My language is my identity.

Presented at Fagasa Conference 2002

[Samoan] [English]

Name: Sonya Van Schaijik

Employer: Marist Primary, Mt Albert

Position: ESOL Teacher and Lead Teacher for Information and Communication Technology, Webmaster.

Association: Ulimasao-Bilingual Education Association .In.N.Z. TESOLANZ.

Thanks and praise to God because it is with His grace and guidance that we have made it to the last day of this conference.

Hello and greetings to you all. Many thanks for attending this session. It is the last day of the conference and I know you will leave enlightened by what you have heard over these few days. 
I am honoured and greatly humbled at the opportunity of speaking today. 
I was asked by Fagasa to speak about being bilingual from a personal experience. 
This is a difficult topic for me to address. Yes I am bilingual. But first and foremost, I would like to acknowledge that: 
I am Sonya. I am Samoan. I was born in Samoa. My family is Samoan. I acknowledge Samoa as home. Villages I associate with are: Satalo in Falealili, Falevao, Le Pa, Falealupo in Savaii, Manono, Solosolo, Afega, Saleaula, Lotopa and Lepea. My language is Samoan.

I take a few minutes of your time to share with you, my journey, using photos from my life.

(IMOVIE presentation made with an Apple Mac and presented using a large screen television. Thanks Stuart Hale from Renaissnace for teaching me how to use this wonderful tool.)

I am conscious of standing here in front of you all ready, to bare my soul to my peers and have what I say critically analyzed. 
I am conscious of standing here as a member of my own family and whatever I say will reflect back on them. My grandmother Matalaoa’s words ring in my ears. You can be educated and dress correctly, but as soon as you open your mouth, people will know your standing in life.

So I begin my story, knowing that I am only a small leaf on my family’s impressive tree and hope that what I say will be from educated knowledge and influenced by family upbringing and that my old Nana will be proud of me. I am aware too that my children are the next branch of my tree and it is what I choose for them as a mother that will determine whether they will grow like me, with a love for their mother, family and language.

I will take you through my personal journey. I will clarify why I am the way I am with research by known researchers such as Jim Cummins, Collin Baker, Rod Ellis, Stephen Krashin, Virginia Collier.

Why was I chosen for this talk? You decide for yourself as I am sure many of you are asking that question. 
When I finish this talk. You decide, whether I have the right to be here. 
When I was first approached, I wondered why I was chosen. My first thought was it for my computer knowledge. That is an area that I can say, I know a lot. But no I was not chosen for technical computer knowledge. 
I begin my masters this year, so it is not for my academic knowledge that I was chosen to speak. There are much more proficient teachers sitting here who have much more learning than me. 
It is not for my proficiency in academic Samoan as I had great help putting this paper together in Samoan and I thank my special mentor, Patisepa Tuafulti who encouraged me to accept. 
It is not for my Samoan looks as I have much more beautiful cousins who have that role, who have won beauty pageants. 
It is not for financial contributions I can make, because I am a single, working mum. 
It is not for my bilingual teacher role at Marist Primary, as we do not have a bilingual unit.

So what rights do I have to stand here and say my speech about my language. 
First and foremost, I do not need to stand here and defend my right to speak as I am a descendent from the Royal family of Samoa and can trace my genealogy back to Salamasina.

To understand why I am here and why I choose to accept this opportunity., I will take you on my personal journey. 
First of all I ask you the question?

Define a Samoan?? 
Is a Samoan, someone who is born in Samoa with Samoan parents who has no mixed blood, but is being raised in the English language and ways? 
Is a Samoan, a person born in Aotearoa, to Samoan parents, who floats between identity? 
Is a Samoan, a person who is fluent in Samoan, born of mixed parents or of English parents. eg: a Sa Hen? 
Is a Samoan, a person who can relate the geneology of the family and can sing most old songs, and can dance? 
Is a Samoan, a person who has learnt Samoan, because of a fascination with our culture, but technically has no Samoan blood? 
Is a Samoan, someone who grows up bilingual, succeeds academically in English because of opportunities available to them, then turns around and states that everyone should only learn English because English is the business language and therefore only knowing English equates academic success and financial success? 
Is a Samoan someone who chooses to be Samoan?

