1 Jun 2017

O le key o lou atanu'u o lou gagana lea

11:16 am on 1 June 2017

by Sara Vui-Talitu sara.vuitalitu@radionz.co.nz

Giving back to family and building up confidence are just a couple of reasons why young Samoans in Aotearoa New Zealand are learning their language.

It's Samoan Language Week, part of a series of Pacific language weeks which this year tie together language, culture and identity.

In Samoan, the theme "Keep your identity alive to thrive" translates as Ma'au i lou ofaga. Maua'a lou fa'asinomaga.

Pasifika Education Centre Samoan language tutor, Sebrina Fa'avae, said the week was a special occasion and a beautiful way to keep the gagana or language alive in New Zealand.

Sabrina Fa'avae and Italia Toelei'u

Sabrina Fa'avae and Italia Toelei'u Photo: RNZ Pacific / Sara Vui-Talitu

"It is meaningful to me because it defines who I am and where I come from.

"Before I used to take it for granted but now I relish every opportunity of using it.

"The language gives me confidence to be able to communicate with others, making connections as I go, " she said.

In Samoan, Ms Fa'avae said the key to culture is language and that learning to speak your language teaches you that your identity and culture are inseparable.

"E taua tele le gagana au ai e loa ai lou faaloalo, e loa ai lou tagata, ma mea e te sau mai ai. O lou gagana ma lou aganu'u, e uo faatasi. O le key o lou atanu'u o lou gagana lea."

Student Italia Toelei'u is a first generation New Zealand Samoan who isn't fluent in the language but is attending the Pasifika Education Centre's free Samoan class to improve her skills.

She said learning Samoan connects her to her parent's generation, and all the things Samoans value like family, culture, God and the church.

"We're lucky because we have a homeland to go back to, but not all of us get to go back as often.

"So I always think it is important you keep your culture alive and as we are getting older our parents and our parent's generation are passing on and I think it is important to keep the language and culture alive and this is one way of doing it."

Free Samoan Language Class at MIT in Auckland

Free Samoan Language Class at MIT in Auckland Photo: RNZ Pacific / Sara Vui-Talitu

Ms Toelei'u said there is a key Samoan proverb she lives by.

"O le alu i le pule o le tautua - 'the path to leadership is through service' and I think for us Samoan people, it's not just about titles, regarding leadership, it is through service.

"I see it as giving back to your family, whether it is giving back to your colleagues or to your church. but the whole idea about leadership is through serving others."

Another student, John Vaifale, is learning Samoan for personal reasons.

"I guess it is for personal reasons. So when I was younger, I was able to speak the language more but growing up and mainly being around English I kind of lost the language so it is more or less just trying to regain the language," he said.

He said he had set himself a target.

"My goal is just to speak naturally, speak without hesitation, you know, I don't want to be nervous when some random Samoan person asks questions and I just stand there and freeze up 'cos i don't know what he is saying.

"I want to be able to reply with confidence."

He said he believes a week to celebrate Samoan language and culture has great value.

"Yeah, it is needed in my opinion. I feel like it is great to have a week where we can just acknowledge our own culture and it is great to have around."

John Vaifale said it was never too late and advised others not to be afraid to learn their language and culture.

He said the first step to getting better was to acknowledge your weaknesses and do something about it and for him that meant attending the free Samoan language classes with Sebrina Fa'avae on Wednesday nights at the Manukau Institute of Technology in Otara.

Samoan Language Week runs until Saturday 3 June.