People dance at a celebration of Maori culture. A guide to Te Reo Maori.

A beginner’s guide to Te Reo Māori

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Te Reo Māori is New Zealand’s official language, although in practice it’s secondary to English and few non-Māori New Zealanders speak it fluently. The country is a bi-cultural society and Te Reo words are often used interchangeably with English in everyday language by everyone. This beginner’s guide to Te Reo Māori pronunciation and commonly used words will arm you with all the basics.

I’ve also written A guide to Kiwi slang on the home-grown ‘Kiwi English’, a local mishmash of British English, American English, Kiwi slang and Te Reo. The two posts tell you everything you need to know to get started conversing with Kiwis!

A beginner’s guide to Te Reo Māori - pronunciation

Te Reo Māori has 15 distinct sounds, including 5 vowels (a, e, i, o, u), 8 consonants (h, k, m, n, p, r, t, w) and 2 digraphs (two letters that combine to form one sound; ng, wh).

The vowels can be a short sound or a long sound and they can also be combined (into diphthongs). A long sound is denoted with a macron (a line above the letter). You have to be careful to get this right as the length of the vowel can change the meaning of the word.

The consonants not listed below are pronounced the same as in English.

a

a

(as in aloud)

ā

ar

(as in are)

ae

ai

(as in eye, said with a rising intonation)

ai

ai

(said with a falling intonation)

ao

aow

(as in crowd)

au

oh

(as in ‘oh dear’)

e

eh

(as in entry)

ē

ehr

(as in there)

ea

eh-ah

ei

ey

eo

eh-oh

(said with a rising intonation on the ‘oh’)

eu

eh-oh

(said with a falling intonation on the ‘oh’)

i

ee

(as in eat)

ī

ee

(as in three)

ia

ee-ah

ie

ee-eh

io

ee-or

iu

ee-oo

ng

Pronounced like the ng in ‘singer’.

o

or

(as in ordinary)

ō

or

(as in pork)

oa

or-ah

oe

or-eh

oi

oi

(as in oil)

ou

ohr

r

Pronounced as a rolled r, which can sound a bit like a d. For example Kauri sounds very like Cody and is a popular boys name, as well as the name of a large indigenous tree.

t

At the beginning of a word, it sounds like a normal English ‘t’ sound but after vowels it’s much softer. After ‘a’, ‘e’ or ‘o’ it has no sibilant emphasis, almost like a ‘d’, and after ‘i’ and ‘u’ it only has a slight sibilant sound (tip: just bring your tongue further back on the roof of your mouth further from your teeth).

u

oo

(as in two)

ū

oo

(as in loot)

ua

oo-ah

ue

oo-eh

ui

oo-ee

uo

oo-or

wh

f

(as in forest)

A beginner’s guide to Te Reo Māori - words and phrases

Tip: When reading Te Reo, break the word into each syllable ending after every vowel (or diphthong).

Aotearoa

New Zealand

Literally ‘land of the long white cloud’.

Kia ora

Hello

Haere mai

Welcome

Iwi

Tribe

Whānau

Family

Note that the Māori definition of family may be more extended than you are accustomed to; it may include anyone of importance including non-blood relatives, close friends and neighbours. Pronounced ‘faar-noh’.

Tamariki

Children

Kai

Food

Hangi

Traditional style of Māori cooking in an earth oven

Kauri

Large native tree species

One of the largest and longest-living trees in the world. Pronounced ‘ko-rrree’ with a rolled ‘r’.

Haka

War dance

I hope this guide to Te Reo Māori pronunciation and commonly used words is of use during your time in New Zealand.

This may not be the only hurdle you encounter while conversing with Kiwis though! Some of the slang is just as puzzling if you’re unfamiliar with it, so check out A guide to Kiwi slang before a trip to New Zealand.

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