I have been accused of not being a Samoan because I have blonde hair, cat’s eyes and matchstick legs. 
I have been accused of being a Wannabe. 
I have been challenged with the right to speak to teachers as a Samoan because, am I a Samoan? 
I have been informed, you are a New Zealander now, so you can leave that Island stuff behind. 
I will leave that question undefined for you to reflect on and discuss later.

Language separate by person and time. 60% Samoan and 40% English.

My journey began in 1962. I was born to a English father and a Samoan mother.

There is the first bit of research here. I had the fortunate opportunity of having an ideal bilingual raising. I had the natural methodology of language separate by person. Visiting mum’s family, I was immersed in Samoan. Dad returns home, the family switches to English.

During my first 5 years, I remember visiting my Nana and spending time with her brothers and my mother’s cousins. I was totally immersed in Samoan. I watched my great uncles making coconut twine, weaving mats, preparing the umu, listening to their stories, playing sweepy, helping them with chores, singing songs, playing hide and go seek, swimming in Samasoni river, in a lavalava. 
We attended church and the service was always in Samoan. I went with mum on her community rounds for the church, or for fund raising.

From 5 to 10 years old. Language separate 80% Samoan 20% English.

Beginning school, I was immersed in Samoan 100% of the time. I was taught by Samoan teachers in Samoan. I learnt the Samoan alphabet. We had all curriculum delivered in Samoan, but copied from the board in English. Stories were told in Samoan, dancing was taught in Samoan, attending school church and assemblies in Samoan.

The English component was attending brownies one day a week in English, Hula dancing once a week in English. I visited the library with my father every Saturday and took out an English book to read.

Samoan language was separated by time, activities and by person.

I attending catechist school on a Sunday. We prepared for church activities and learnt bible stories and songs. 
Later I remember living with other Samoan children together as we all prepared for church celebrations in Samoan. I ate, played and breathed Samoan.

I visited Savaii most holidays with my Dad, I was totally immersed in Samoan, except when Dad was around, then we switched to English. 
Weekends were spent with Dad and Mum and this was English time. The evenings, when Dad returned from work, our family switched to English.

Then a major event happened in our family.  
I was nearly 11 years old when we emigrated to Christchurch, New Zealand.

Language methodology, submerged in English. Sink or swim method.

I was literate in Samoan. My Samoan was much stronger than my English. I was an English Speaker of another language or an ESOL child. I hid in the library and read, often to escape having to talk with the other children and have my Pacific Island accent made fun of, I read every day in English. I felt really different at school. I discovered sports and was really good at sports. It must have been all those hours of playing lape and Samoan cricket in Samoa. But my memory of that time was of inadequacies. I felt really dumb. At school in Samoa, I was in the top three of the intelligent students. Remember how we were ranked 1st in class, to last in class after examinations. Suddenly, I could not follow directions, I made many mistakes, my spelling was diabolical. My books were marked in red and there was plenty of red biro.

Second language requires comprehensible input. Krashen 1981. More skilled with less skilled students.

I was placed in a class lower, than my age. So I was a year older than the other students. I had lovely teachers who spent extra time with me clarifying what was to happen and they provided comprehensible input.

Language separate 80% English 20% Samoan.

At school we spoke English. After school, we played with the neighbours and we all spoke English. Television was in English. The radio was English. Samoan was kept alive by Mum, insisting we speak Samoan at home.

We visited Samoa after our first year in New Zealand. We returned home for a family occasion. Our Samoan language was rejuvenated, because we were immersed in Samoan 90% of the time.

Back in New Zealand, cousins visited us from Samoa most holidays. That also revised our language.

Dad was still working in Samoa and when he came home, Dad would bring plenty of Samoa Times for us to read and also letters from Samoa. That and an umu for us to devour. He would also bring tapes of family members telling us happenings. Dad also wrote with news about Samoa.

