Taking te reo Māori back to basics video


How to use the building blocks of te reo Māori to say place names correctly.

AH EH EE OR OO. To get Māori place names correct, you have to start with the vowels.

Those five sounds are the building blocks for any attempt to pronounce the names of many of our most beautiful places, says te reo tutor Craig Shepard.​

It sounds simple. And yet so many of us can't seem to manage it. 

The challenge is to stop seeing Māori words through an English lens, and instead recognise the Māori vowel sounds for what they are, says Shepard, who teaches at Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology. 

So let's break it down. The Māori pronunciation of the vowels A-E-I-O-U are ah-eh-ee-or-oo.

Or in other words - the words of New Zealand's Māori Language Commission -  A like the 'u' in cup, E like the 'e' in egg, I like the 'e' in eat, O like the 'o' in for and U like the 'o' in to. 

Craig Shepard is a Māori language tutor at the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology.

Craig Shepard is a Māori language tutor at the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology.

When it comes to dipthongs - where there are two vowels joined together in a place like Marahau - the same principle applies, Shepard says.

"Work on that same principle with ah-oo... just speed them up to join them together."

A macron over the vowels: Ā-Ē-Ī-Ō-Ū - lengthens them. So that gives you Ā like the 'a' in car, Ē like the 'ea' in measure, Ī like the 'ee' in heel, Ō like the 'ou' in your, and Ū like the 'oo' in roof. 

Tackling vowels? Here's how to say them.

Tackling vowels? Here's how to say them.

Most consonants are similar to English, except that WH is said like the 'f' in father, NG like the 'ng' in singer, and 'r' with a roll which can sound more like a 'd' or 'l' sound in English.

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Put them all together, and you can make a strong stab at saying the place name you see on the road sign in the way it's meant to be said. 

Many non-speakers choose to pronounce Māori place names incorrectly because that's how they have always heard them, according to Shepard.

How to pronounce words with macrons.

How to pronounce words with macrons.

He gave the example of Marahau, in the Tasman district.

"It's often said 'ma-ra-how', which it doesn't even sound nice when the word is 'muh-ruh-hoe.'"

Nearby Motueka, meanwhile, is often said as "mot" or "mot-ew-ay-ka", but it was meant to be said, "maw-too-eh-kah".

Many consonants are the same as in English - but here are the ones which differ.

Many consonants are the same as in English - but here are the ones which differ.

"The key is to understand the name for a name," says Shepard. 

"If someone is called David, and I choose to start calling him 'Dah-vid', he's not going be happy about that."

What do the components of the names mean?

Why I learned te reo Māori

Share your stories, photos and videos.

Au current

Awa river

Iti small, little


How to say some of New Zealand's most commonly mispronounced place names

Kai  food

Mānia plain

Manga stream

Maunga mountain

Moana sea

Motu island

Nui large, big

One sand, earth

Pae ridge, range

Papa flat

Poto short

Puke hill

Roa long

Roto lake; inside

Tai coast, tide

Wai water

Whanga harbour, bay

For more information on Māori place names visit NZ History.

As part of Te Wiki o te reo Māori, Māori Language Week, we're taking a look at why so many of us mispronounce Kiwi place names.

 - Stuff

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