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  • Writer's pictureSonny Ngatai

Lost in Translation: Why Certified Translators are Important for te Reo Māori

Updated: May 30, 2023

Ah, te reo Māori. It's a language that's becoming more and more visible in public spaces across New Zealand. From signage on wharepaku (bathrooms) to caution signs outside kura (schools) and even translations on the back of chocolate bars - te reo Māori is now part of our everyday life. It's clear that te reo Māori has become an integral part of our national identity. A Colmar Brunton poll found that 8 in 10 people consider te reo Māori part of their Kiwi identity.

Now, I know what you're thinking. "Your point is?!" I’m getting there; hear me out…

While te reo Māori is more visible in public spaces and many organisations are increasing their Māori language use, some still rely on unqualified translators or, even worse, ask their Māori staff to give them a “translation freebie” outside of their roles.

So why do we not use certified translators of te reo Māori?

Google can often be hailed as a god. All-knowing and all-powerful.

But it seems to fall from the pearly gates when it comes to te reo Māori translations. An endless number of true believers naively ask this omnipotent search browser to do the job, a recent example being: "translate: 'Kia ora tāne mā' into English." Which Google incorrectly translates to "Long live white men."

But as it is declared in the good book, "Thou shalt have no....unqualified reo translations."

Now, I'm not attacking anyone because I too think Google has all the answers. Why go to the doctor when I can ask Google? This morning, I had a sore puku, I asked Google about it, and apparently, I had terminal bowel cancer and a week to live! But in all seriousness, I cannot stress the importance of using certified translators of te reo Māori enough.

Not using certified translators is like asking your Aunty to photograph your wedding on her iPhone; iPhone 4, might I add. You know it's not the best route. And should you proceed, well, let me say - you get what you pay for e hoa!

And I know 'some' like to treat te reo Māori like the middle child. But let’s not forget the Māori language is an official language that deserves the same level of respect and attention as any other language.

Translations require skill, and the accuracy and quality of translations are crucial, especially when sharing messages that can make or break a brand.

It's unfortunately common for agencies to rely on their Māori staff to handle translations, which puts them in an uncomfortable position. Many agencies still lean on and pressure their Māori staff to translate. Let's be real; asking for "just a couple of words" is not a cool move, bro.

To put it simply, I don't ask you to make my lunch for work because you can heat 2-minute noodles.

It's important to recognise that this is work outside of their role, and translating requires a specific set of skills, expertise, and certification that not everyone possesses.

Rule of thumb: While many Māori staff may be able to speak te reo, it is not their responsibility to give you translations. Te reo Māori translations should be handled appropriately and professionally. If not, it can lead to errors that can become a PR disaster for your brand.

Exhibit A:

Someone caught this perpetrator masquerading as a farewell message outside our supermarket. The translation appears to have a typo that slipped by unnoticed - hokohoki. An expert eye over this would have saved them from public ridicule.

Or this one. The sentence provided in Māori can be translated to "inside voting paper". While not completely wrong, it sounds like something Master Yoda would say, and not the everyday person.

Now, these examples may be a little past their use-by date, but the fact still remains:

Te reo Māori translations need to be handled appropriately.

However, with every dark cloud, there is a silver lining! Many have learned from their past mistakes, and correct te reo Māori translations can be seen across the country. The fact that many organisations and government agencies are giving it a go is a sign that we are on the right path. But while we traverse this journey as a nation, we must tread forward with respect and care.

I was thinking of wrapping up my kōrero here out of fear that this would turn into a promo for reo Māori translators. But then I thought, why not?

So my whawhewhawhe (waffling) and sales pitch continues!

It's crucial that we understand the reasons why certified translators are important and what makes them so darn special.

Te reo Māori was nearly wiped out after years of banning and active suppression by the government. Because of this, we are still in revitalisation mode, resurfacing lost words, sentences and language features. This means that translation from English to Māori requires research, wānanga with peers, and ongoing education.

Certified Māori language translators are skilled in te reo Māori and have undergone rigorous training and testing to achieve certification. They deeply understand Māori language and culture, making them the go-to people for translating important messages. Google is not a doctor, nor is it a translator. So please, e hoa mā, do not use it.

Certified translators are taught a translation process to ensure their work is accurate and high-quality. They follow strict guidelines and have their work peer-reviewed to ensure that it meets the highest standards. And let's face it, in today's globalised world, communication is everything. Having certified translators of te reo Māori is like having a secret weapon that can bridge the gap between cultures and languages.

So why not invest in their services and preserve the Māori language while you're at it?

You get accurate and high-quality translations, and te reo Māori gets the love and respect it deserves.


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