At school, I was asked to talk about Samoa every year. I have memories of the fascination for the neighbourhood children. 
After two years at primary school, I attended Intermediate school and I had a Canadian teacher, who spoke French and she encouraged me to speak Samoan words and write in Samoan. When the other teachers discovered I was bilingual, I was asked to do the class rounds. Here was an opportunity to really shine and show I was not so dumb after all.

**The invisible immigrant.**

Then I moved to high school. I felt like the invisible immigrant. Each year I watched New Zealand born Samoans get asked to dance the siva but not me. When I asked to take part, it was suggested that I was not a real Samoan.

Later I joined the University Samoan club at 16. I have happy memories of Samoan students visiting our home for feastings, and singing and partying. We regularly put down an umu just out the back yard of one student flat or another. We performed Samoan dancing for exhibitions and balls.

As a family, we visited Samoa again. Samoa had shrunk and I found that really sad. The giant rubber tree we climbed as children and threw seeds at the high school students riding their bikes down from Alafua, was not that big after all. It was under that tree that I have many happy memories. We stayed eight weeks immersed in Samoan language. I met many cousins, or people saying we were related so that when I returned to New Zealand, I began researching our family geneology.

Following on from high school, I attended Christchurch teacher’s college. Being a balanced bilingual was beginning to immerse. I excelled academically at college. I took an active interest in college life, coordinating sports and was always fund-raising. I also joined the student executive as a sports member. There were only two Samoans during my entire three years at college. Me and the son of Faletoaese. I was very shy and we were good friends and looked out for one another, like a brother and a sister.

**Subtractive bilingualism. 100% English.**

I graduated from college, was married and began teaching. I know now that my Samoan language decreased by 25 words per week. I was totally immersed in English. Even when I visited my parents, subconsciously, speaking English was easier than speaking Samoan.

My only saving grace for Samoan was visiting old Nana every Christmas for two weeks and immersing myself in Samoan. My mum’s cousins spoke advanced Samoan and spoke to me only in Samoan. It is thanks to them that I maintained my Samoan language during this period of my life.

During this period, I worked on the family history and conducted extensive research.

I also taught some Samoan students at school and remember stumbling for words. I had forgotten prayers and parts of songs and a lot of vocabulary.

In my late twenties, my first son was born and as a family we visited Samoa for two weeks. 
I can remember stumbling to remember phrases. After one week. Samoan was coming back.

I was really conscious of raising a monolingual. I began teaching my son some simple songs and phrases, but unfortunately was actively discouraged.

A few years later, my second son was born and my marriage ended. 
I traveled North to Auckland to further my studies and qualifications. I wanted to study computers. But ended up taking John McCaffery’s bilingual paper- B31.42 Teaching in a Bilingual/ Immersion Programme.

The paper made me rethink my directions. Even though I was Samoan and could speak Samoan, that did not make me the best teacher to teach Samoan children. Our children need the best teachers, who are then willing to learn how to teach Samoan.

During that paper, I met up with other Samoan teachers. I met Patisepa Tuafuti, who I credit for encouraging me to continue with studies when the going got tough. I then switched direction and focused on my Diploma of Tessol. I completed my Diploma in 1998 and my whole family was present to support me at my graduation. I remember being allocated a few seats, but in true Samoan style, my whole family came to be with me. 
I felt so proud. It had not been easy raising young children, working and studying. I could not have done it without family support and encouragement from mentors. The Diploma opened up work for me, but also personal issues. Two years later, I completed my Higher Certificate in Bilingual/Immersion Education.

I became a language teacher at Marist Primary and I have a strong language focus for our bilingual students. I run information meetings for my parents about the importance of maintaining their first language. My school, Marist Primary, and my principal, also support me, encourage me and acknowledge my work. This is an important consideration when choosing a position.

I became a member of Ulimasao and attended meetings with Samoan teachers. We celebrated our language with a celebration and I was involved with that. I was involved with the Ministry contract for implementing the Taiala. 
I ran computer workshops for the group. I worked hard to deliver in Samoan.

