25 people found this article useful

What is the New Zealand Language?


What language do they speak in New Zealand?

As one of the last nations to be established, New Zealand has a diverse number of languages used by its population. The three official New Zealand languages are English, Maori and New Zealand Sign Language. “Official languages” means that people have the right to use theses languages in legal proceedings, such as courts, statues and other official pronouncements. English is the most widely spoken language, therefore the language you will need to know when visiting or living in New Zealand.

New Zealand also has a diverse range of immigrant languages, especially Samoan, Hindi, Mandarin Chinese, French and Yue Chinese. Check out the information below for more on New Zealand languages.

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.
HiFX - Money Transfer

Public Domain

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” (type of dance), “taonga” (treasure), “Kia Ora” (greeting) and “whanau” (family).

Public Domain

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 are 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.

If you liked this article, then you might like…

Working Holiday New Zealand
Was this article useful? Useful Useless
Help other travellers, share this article now:
Live Chat

Most Popular Videos

Video Thumbnail
Video Thumbnail
Video Thumbnail
Art & Culture

Where to Get a Tattoo in New Zealand?

What is the best place to get ink during your New Zealand [...]


12 Free Multi-Day Hikes in New Zealand

Which multi-day hikes in New Zealand have free accommodation? So you’ve heard [...]

Base Hostels
Hot on Backpacker Guide
Useful Tips

Travel 101: Booking Direct Vs. Online Travel Agents Vs. Travel Agents

Should you book direct, book online or book through a travel agent? […]

Leaving New Zealand

10 Countries Easy to Visit from New Zealand

Countries near New Zealand. No doubt your journey to New Zealand for […]

Buying a Car/Campervan
Tourism NZ

10 Tips for Buying a Secondhand Car in New Zealand

What you need to know about buying a used car in NEw […]

We use cookies to understand how you use our site and to improve your experience. This includes personalizing content and advertising. To learn more, click here. By continuing to use our site, you accept our use of cookies, revised Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.
I accept