Fast Facts about New Zealand languages
- New Zealand was the first country to declare a sign language as an official language in 2006
- After World War Two, the Maori language was discouraged until a movement in the 1960s revived the language
- The Maori did not have a written language before British settlers arrived in New Zealand
- New Zealand uses the Qwerty keyboard layout
- The most common non-official language of New Zealand is Samoan
- New Zealand English has its own slang words, like “choice”, “jandals” and “chur”
- Some Maori words are spoken throughout New Zealand, like “Kia Ora”, place names, flora and fauna names.
English in New Zealand
English is the most widely spoken language in New Zealand and one of the official New Zealand languages. Around 96% of the population speak English (2013 Census).
The English spoken in New Zealand is much like British English and English from other commonwealth countries. However, there are a few slang words used in New Zealand, such as “choice”, meaning good, or “chilly bin” meaning cool box. For a more complete list of New Zealand slang words, see Talk like a New Zealander / Talk like a Kiwi.
New Zealand accents sound centralised to most foreigners. However, there are slight differences in accents in Southland and some parts of Otago in an accent known as the “Southern Burr” and between some Maori communities.
Maori words are regularly incorporated into New Zealand English. For instance, “haka” (a type of dance), “taonga” (treasure), “Kia Ora” (greeting) and “whanau” (family).
Maori in New Zealand
The Maori language, te reo Maori, is spoken fluently by around 3.6% of the New Zealand population (2013 Census). Te reo Maori is an Eastern Polynesian language related to Cook Islands Maori and Tahitian.
Te reo Maori is used in Maori communities, it is taught in schools, and used in Maori media. Many of the local flora, fauna and place names officially take their Maori name.
To learn how to pronounce Maori words, such as place names around New Zealand, see our Backpacker’s Guide to the Maori Language: te reo Maori.
New Zealand sign language
New Zealand Sign Language is the third official language of New Zealand, becoming an official language in 2006. Rights of the language are restricted to only court proceedings. It is the main language of the deaf community in New Zealand. Around 0.5% of the New Zealand population can fluently use New Zealand Sign Language (2013 Census).
The roots of New Zealand Sign Language come from British Sign Language, with around 62% similarity between the two languages. It is often considered a dialect of the British, Australian and New Zealand Sign Language.
Other languages spoken in New Zealand
Although there are only three official languages in New Zealand – English, Maori and New Zealand Sign Language – other languages are spoken in New Zealand due to the diverse immigrant population. Around 18.6% of the New Zealand population is multilingual (2013 Census).
The most common known languages in New Zealand, other than the official New Zealand languages, are Samoan, Hindi, Mandarin Chinese, French and Yue Chinese.
There are also significant numbers of the population that know and/or speak German, Tongan, Tagalog, Afrikaans, Spanish, Korean and Dutch.