Tool helps Kiwi students pronounce Samoan names

A group of Year 12 students in New Zealand have launched a new web tool – “Faamalosi” – a site that teaches students via sound bites the correct pronunciation of Samoan, Maori and Pasifika names.

To’e Lokeni considers his name a gift, given to him by his family. But it’s a gift that’s been mispronounced over and over again, the 16-year-old told New Zealand online news site Stuff.

“Mr. Lokeni and a group of nine other Porirua high schoolers have created the web tool to help people correctly pronounce Māori and Pasifika names – bringing pride into pronunciation,” says Stuff.

 “Fa’amalosi” means “be strong” in Samoan.

“Fa’amalosi means be strong to say it right – have the courage to try,” co-chief executive Mannfred Sofara said.

Two weeks after its launch, the website has more than 700 Māori, Samoan, Tokelauan, Kiribati, Cook Island and Tongan names, which users click on to hear.

All the Māori and Pacific students in the class have had their names mispronounced in daily life, something which they hoped to change.

“As a kid that made me feel embarrassed. I grew up getting used to it, but it didn’t sit well with me,” Lokeni said, whose name was often mispronounced as Toe, rather than To’e.

Lokeni inherited his name from his maternal grandfather; saying pronouncing names correctly was a sign of respect for people and their family.

Ocean Matete-Stehlin, 17, who voiced all the Māori names on the site, said mispronunciation often happened in the classroom.

“For some students in the class, [when] a teacher calls out their name wrongly a kid will save them the embarrassment, and say it’s right.

“Then the teacher will keep calling them that and the student feels like they are not trying.”

The students envision the tool used in business and public institutions such as the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health, or media organisations.

They hoped teachers could type the names from their class rolls into the tool at the start of the year, ready to pronounce the names correctly.

“It’s what kids always remember on their first day, if you call out their name wrongly,” Bishop Viard deputy principal Gina Lefaoseu said.

All Pasifika and Māori names have been voiced by students, teachers or members of the community.

Lefaoseu’s daughter Milan, a web whiz, helped the students make the site, and Porirua artist Nick Meli (also known as Polycon), created the art, showing a teacher mispronouncing a student’s name, which was Mere, as Mary.

The students have entered their idea in the Young Enterprise National Awards, and hope to go on a business trip with some of the money gained from the site.

Lefaoseu said she wanted the students to realise they could excel in business, and technology.

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