dr Tamar Murachver, of the psychology department and Associate Professor Poia Rewi at Te Tumu, the School of Māori and Indigenous Studies at Otago.

“We were looking at how families, including some from our rūnaka, passed on Māori language to their children.
“One of the things that we noticed was that, when we gave them visual vocabulary learning posters, they used them enthusiastically for a while and then they stopped ‘seeing’ them. They became too familiar and merged into the background.”

“We thought that we would use a different medium – an app – as many of the families said that their children enjoyed using games.”

“We know that younger generations are enthusiastic players of online games so it made sense to try to develop something that is aimed at this target group. Because language app development is still in its infancy in New Zealand, there are few Māori language vocabulary learning apps that have an interactive component. We think interactivity is key,” says Katharina.

She says it will be different to other methods of learning Māori because it can be played “anywhere at any time” and players can “challenge” each other online.

“So you don’t need to be in a classroom, or near a computer, or taking a Māori language course.
“One of the things we know is that making mistakes is an important part of learning. With an app, no one will be looking over your shoulder to see whether you are correct or not. We are trying to encourage people to play, make mistakes, and learn,” says Katharina.

The App, which was funded by Ngā Pae o Te Māramatanga Māori Centre of Research Excellence, and developed with the help of AppLab and Design Studies at Otago, is free through the Apple Store. The researchers hope to make it available for Android phones soon.

The new Aki app.

The new Aki app.