Languages in New Zealand

People have come from all over the world to make New Zealand their home. As they do so, the range of languages spoken in New Zealand is becoming more diverse.

Table 1: Languages spoken in New Zealand, 2001, 2006 & 2013

A Table depicting the number of people able to speak language (percentage of the population), Languages included are English, Māori, Samoan, NZ Sign Language and Others. Information from the 2001, 2006 and 2013 census

Source: Statistics New Zealand, the New Zealand Census of Population and Dwellings 2001, 2006 & 2013

Table 1 includes all of the people who stated each language spoken, whether as their only language or as one of several languages. Where a person reported more than one language spoken, they have been counted in each applicable group, but only once in the ‘Total People’ group. This data has been randomly rounded to protect confidentiality. Individual figures and percentages may not add up to totals or 100%. Values for the same data may vary in different tables. Percentages have been rounded to the next full figure. Data for ‘No Language’ and ‘Not Elsewhere Included’ has been omitted for clarity.

*The ‘Other’ data set for 2013 is based on the total number of responses for each language in this category rather than the total number of speakers (who may be able to speak more than one language in this category) that is used for 2001 and 2006. As a consequence the percentage of the population speaking an ‘Other’ language in 2013 may be slightly inflated relative to 2001 and 2006.

According to the 2013 Census, English and Te Reo Māori are the most widely spoken languages in New Zealand.  However, as Table 1 shows, in 2013 there far more people speaking English (3,819,969 people or 90 per cent of the total population) than Te Reo  Māori (148,395 people or 3 per cent of the population).

After English and Te Reo Māori, Samoan was the most widely spoken language, with 86,403 people (2 per cent of the population) able to speak it.

The number of people communicating with New Zealand Sign Language was small, with only 20,235 people able to communicate with it (less that 1 per cent of the population).

International Languages in New Zealand

Note: ‘International languages’ refer to those languages that are not official New Zealand Languages. Generally, as in Table 1, these languages are grouped in the ‘Other’ languages category. However, as the following section is examining the ‘Other’ category in greater detail the ‘international languages’ label is being used for clarity.

This section illustrates the growing diversity of languages spoken in New Zealand – we are seeing a greater number of languages and more people speaking them. You can also read more about people’s ability to speak New Zealand’s official languages, and the number of languages people can speak.

Table 1 also shows that the percentage of the population able to speak a language other than English, Te Reo Māori, New Zealand Sign Language and Samoan has grown; from 10 per cent of the population in 2001 to 17 per cent in 2013.

In comparison, the percentage of the population able to speak English, Te Reo Māori and Samoan has remained relatively stable.   English and Te Reo Māori have dropped by 1 per cent of the population and Samoan has remained the same.

Table 2: Speakers of International languages in New Zealand, 2001, 2006 & 2013

Table 2 - Number of people able to speak international languages (percentage of Total Responses). Languages included Hindi, Northern Chinese, French, Yue, Sinitic, German, All other International languages. From 2001, 2006, 2013 Census information

Source: Statistics New Zealand, the New Zealand Census of Population and Dwellings 2001, 2006 & 2013

Table 2 includes all of the people who stated each language spoken, whether as their only language or as one of several languages. Where a person reported more than one language spoken, they have been counted in each applicable group. This data has been randomly rounded to protect confidentiality. Individual figures and percentages may not add up to totals or 100%. Values for the same data may vary in different tables. Percentages have been rounded to the next full figure. ‘International languages’ refers to those languages that are not official New Zealand Languages.  In order to be consistent with Table 1, Samoan has also been omitted from this group for clarity.

Table 2 is a breakdown of international languages with the highest number of responses at the time of Census 2001, Census 2006 and Census 2013.

Since 2001, the total number of responses for people able to speak an international language has grown from 481,314 responses to 720,039 by 2013. This growth has largely been driven by the increasing number of people speaking Hindi, Northern Chinese and Sinitic.

Between 2001 and 2013 the number of Hindi speakers has tripled (from 22,759 to 66,309), and the number of speakers of Northern Chinese (26,514 to 52,263 people) and Sinitic (22,851 to 42,753 people) have almost doubled. The number of people speaking ‘Other international languages’ also grew significantly, from 288,351 speakers in 2001 to 373,851 speakers in 2013.

In comparison, the number of French and German speakers grew between the years 2001 and 2006, but by 2013 had decreased again. The number of speakers of French and German remained relatively stable (French with around 49,000 speakers in 2001 and 2013, and German with 33,871 speakers in 2001 and 36,642 in 2013).

Here you can see a complete break-down of the Top 25 Languages spoken in New Zealand in 2013.

You can also read more about what languages are spoken in different regions around New Zealand.