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New Zealand - Speaking the Language

There are three official languages in New Zealand: English, Maori, and New Zealand Sign Language. English was the only official language up to 1987, when Maori was made an official language. New Zealand Sign Language was added to the list in 2006, making New Zealand the first country in the world to have sign language as an official language.

There are minimal regional variations. Only the people in the Southland pronounce /r/ after vowels in words such as ‘cart’ and ‘horse’. People in the rural areas, especially Taranaki, talk with lots of variations in their intonation while urban people tend to talk with a consistent tone. There is also a group of people who speak Maori English. This is English spoken with a Maori accent and pronunciation. They usually end their sentences with a rising intonation and an ‘eh’ sound.

There are no regional dialects in New Zealand English, but the country’s English is quite different from the UK and US versions. It sounds more like Australian English. However, there are many vocabularies and phrases that are unique to New Zealanders. New Zealand English features shortened words that end in ‘o’, ‘y’ or ‘ie’, for example ‘barbie’ for barbeque or ‘footy’ for football.

The vocabulary is also unique. The meaning of certain words in UK or US English is quite different from those of New Zealand English. New Zealanders have incorporated around 1000 Maori words into their English and more are expected to be added with time. Common Maori terms in New Zealand English include:

• whanau - family
• kumera - sweet potato
• kia ora - hello
• waka - motor vehicle
• kai - food
• puku - stomach

The most commonly used language in New Zealand is English. Around 95% of the population speaks English. New Zealand was a British colony, and therefore English has been spoken in the country since the colonial era. It is used in businesses, learning institutions, the public sector, courts of law, and parliament.

Maori is the second most used language. Almost 4% of the population speaks Maori, though the number is rising. Maori is the original language of the people of New Zealand. However, during the colonial era, the language was suppressed. People were forced to speak English and punished for speaking Maori. The language was dying slowly, until it was made an official language. It is only spoken in New Zealand, and is mostly used in the media and schools. It is also used in courts of law, but with translation.

Other languages spoken in New Zealand include:

• Samoan
• Hindi
• Chinese
• French
• German

New Zealand Sign Language is used in courts of law and other places with the help of an English interpreter. Only a small percentage of the population is conversant with the language.

English is the unofficial language of business. Since everyone has a good knowledge of the language, it makes it easier to communicate. However, natives who are fluent in speaking Maori tend to use it when talking to one another.

English-speaking expats will cope well here. However, they will need to familiarize themselves with common Maori words. This will help them to understand the natives easily, since they like to incorporate some Maori words into English. Expats should also acquaint themselves with common terms that the Kiwis use.

Language Schools in New Zealand

Auckland University of Technology
Contact: 0800 288 864,

Unitec Institute of Technology
Private Bag 92025,
Victoria Street West,
Auckland 1142
Phone: 0800 10 95 10

Phone: 0800 944 847

These institutions offer language tutorials. Since knowledge of Maori is not essential to be able to live and work in New Zealand, most of the teaching is offered by private tutors. You can find a tutor through one of these websites:

First Tutors
Tutors Home
Alpha Tutors

The most commonly used language in the media in New Zealand is English. This is because most of the population is proficient with the language. However, there are upcoming television and radio channels that use the Maori language. This is done in an effort to promote the language. Television shows in Maori have English subtitles. This not only promotes the language, but it also helps the people learn the language.

Read more about this country

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