How I'm Learning To Speak Maori [Beginner's Guide]

avatarSarah K.
11 mins read
best books to learn Maori

I am not a native speaker of Maori, in fact at this point I wouldn’t call myself a speaker of it by any stretch of the word.

But I am a kiwi, and I have realised that as a kiwi the Maori language should be important to me. As a language learner, I'm putting my efforts into Maori next.

Why learn Maori?

If you’re wondering what the point of learning Maori is, I understand where you’re coming from.

I used to think the same way. But the more I think about it, the more reasons there are to learn Maori.

For me, they are the following:

Native language of my country

I am a New Zealander, I was born and raised in New Zealand and still live here why I will never leave NZ.

Often times I have felt like I don’t belong to any particular culture, because the native culture of New Zealand is the Maori culture and that is not something I have ever felt like I can relate to at all.

I think I have very little understanding of the tangata whenua (native people) of my own country, but I want to understand and connect with them more.

Through learning the language, I will by extension learn more about the culture and history, and I will have the chance to connect with more people who speak it.

Maori language is growing

Sadly, Maori language has a long history of discrimination and elimination attempts by European settlers and “white” New Zealanders.

The only reason the language is so endangered today is because Maori people were punished for speaking it, for a very long time.

There are people alive today who can recall being beaten for speaking Maori at school, so it is a very recent part of our history.

I’m thankful that that doesn’t happen any more, and in fact every attempt is being made to revive and promote the language.

But if it’s going to be widely spoken again, we all have to come together and make it happen.

I want to learn Maori, and in doing so hopefully inspire my pakeha peers to learn some too.

If we want to even begin to address the racial inequality in this country, we must first acknowledge how oppressed the language and culture have been for so many years, and actively work to reverse that damage.

I feel really positive about the revival efforts happening now – many schools teach some or all of their classes in Maori and this is only going to grow.

In the future, I think everyone will get bilingual education in Maori and English and all kids will grow up with a very solid ability in Maori.

I don’t want to be one of the old grumpy generation who doesn’t speak a word and doesn’t know what’s going on half the time – I want to instead be a part of this change and help promote the Maori language so its widespread usage in New Zealand comes about even faster.

I’ve talked about the disadvantages of having English as a native language – imagine if we could all have Maori as our first language instead, a language that is special to us and unique to Aotearoa New Zealand?

That would be so cool! Let’s make it happen…

I am curious about it and want to learn more

As I said in the last point, Maori is being heavily promoted in recent years.

My favourite band released their song in Maori, the prime minister speaks Maori during her public addresses, other politicians are fluent.

There are entire radio stations, TV channels, websites, publications and schools that only operate in Maori – a whole world I am not a part of because I can’t understand.

I hear it spoken and see it written more and more and I am curious! I want to understand Maori.

I’ve learned other languages so why not Maori?

I realised the irony of being an avid language learner who barely knows the first thing about my own country’s native tongue.

I’ve spent time learning foreign languages, but never the one of my home land and the one that gives me and my country our unique identity.

I also realised that as long as I am living here in New Zealand Maori is probably the most useful and important language I could know.

Employers will value fluency in Maori much higher than Spanish or Portuguese, or even Chinese.

I’m interested in the grammar

I think the grammar of the Maori language is fascinating.

We focussed on Maori breifly for a topic for my syntax class at university, and the gist is that Maori is different grammatically from any other known language – it has its own curiosities and poses problems for current linguistic theories.

I am a grammar nerd so I think this will make it really interesting for me!

I really want to understand how Maori grammar works!

It’s not an impossible challenge

Because Maori language is now being promoted so much in New Zealand, I don’t think it will be hard to learn at all due to the abundant resources now available, and the amount of native exposure to it that I get.

There are also a lot of words which are transliterations from English, because most of the items that were introduced to the Maori after English settlers arrived were translated into Maori by using similar or equivalent sounds in the Maori phonology.

Therefore there are a lot of words which are very similar to English and so easier to remember.

My Current Level of Maori

My knowledge of Maori is probably about that of the average New Zealander at the moment: that is, extremely limited.

I know a few words here and there, like the ones that are used frequently in New Zealand speech (some of which are mentioned in my post about kiwi slang.

We were taught some very basic vocabulary at school, like colours and numbers.

I don’t know much about the grammar at all and this is something I am excited to learn more about!

My plan to learn maori


I want to get to a level of Te Reo Maori where I am able to understand normal paced speech and hold a conversation with native speakers.

