QuickStats About Culture and Identity

  • After English (spoken by 95.9 percent of people), the most common language in which people could have a conversation about everyday things was Māori, spoken by 4.1 percent (157,110 people).
  • A total of 24,090 people reported the ability to use New Zealand Sign Language, New Zealand's third official language after English and Māori.
  • A total of 6,057 people can communicate in all three of New Zealand's official languages – English, Māori and New Zealand Sign Language.
  • In 2006, 2.2 percent of those people who stated they were able to have a conversation about everyday things in at least one language did not speak English. This was a similar proportion to 2001, when 1.8 percent of people were unable to have a conversation about everyday things in English. In 2006, the majority of people unable to speak English were born overseas (80.3 percent) – a similar proportion to 2001.
  • New Zealand's changing ethnic composition and the impact of migration within the five years between 2001 and 2006 was reflected in the increasing diversity of languages spoken. Between 2001 and 2006, the numbers of people in New Zealand able to have a conversation about everyday things in Hindi almost doubled, from 22,749 to 44,589. The number of people able to speak Northern Chinese (Mandarin) increased from 26,514 to 41,391, the number of people able to speak Korean increased from 15,873 to 26,967, and the number of people able to speak Afrikaans increased from 12,783 to 21,123.

Number of languages spoken

  • The number of multilingual (people who can speak two or more languages) has continued to increase. Between the 2001 and 2006 Censuses, the number of multilingual people increased by 19.5 percent, to reach 671,658 people. In the ten years between 1996 and 2006, this number increased by 43.3 percent, from 468,711 people in 1996 to reach 671,658 people in 2006.
Percentage Speaking No, One, or Two or More Languages
1996–2006 Censuses
Number of languages spoken   1996 Census   2001 Census   2006 Census  
None   2.6   2.1   2.0
One language   83.8   82.1   80.5  
Two or more languages 13.6   15.8   17.5  
  • The Auckland Region, which in 2006 had the highest proportion of usual residents born overseas and the greatest diversity of ethnic groups, also reported the highest proportion of people able to speak two or more languages of all the regions (27.1 percent, or 331,914 people).
  • Overseas-born usual residents were more likely than New Zealand-born usual residents to be able to speak two or more languages. Over one-third (35.0 percent) of overseas-born children (aged 0 to 14 years) were able to speak two or more languages, compared with 11.5 percent of New Zealand-born children. This was also the case for people in the working-age population (15 to 64 years), where almost half of overseas-born people (48.5 percent) were multilingual, compared with 10.0 percent of New Zealand-born people.