In 2000, I visited Samoa with members of Ulimasao and presented a paper with Saili Aukuso. We focused on using language separate by person. I relearnt the importance of being bilingual. Saili delievered the Samoan component and I delievered the English. I thank John McCaffery for giving me that opportunity.

Currently Academic Language, 80%English 20% Samoan. 
As an adult, I look for opportunities to converse in Samoan. My language is my self identity. 
I chat regularly with my school parents in Samoan. 
I am an active member with Ulimasao and am on the steering committee for our conference in October. I help out wherever I can. I sit as a passive listener, then make my input where I can in Samoan. 
I accept challenges, like creating and maintaining the Ulimasao web site 
Our goal is to see our site fully bilingual.

The Ulimasao work really hard to nurture, support and encourage each other in our bilingual programmes. We currently have twelve schools in Auckland with bilingual programmes, using Samoan and English. We welcomed a new addition, Otahuhu primary, this year in February 2002. Ulimasao run professional development programmes on a monthly basis, as the need arises. This year we proudly achnowledge all those Pacific Island teachers who won government scholarships to begin their Diploma of TESSOL.

I thank all Ulimasao members who have been there with me over the past seven years. By accepting me and enfolding me in the team, this is also one way my Samoan vocabulary, particulary academic Samoan, has continued to be grow.

My other challenge was accepting this opportunity to come to Palmerston and present in Samoan. I make a special thanks to Patisepa Tuafuti and Saili Aukuso who came all the way to support me and encourage me. I also make a special mention of Malo Sepuloni and Saili who critiqued my final presentation.

I make a determined effort with my sons for their Samoan. They know some words. Not nearly enough of the 2000 for Basic Interpersonal Communication. But I expose them passively. They see me proud of my background. I wear puletasi proudly. I take them to Samoan activities and insist they take part. They learn their geneology. They join Samoan cultural activities at school. I take them to old Nanas as often as I can. We eat Samoan food.

Where to from here? The balanced bilingual.

I have a dream of standing in front of my family giving a speach just like my mother’s brother. 
My next goals are, 
I really want to speak high Matai Samoan and am aware of Maulolo’s course in Samoa.

My second dream is academic writing in Samoan. To achieve this is via the internet. 
The internet is the way forward for our Samoan language. The internet is a place to share what we do in the Samoan language. I am aware of how easy it is to share what we have, BUT we must also exercise caution of sharing too much.

For me I am also working towards bilingualism for my children.

For now, they are being raised passively, by being exposed to my language and my culture. I teach them songs. I lead by example. If you had been at the Pasifika festival. You would have seen me get up and dance, O le Taualuga, sung by Marina.

I did that for my boys just as I am standings here today for my sons. They knew I was coming down and how nervous this presentation would be for me. I want them to see that I am proud of who I am and of where I come from.

My suggestions to those of you raising your children.It is your choice how you raise them.

Here are some suggestions that might help, adapted from Colin Baker. 
Take them to Samoan church. 
Family gatherings in Samoan. 
Grace in Samoan. 
Listen to the radio 531 PI, Siufofoga Samoa and Letio Samoa. 
Take them to festivals or better still encourage them to join festivals. 
Join the choir. Play sport. Attend local schools that offer Samoan language. 
If I had my time again, I would have put my children into a Samoan Early childhood.

I look for opportunities for my boys to learn Samoan. 
I take them to visit the aiga. I am aware they are technically third generation. Research shows that by the third generation, the language is lost. Maybe it is, but only if we let it become lost. As a mother, I know part of my role is to ensure, even though my boys are born in Aotearoa, they are born to a Samoan mother, so that makes them also Samoan.

I am Sonya, My language is my identity.

I finish with a special quote from Dr Aiono Fanaafi Le Tagaloa. ( I tried to give a literal translation)

If there is no language, there is no identity.

If there is no identity, then there is only darkness.