Radio station develops app to spread Gagana Samoa to the world

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Minister for Pacific Peoples Barbara Edmonds
Minister for Pacific Peoples Barbara Edmonds (with glasses) at the Samoa language app launch . . . "We need to do everything we can to support the next generation to understand and use our language." Image: RNZ Pacific

By Susana Suisuiki, RNZ Pacific journalist, and Moera Tuilaepa-Taylor, RNZ Pacific manager

A new language app developed for Gagana Samoa — the Samoan language — has been launched in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Samoa Capital Radio in Wellington, the oldest Samoan radio station in Aotearoa, is behind the production and development of the app.

Samoa’s Acting High Commissioner to New Zealand, Robert Niko Aiono, said it would help to bridge the gap for people wanting to learn more about the language.

“They’ve made this app available and it caters for a lot of Samoans who are born in New Zealand,” he said.

“Not only in New Zealand but everywhere else in the world.”

With Samoan being the third-most spoken language in New Zealand, Samoa Capital Radio initially thought language classes delivered on Zoom was the best way to draw in learners.

However, it was decided developing an app would be better as it was a tool that can be accessed anywhere, any time.

‘Labour of love’
Work on the software began in January and according to the radio station’s social media manager, Murray Faivalu, it was a “labour of love”.

“We started to get a team together; get an advisory panel to advise us because no one can claim that they’ve got the knowledge of everything in terms of the Samoan language,” Faivalu said.

“We had two lecturers from the National University of Samoa, one of them being Dr Niusila Eteuati who was able to bring an academic perspective to the language; we got one of the teachers from Samoa who’s teaching the language and the Language Commission.”

Faivalu said he hopes the app helps users overcome their shyness when trying to converse or pray in Samoan.

“We’ve got a big population of people who associate as Samoans and a lot of them are young,” he said.

“A lot of them may know some Samoan but being able to speak it is a whole different thing.

“Some of the young ones get embarrassed when they go up to do the prayer at family gatherings.”

Basic language
The app covers the most basic of the Samoan language — from the spelling, grammar, placement of macrons and glottal stops. Audio is also built in so users can hear how words are meant to be pronounced.

“When you read Samoan on its own, you lose the meaning of it — so unless you have those glottal stops, the macrons, you won’t get the actual meaning of what you’re trying to say.”

Samoa Capital Radio CEO Afamasaga Tealu Moresi
Samoa Capital Radio chief executive Afamasaga Tealu Moresi . . . Image: RNZ Pacific

At the launch, Pacific Peoples Minister Barbara Edmonds shared how she became distant from speaking Samoan.

“Like many of our families who crossed the Pacific Ocean to come to New Zealand, we too had many families come to stay with us, and my cousins came to live with us.

“My cousins, who could only really speak Samoan, became quickly frustrated when they went to school, and they started giving other kids beatings because they couldn’t understand what they were saying,” Edmonds said.

“So what my dad said to us was, we needed to speak English more, so we could help teach our cousins how to speak English. So unfortunately as time progressed, Gagana Samoa came less and less out of my mouth.

Youngest and fastest growing
“With the Samoan population being one of the youngest and fastest growing [in New Zealand], it’s clear that we need to do everything we can to support the next generation to understand and use our language.”

School student Ti’eti’e Frost is eager to improve his Samoan speaking skills, especially as he is the only member of his family who has yet to master the language.

“Sometimes I’ll be speaking Samoan and there will be people who grew up speaking it who will make a joke about my Samoan,” he said.

“Right now, I feel like I’m 60 percent with my Samoan, but hopefully by using this app I get to 100 percent.”

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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