Te reo Māori proficiency and support continues to grow

New Zealanders are getting better at speaking te reo Māori and are more supportive of its use in day-to-day life, Stats NZ Tatauranga Aotearoa said today.

New data from the 2021 General Social Survey (GSS), collected between April and August 2021, showed that the ability of New Zealanders (aged 15 and over) to speak te reo Māori in day-to-day conversation has improved.

Since 2018, the proportion of people able to speak more than a few words or phrases of te reo Māori rose from 24 percent to 30 percent. This follows a previous, smaller, rise between 2016 and 2018.

The proportion of people able to speak te reo Māori at least fairly well also increased, from 6.1 percent in 2018 to 7.9 percent in 2021 – this is the first time a significant increase in this level of te reo Māori proficiency has been observed from GSS data.

“The new data shows a welcome improvement in New Zealanders’ ability to speak te reo Māori,” work and wellbeing senior manager Becky Collett said.

Ability to speak te reo Māori2016
No more than a few words or phrases78.8
Not very well15.0
At least fairly well6.2
77.779.9
14.016.0
5.56.9
Ability to speak te reo Māori2018
No more than a few words or phrases76.4
Not very well17.5
At least fairly well6.1
75.177.7
16.318.7
5.56.7
Ability to speak te reo Māori2021
No more than a few words or phrases70.0
Not very well22.1
At least fairly well7.9
67.772.3
20.024.2
6.89.1

Almost a quarter of Māori speak te reo Māori as a first language

In the latest data, almost a quarter (23 percent) of Māori said they spoke te reo Māori as one of their first languages, up from 17 percent in 2018. Māori were also significantly more likely than other ethnicities to speak te reo Māori well, with 34 percent able to speak te reo Māori at least fairly well, compared with 7.9 percent for the total population.

There was a significant decrease in the proportion of Māori who said they were not able to speak te reo Māori (spoke no more than a few words or phrases), falling from 36 percent in 2016 to 29 percent in 2021.

Within other ethnicities, the proportion of Pacific peoples able to speak more than a few words or phrases of te reo Māori increased from 29 percent in 2018, to 45 percent in 2021. However, it should be noted that people can belong to more than one ethnicity, and 15 percent of Pacific peoples also reported Māori ethnicity in 2021.

3 in 5 New Zealanders think te reo Māori should be a core subject in primary schools

Support for the use of te reo Māori increased since 2018. The 2021 data showed:

  • 62 percent (up from 57 percent) of people agreed or strongly agreed that te reo Māori should be a core subject in primary schools
  • 57 percent (up from 53 percent) agreed or strongly agreed that the government should encourage and support the use of te reo Māori in everyday situations
  • 56 percent (up from 51 percent) agreed or strongly agreed that signage should be in both te reo Māori and English
  • 44 percent (up from 39 percent) agreed or strongly agreed that it would be good if all people living in New Zealand spoke te reo Māori and English.

Similar increases were observed between 2016 and 2018, showing a consistent rise in support for te reo Māori usage.

Agree or strongly agree2016
Te reo Māori should be a core subject in primary schools53.9
Government should encourage and support the use of te reo Māori in everyday situations50.1
Signage should be in both te reo Māori and English45.2
It would be good if all people living in New Zealand spoke te reo Māori and English35.4
52.555.3
48.651.6
43.946.6
34.136.6
Agree or strongly agree2018
Te reo Māori should be a core subject in primary schools56.5
Government should encourage and support the use of te reo Māori in everyday situations53.4
Signage should be in both te reo Māori and English50.5
It would be good if all people living in New Zealand spoke te reo Māori and English39.4
55.058.1
52.054.7
49.151.9
37.841.0
Agree or strongly agree2021
Te reo Māori should be a core subject in primary schools61.9
Government should encourage and support the use of te reo Māori in everyday situations56.7
Signage should be in both te reo Māori and English56
It would be good if all people living in New Zealand spoke te reo Māori and English44.2
59.963.9
54.459.0
53.758.3
41.646.7

Support for the use of te reo Māori was significantly higher among Māori, when compared with the total population. Some 80 percent of Māori said they agree or strongly agree that the government should encourage and support the use of te reo Māori in everyday situations, whilst 85 percent agreed or strongly agreed that te reo Māori should be a core subject in primary schools.

Young people leading the way in te reo Māori progress

For the total population, te reo Māori proficiency tended to decrease with age. People aged 15-24 and 25-34 years were the most likely age groups to be able to speak more than a few words or phrases, at 41 percent and 43 percent, respectively. The largest improvement was seen for 25-34-year-olds – the proportion able to speak more than a few words or phrases increased from 27 percent in 2018. This is significantly greater than the increase seen for the population as a whole.

A large increase (from 6.3 percent to 13 percent) was also seen in the proportion of people in the 25-34-year age group who said they could speak te reo Māori at least fairly well, compared with a smaller increase (from 6.1 percent to 7.9 percent) for the total population.

Age group2016
15-2428.4
25-3425.7
35-4425.4
45-5417.6
55-6417.4
65-7414.2
75+10.2
Total population21.2
25.031.8
22.828.6
22.728.2
15.419.8
14.820.1
11.816.6
7.413.0
20.122.3
Age group2018
15-2433.9
25-3426.6
35-4426.7
45-5421.2
55-6420.1
65-7415.4
75+11.1
Total population23.6
30.137.7
23.729.4
23.829.5
18.523.9
17.223.0
13.017.8
8.613.5
22.324.9
Age group2021
15-2441.3
25-3443.5
35-4430.8
45-5428.7
55-6421.4
65-7418.2
75+9.6
Total population30.0
35.547.2
38.148.8
26.535.1
23.833.5
17.125.7
13.522.9
6.213.1
27.732.3

The younger age groups also tended to be more supportive of the use of te reo Māori than the older age groups. In particular, 15-44-year-olds showed significantly higher levels of support for te reo Māori usage in all contexts than those aged 45 years and over. However, support for te reo Māori use has increased since 2016 for both age groups.

“We can see from the data that younger New Zealanders are championing improvements in te reo Māori proficiency and support,” Ms Collett said.

“This gives important insight into the ongoing revitalisation of te reo Māori in Aotearoa.”

Note: The GSS data collection began on 1 April 2021, a year after the first COVID-19 lockdown, and finished early on 17 August following the first community outbreak of the Delta variant.

/Stats NZ Public Release. This material from the originating organization/author(s) may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s).View in full here.