Rays of Sound from across the Pacific

Issue: Volume 96, Number 13

Posted: 24 July 2017
Reference #: 1H9deg

Work done by Victoria University of Wellington’s Language Learning Centre to preserve and expand upon a collection of old recordings has resulted in a special educational resource.

A project to preserve and promote Pasifika and te reo Māori recordings has been a labour of love for Balint Koller.

The senior administrator at Victoria University of Wellington’s Language Learning Centre says the Rays of Sound project was born from a determination to save valuable stories and songs trapped on aging cassette tapes in the department’s library.

“This kind of thing is peripheral to my everyday job as administrator at the centre, but we all help to maintain our library collection. We had noticed that many of the recordings were on cassette tapes, and these are disintegrating over time,” says Balint.

Coupled with this was the concern that many organisations no longer keep cassette players around, rendering the recordings, which were mostly capturing children’s songs and stories, inaccessible.

“Here at the Language Learning Centre, we all felt these recordings were really valuable, and we wanted to preserve them for the future.”

The process began in 2015 with Balint and his colleagues, advisor Benjamin Swale and then language technology specialist Edith Paillat, digitising each recording. They also spent a lot of time tracking down the original writers and narrators, some as far away as Zambia, to obtain permission to make the content available for a new generation.

During the 1980s and 1990s Learning Media, then a division of the Ministry of Education, developed numerous cassette recordings to accompany beautifully illustrated readers telling stories in Samoan, including the much-loved School Journals.

Balint says many schools and early childhood centres will still own some copies or classroom sets of these unique resources, but the cassette recordings are probably no longer in use.

Rays of Sound offers a selection of recorded stories and songs in Samoan, te reo Māori and Cook Islands Māori. The site also features new recordings made by Balint Koller with members of the Lower Hutt-based Cook Islands community in 2016.

“The Wellington region is home to a vibrant Samoan community and students of both Samoan and non-Samoan heritage take their Samoan tutorials in the centre,” says Balint.

“We were able to enlist the help of others also enthusiastic about the aims of the project. Some of the stories on the website were read by volunteers passionate about the language such as Samoan Studies lecturer Niusila Faamanatu-Eteuati from the university’s School of Pacific Studies
Va’aomanu Pasifika.

“These allow the original readers that were missing recordings to really come alive.”

Recordings in the classroom

Balint and Benjamin encourage teachers to explore the Rays of Sound website and share the recordings with their students.

“We believe many school libraries will have the corresponding School Journals in their collection, so these recordings can be matched up to that existing resource for, say, a reading-aloud exercise,” explains Balint.

“The audio clips might also inspire children to make their own recordings of their favourite stories and songs. Some of the recordings are musical. There are several traditional Samoan songs that would be suitable for use in bilingual early childhood education settings, and we’re aware of a language class here at the university that have been using some of the recordings for listening exercises too.”

Benjamin says the audio resource is a treasure, and Rays of Sound is just the end-point to the work that Balint and his team have achieved.

“At the Language Learning Centre, we’re trying to expose people to as much audio, as much spoken language, as we can, because that’s where real language takes place,” he says.

“The written word is important but there’s sometimes too much emphasis on written and printed and not enough on spoken, and we just wanted to promote the sounds of the language, and help to keep it alive.”

The featured stories include characters such as Fatu, who makes a traditional dish called ‘palusami’ from taro leaves baked with fresh coconut, as well as a story explaining some of the meanings of the designs used in ‘siapo’ – the fine cloth made from the paper mulberry tree.

“There is also a story about Uncle Timi who falls asleep on the beach and does not wake up until the tide washes over him, and Sina who makes an eel her pet, not knowing that the eel is really the King of Fiji in disguise.”

Find the resource at www.raysofsound.org.nz(external link)

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 6:00 am, 24 July 2017

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