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Languages spoken

A quarter of te reo Māori speakers are children

Of the people who could hold a conversation in te reo Māori:

  • almost a quarter (24.6 percent) were children
  • only 1 in 10 (10.1 percent) were aged 65 years or over.
Graph, People who speak te reo Māori, by age group, 2013 Census.

Of people who spoke more than one language, 139,959 (19.0 percent) spoke te reo Māori.

Hindi replaces French as the fourth most common language

Hindi jumped to the fourth most common language spoken in 2013, replacing French, which dropped to sixth place.

In 2013, the six most common languages spoken in New Zealand were:

  • English – spoken by 3,819,972 people (96.1 percent of people who stated at least one language)
  • te reo Māori – 148,395 people (3.7 percent)
  • Samoan – 86,403 people (2.2 percent)
  • Hindi – 66,309 people (1.7 percent)
  • Northern Chinese (including Mandarin) – 52,263 people (1.3 percent)
  • French – 49,125 people (1.2 percent).

In 2006, the six most common languages spoken were English, te reo Māori, Samoan, French, Hindi, and Yue (including Cantonese).

Big increases in Hindi and Northern Chinese

There were big increases in the number of people able to hold a conversation about everyday things in Hindi or Northern Chinese (including Mandarin).

The number of people who could speak Hindi nearly tripled between 2001 and 2013. Hindi was spoken by:

  • 66,309 people in 2013 (up 48.7 percent from 2006)
  • 44,589 people in 2006 (up 96.0 percent from 2001)
  • 22,749 in 2001.

The number of people who could speak Northern Chinese (including Mandarin) almost doubled between 2001 and 2013. Northern Chinese was spoken by:

  • 52,263 people in 2013 (up 26.3 percent from 2006)
  • 41,391 people in 2006 (up 56.1 percent from 2001)
  • 26,514 people in 2001.

Fewer people able to use New Zealand Sign Language than at previous censuses

In 2013, 20,235 people reported the ability to use New Zealand Sign Language, one of New Zealand's three official languages, along with English and te reo Māori. This was 16.0 percent fewer than in 2006. Similarly, fewer people reported being able to use New Zealand Sign Language in 2006 than in 2001.

Graph, People who can use New Zealand Sign Language, 2001, 2006, and 2013 Censuses.

In 2013, a total of 5,676 people reported they could communicate in all three of New Zealand's official languages – English, te reo Māori, and New Zealand Sign Language. This was a decrease of 6.3 percent (381 people), compared with 2006.

Number and proportion of multilingual people continues to increase

Over the three most recent censuses, the number and proportion of multilingual people (people who spoke more than one language) increased. More than one language was spoken by:

  • 737,910 people (18.6 percent) in 2013
  • 671,658 people (17.5 percent) in 2006
  • 562,113 people (15.8 percent) in 2001.

A higher proportion of females were multilingual in 2013, with 19.3 percent of females (393,702 people) speaking more than one language, compared with 17.8 percent of males (344,208 people).

People born overseas were more likely to be multilingual than people born in New Zealand. Of people who reported speaking more than one language:

  • 60.4 percent were born overseas
  • 39.6 percent were born in New Zealand.

Of ethnic groups with more than 1,000 people, people of Taiwanese ethnicity were most likely to be multilingual (83.2 percent or 4,677 Taiwanese people reported they spoke more than one language).

The highest numbers of multilingual speakers lived in the Auckland, Wellington, and Canterbury regions:

  • Auckland region – 377,550 people (51.2 percent of all multilingual speakers)
  • Wellington region – 87,438 people (11.8 percent)
  • Canterbury region – 59,718 people (8.1 percent).
Most common languages spoken(1) by multilingual people
For Auckland, Wellington, and Canterbury regions, and New Zealand
2013 Census
Rank Auckland region Wellington region Canterbury region New Zealand
Language spoken Number Language spoken Number Language spoken Number Language spoken Number
1 English 372,615 English  86,757 English 59,310 English  730,743
2 Samoan 51,336 Māori 15,000 Māori 8,277 Māori 139,959
3 Hindi 47,157 Samoan 13,380 French 6,117 Samoan 76,953
4 Northern Chinese(2) 32,649 French 8,886 German 4,731 Hindi 63,342
5 Māori 29,253 German 5,928 Samoan 4,059 French 48,777
6 Yue(3) 25,044 Hindi 5,067 Northern Chinese 3,714 Northern Chinese 44,967
7 Tongan 23,088 Yue 4,137 Dutch 3,477 Yue 36,516
1. Includes all 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 were counted in each applicable group.
2. Includes Mandarin.
3. Includes Cantonese.
Source: Statistics New Zealand

Almost all multilingual people (99.0 percent) spoke English, and almost 1 in 5 (19.0 percent or 139,959 people) spoke te reo Māori.

More than 87,000 people do not speak English

In 2013, of those people who stated they were able to have a conversation about everyday things in at least one language, 87,534 people did not include English as one of their languages. Although this number increased since 2006 (up from 81,939 people), the proportion of people who did not speak English remained the same, at 2.2 percent of all people who stated at least one language.

The most common languages spoken by non-English speakers were:

  • Sinitic not further defined (including Chinese) (13.7 percent of all non-English speakers or 11,961 people)
  • Yue (including Cantonese) (12.1 percent or 10.551 people)
  • Northern Chinese (including Mandarin) (11.7 percent or 10,218 people)
  • Samoan (11.2 percent or 9,825 people)
  • te reo Māori (10.2 percent or 8,916 people).

Most of the people who did not include English as one of their languages were born overseas, and a large proportion (86.1 percent) were adults (aged 15 years or over).

Most non-English speakers (63.8 percent or 55,320 people) identified with at least one Asian ethnicity. However, in contrast to this, over a quarter (26.6 percent) of people who identified with at least one Asian ethnicity reported they spoke English only.

Of people who did not include English as one of their languages:

  • 65.3 percent lived in the Auckland region
  • 8.3 percent lived in the Wellington region
  • 6.5 percent lived in the Canterbury region
  • 5.7 percent lived in the Waikato region.
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