I want to be able to show people that it’s not hard to learn Maori to a decent level.


Teach myself.

There is a high demand for Maori language lessons in New Zealand at the moment and the priority is generally given to those of Maori heritage.

I have learned a language on my own before and I like the challenge, so happy to do it with Maori too.

I’ve put more about exactly what I’ll be doing on a daily basis down below.

Maori language Resources

I’ve done a bit of a scour of the internet in recent weeks and here I am dumping all the resources I have found that could be useful in Te Reo Maori.

No doubt I won’t end up using all of them but I will try out a lot of them, see what is useful to me, and then report back in future blog posts.

I encourage you to try some out too, and let us know what you think of them in the comments section.

Maori Language Textbooks

See my post on the best books to learn Maori.

There are a lot of websites now focused on teaching Maori, some developed by the New Zealand government, others by Maori groups, and others by scholars in Maori language.

Apps to learn Maori language

  • Kupu: This is an app that uses VR to help you learn Maori words. All you do is take a picture of an item in the app, and the app will tell you the name for the object in Maori. An awesome way to quickly acquire new Maori words!

  • Language Drops: I have been using this for the last 4 days and really enjoying it so far. It is really just for vocabulary, and it gives lots of different little challenges to make sure you are remembering new words, introduced by topic. On the free version you can only play for 5 minutes every 10 hours though, which is kind of a buzzkill!

  • Lingogo: A while ago I wrote a post about using Lingogo for reading in Spanish. Since then, Lingogo have done a pivot and are now focussing on indigenous pacific languages (so far they’ve got Maori, Tongan and Samoan). So this app is now a great place to go to improve your Maori reading skills. Basically, you can read text from books on the app and clicking on it will instantly give you the translation and let you hear the sentence read aloud in Maori. I think I will start to use it when I get a bit more advanced in the Maori language.

  • Clozemaster: Clozemaster is a great app mainly for fill-in-the-blanks type exercises for sentences. This is great as it helps you pick up sentence structures in a natural way. Clozemaster don’t have a Maori language course yet, but I work for them as a contractornand have specially requested it so it may be coming soon! As a side not, if you are a fluent Maori speaker, Clozemaster is looking for translators to expand its collections, so if you contact me I can hook you up with a job. 🙂

Podcasts to learn Maori language

  • Speak Maori Podcasts – Pāhorangi: I’ve listened to the first of these and they seem pretty good, with a main focus on grammar which I like. They have a begginers set and an advanced set of podcasts – I’m not sure if the last of the beginners flows into the first of the advanced but that would be pretty cool. I also like that you don’t have to download them or anything, can just play them right on your website browser.
  • Starting in Te Reo Maori podcast on Spotify: There are a few episodes that look good on here around pronunciation, vocabulary and basic grammar points.
  • Everyday Maori on Spotify: This is an actively updating podcast so it looks like there is more to come! This podcast starts off with the basics, and then looks like it gets into more advanced grammar as it goes on.
  • Te Whanake podcasts: these podcasts are free but they are mainly following along and practising exercises from the Te Whanake textbook (linked above).

Videos and shows to learn Maori language

  • Te Whanake TV – shows that follow themes from the Te Whanake textbook - Toku Reo – show designed to teach Maori to beginners. There are hundreds of episodes of these so would be a great way to keep up your learning if you are a visual learner. - Tākaro Tribe: kid’s show in Te Reo Maori which has every episode posted on YouTube.

Music to learn Maori language

  • Waiata Anthems: an album that was released last year on Maori Language Week with translations of popular recent songs by New Zealand artists translated into Maori (and sung by the artists themselves). This is a really fun way to enjoy Maori and New Zealand music. - Waiata Reo Maori: a playlist that has just been released by Spotify which includes some of the Waiata Anthems as well as some original Maori language songs by Maori artists.

If you have or know of a great Maori language resource that is not included on this list, contact me or write it in the comments!

First 3 months

  • Study Let’s Learn Maori grammar book for 10-15 minutes - Play 10 minutes of Language Drops - Listen to 1 episode of Speak Maori podcast

Beyond first 3 months

  • Study advanced grammar book for 10-15 minutes - Read for 10 minutes on Lingogo - Watch 1 episode of Tākaro Tribe in Maori on Youtube, or 20 minutes of other video content - Listen to 1 advanced podcast on Spotify

I will also find local Maori meetup group to practice with, hopefully around 1x per week.

I’m confident that after a few months of this I will be confident enough to speak Maori and have a substantial understanding when I hear it.