Te Reo Māori - The Māori Language

The Māori language (officiated, 1987), and New Zealand Sign Language (officiated 2006), have been given special status under law as official languages of Aotearoa New Zealand. English is the most widely spoken language. Some kaumātua and whānau prefer to speak te reo Māori. Kaumātua are comforted when they hear their language being spoken around them. Health professionals can show their sincerity by connecting with kaumātua and whānau through te reo Māori. This will demonstrate an openness to Māori culture and people. Being aroha (caring and compassionate), pono (genuine, true, and sincere) and tika (true, upright, and fair) can indicate to kaumātua and whānau that health professionals’ values and behaviours align with their own. This inspires trust. Learning the language provides an opportunity to learn more about Māori culture, customs, and people.

At a minimum, Māori feel more comfortable when their language is pronounced correctly. The intonation [sound] of the Māori vowels are pronounced differently than the vowels in the English language. Trying to pronounce words correctly is appreciated, as it can feel hurtful and disrespectful when Māori names and words are mispronounced. For example, Māori people often carry their tīpuna (ancestors’) names and the mana (status, prestige) of those tīpuna are contained inside their name, so it is best to be considerate and careful.

Be aware, that due to colonisation and New Zealand’s early assimilationist practices many Māori kaumātua do not have a high level of Māori language skill; some do not have any. Kaumātua can feel whakamā (embarrassed) about this even though it is no fault of their own. Many kaumātua remember being strapped or punished at school for speaking their own language.

GP K. spoke about the importance of health professionals having some experience and skill in using te reo Māori.

I think that’s really important for people to have understanding of te reo and a basic understanding of tikanga you know, if you are trying to achieve a holistic approach for Māori whānau.


For health and palliative care professionals, we recommend:

  • Learn te reo Māori and use it in your practice. At a minimum level we would recommend that you:
    • Learn to speak basic te reo Māori (Māori language) phrases or words and learn to feel comfortable pronouncing te reo Māori words.
    • Use basic greetings to meet kaumātua and whānau for the first time such as, ‘tēnā koe’ [hello to one person], ‘tēnā kōrua’ [hello to two people] and ‘tēnā koutou katoa’ [hello to more than two people]. At subsequent meetings a less, formal greeting can be used such as ‘kia ora.’ To say goodbye use ‘haere rā’ or ‘ka kite anō au i a koe’ [I’ll see you again].
    • Learn to use the correct names in te reo Māori for parts of the body when working with kaumātua and whānau.
    • Learn how to share whakapapa (genealogical connections) as this is an important step in building rapport with Māori whānau. Being comfortable introducing yourself in this way can help with conducting hui and is needed for community networking as well.
    • Find and explore Māori language websites and other local te reo Māori educational opportunities.
  • If you are fluent in the reo be sensitive about the use of te reo Māori when working with kaumātua and whānau who may have lost their language.

For health and palliative care services we recommend:

  • Staff are supported to learn te reo Māori and tikanga Māori and to use it in their practice. Learning karakia, waiata would be beneficial not only for personal interest but to increase the understanding of staff about Māori cultural practices.
  • Using Māori words and symbols on signage, branding and images, on websites and visual and written documentation can help to make kaumātua and whānau feel included as valued consumers.
  • Prioritise employing health and social care professionals who have proficiency in te reo Māori.

Te Reo Māori Resources

Health Resources in Te Reo Māori

You will find links to health information written in te reo Māori. There are other resources and pamphlets in te reo throughout the website, but this page highlights some of the most popular topics.


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