40 Jahre Goethe-Institut Neuseeland
Ironically, it was my Māori heritage (or, to be more precise, my flight from it) that set me on the path to learning German. As a new student at Taita College in the Hutt Valley in 1981, my Māori father and Pākehā mother were keen for me to study Māori. My 13-year-old self was not comfortable with being Māori, so I chose German – in part because it was not what my parents wanted.
Things began well in Sue Sutherland’s third form (Year 9) class. My first two reports were encouraging:
Paul has made a very good start in this subject.
Paul is competent in oral and written work.
As teachers (and parents) know, the third form can coincide with adolescent storms. Mine manifested as a tendency to be a precocious little sh** who loved the sound of his own voice, more than most others. Sue’s exasperation came through in my year-end report:
Paul produces good results in written and oral work without apparent effort.
The next year I was back for fourth form German, but by mid-year things were not going well:
Paul needs to listen more carefully in order to make further progress.
The final report indicated how Sue solved her problem.
The standard of Paul’s work has improved dramatically. Does it have something to do with sitting alone.
I did not carry on with German at Taita, but wish I had done one more year and studied German for School Certificate. I did come back to the language – nearly 30 years later. To help with researching a book about a gay New Zealand man who was fatally shot in Weimar Berlin, I started classes at the Goethe-Institut in Wellington. With the Institute’s support, I also studied in Berlin, and in Göttingen, where I emailed Sue Sutherland to thank her for teaching me as a teenager.
It is funny how things turn out. My job for the last decade has been the Curator, Māori at the Alexander Turnbull Library, researching Māori language and other collections. After leaving Taita College, I won a scholarship for Māori and Pasifika students, which supported my study at Massey University. The scholarship prompted me to do Māori papers as part of my Commerce degree, and I began to get over my whakamā (shame) about being Māori. I kept studying Māori, but German was the beginning of my language journey, and I will always be grateful for the fine start I got with Sue Sutherland at Taita College.