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Official languages

New Zealand has three official languages: English, Māori (from 1987) and New Zealand Sign Language (from April 2006). The 2006 Census recorded that 96 percent of people could speak English, 4 percent of people could speak Māori, and 0.6 percent could converse in New Zealand Sign Language.12

In 2006, eight out of 10 people (79 percent) spoke English as their only language while a further 17 percent spoke English along with at least one other language. Of the 4 percent of New Zealanders who could not speak English, almost half (49 percent) were children under the age of five, most of whom would still be learning to speak. There were also relatively high proportions of non-English speakers in some ethnic groups: 16 percent of people belonging to the Asian ethnic group could not speak English, along with 14 percent of people of Middle-Eastern, Latin American or African ethnicity and 10 percent of Pacific peoples.

The number of people able to converse in New Zealand Sign Language was 24,090 in 2006, a decline from 27,285 in 2001. This fall of 12 percent followed an increase of 3 percent between the 1996 and 2001 censuses. In 2006, 9 percent or 2,223 of those people who were able to converse in New Zealand Sign Language indicated it was their only language. A further 89 percent were also able to converse in English, 26 percent in Māori and 25 percent in other languages (either alone or in combination).