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Kiwi Slang: How to Learn the Local Lingo

• Language and Culture
Post by Sam Bam

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Do you really need another list of Kiwi slang words?
There are a lot of blogs and articles out there that attempt to teach you how to speak like a Kiwi by listing and explaining all the New Zealand slang words they can think of. I had a quick little tour of the internet to see if I could find anything that might be useful and quite honestly, I could have spent the whole day doing this. These lists vary from short n’ sweet to long and exhaustive so I got bored quite quickly trying to read some of these articles. I did find that the best ones were those that were funny and tended to be either in video format or as a quiz to test my knowledge. Try this quiz to test your knowledge. And if you aced that one you can try this much more difficult quiz to really test your knowledge. Beyond that, I really couldn’t be bothered to read the rest. Then I decided that the best advice I could give on this blog about Kiwi slang was about how to learn it rather than throwing an endless list of phrases at you that you are not going remember anyway.

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A Different Kind of English
Anyone who has moved to a new country is probably familiar with the language-barrier issue. There are those who come from non-English speaking countries believed that the English they have learned at school or university will have prepared them well for their adventures in New Zealand, only to find that they struggle to follow conversations in English. Even those of us who move from English-speaking countries can struggle because it’s essentially a different kid of English. This comes down the local slang, accents, colloquialisms, and idioms. So sometimes learning English academically isn’t going to be enough, you’ll need to learn to understand how the locals actually speak in everyday conversation.

So, what is the best way to familiarise yourself with the local slang?
The answer is quite simple really: listen, ask, speak, and repeat. As simple as the answer may be putting it into practice may be more difficult for some than for others. Those who come from places like England won’t struggle too much because we share a lot of the language in common already but for those who speak English as a second language, this can feel a little daunting. One thing I can say is that you will learn.

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On my travels I have met a lot of people who speak English as a second language and some of whom moved to an English-speaking country with no English language experience at all. Every one of them managed to learn through necessity and committed effort. It may not have been perfect English, but it was impressive. This led me to the conclusion that everyone has the capacity to learn a new language, it’s simply a matter of finding the best way to learn for you.

Some people find it easier to learn academically and so for those people, a list of Kiwi slang words might be very helpful. I came across a blog called The Wandering Linguist that I think could make an excellent resource for those who would like a fairly comprehensive list of Kiwi slang words.  The nice thing is that it comes with a list of contents that have links to each section.

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The Fun Way to Learn
Then there are those people who learn better by doing. To those people I would say: forget the lists. You’re not going to remember all those new words anyway. What I would suggest for you is a more interactive approach. For example, you could watch lots of videos or local TV shows. I found a video called “how to understand New Zealand slang” on You Tube by a funny fulla named Jordan Watson (AKA How to DAD) – more commonly known as the guy whose comedic parenting videos went viral. It’s more amusing than educational but it could certainly give you a good feel for Kiwi slang and language.

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You could also look for videos by other New Zealand comedians. These can be a great resource because you can play them repeatedly which will help you become more familiar with things like pronunciation, accents, the speed with which people speak, idioms and colloquialisms. The repetition will help you to recognise the spoken words in conversation which will help with communication a lot more than just knowing what the words look like in black and white. Then each time you watch the videos you’ll understand a bit more, and each time you understand a bit more, you’ll find it a bit funnier. The other reason I love this approach to learning language is that because it’s entertaining you are more likely to keep doing it. If you find something boring or too difficult, it’s much harder to stay committed but if it’s fun and enjoyable, it’ll be much easier. So, when you have some down time, find videos by Kiwi content creators that you think are funny or interesting and save them to a playlist. That way you can have fun while you learn which is sweet as.

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The Interactive Way to Learn
Another good way to learn the language is to interact as much as possible with the locals. It is natural to want to stick with the familiarity of people from the same country as you who speak the same language, but this won’t help you to settle into your new life in New Zealand. Obviously having friends like this is massively beneficial for your emotional and mental well-being but do try to socialize with Kiwis as well because this will help you to integrate a lot quicker. It will also help you to move on from the life you have left behind and settle into your new life. The way this helps you to learn Kiwi slang – and even English – is through necessity. Your brain will adjust and take in the new information because you need to in order to communicate. We are a social species so communicating is crucial for our survival and well-being. The more you get stuck in with that, the more you will learn and adjust.

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And one final note: Do NOT be embarrassed or shy about your accent, your vocabulary, or your lack of understanding of the language. If you have moved to New Zealand and are having to learn a whole new language on top of starting a new life, you are very brave. Own that. And ask lots of questions. People enjoy explaining how things work to newcomers so you will find most people will be more than happy to help you with your Kiwi slang. And if English is your second language, then here’s some food for thought: Melvyn Bragg, an English broadcaster, parliamentarian and author, suggests that speakers of English as a second language are contributing a lot to the growth and evolution of the language. So, from all the English-speakers out there, thank you for your contributions 😊

If you have any tips or suggestions that could help others learn Kiwi slang or help them to learn English, please do tell us in the comments below.


How to understand New Zealand Slang by How to DAD: www.youtube.com/watch?v=yRxFm70nOrY

The I Heart NZ Quiz: ilovenz.me/nz-slang-quiz

The much more difficult Sporcle Quiz: www.sporcle.com/games/Tanya_spence15/kiwi-slang

The Wandering Lust: thewanderinglinguist.com/kiwi-slang

Bragg, M. (2003). The Adventure of English: The Biography of a Language. Hodder and Stoughton, UK.