Reo sign language debuts on Māori TV news

By Kimiora Kaire-Melbourne

In an effort to include the Māori Deaf Community in this year’s Māori language week and to have more interpreters on screen, trilingual sign language interpreter Tania Simon will appear live on Te Kāea tonight to translate our news directly in to Māori sign language.

Simon says, “It’s going to be a challenge because it's my first time and I really applaud Māori Television for taking the step towards informing the deaf community of Aotearoa. I’m also hoping that Māori Television will step up and have more captions available, and more interpreters available on screen.”

Simon (Ngāti Rehia, Ngāti Torehina) is one of two trilingual sign language interpreters in New Zealand.

She, alongside Stephanie Awheto have been working in the deaf community to educate them on the appropriate use of Māori sign language.

“Because of the ignorance around te reo me ōna tikanga within the deaf schools, the pronounciation used to be really bad. So words like ‘hangi’ were signed like ‘hanging’, signs for ‘Manukau’ were changed to ‘man-cow’. It was due to their lack of knowledge of te reo.”

Simon says there's a misconception around the term Māori sign language.

“What we actually do is translate from te reo directly into New Zealand sign language. The difference is that the deaf people of New Zealand have not been taught te reo Māori, so they don't have a language base to call from. Whereas us as hearing people, we grow up with the language.

Her desire to pursue a career as a sign language interpreter started when she applied for a vacancy at the deaf association in New Lynn.

“I thought, that's something I haven’t tried before and I pursued the job and once I got the job I realised that I had nieces and nephews that were hard of hearing. I also met a deaf man that I was working with at the New Lynn office and he really encouraged me to take up sign language and to utilise my skills as a reo speaker to support them in any hui that we were going to.”

Despite almost 20 years of experience, Simon still feels it is not her place to teach sign language.

“I don’t teach sign language at all, mainly because it’s not my language. I’ve been encouraging a lot of people in the small town I live in, in Kaipara to learn sign language.”