Improving Google Navigate's Pronounciation of Māori Words

Google Navigate is pronouncing Māori words poorly, which is a shame because it’s a phonetic language with few exceptions.

I’d like to contribute some notes for recognising and joining sounds from an English voice syllable bank, to try to make as few errors as possible.


A Māori word will match the following regular expression (Unicode quirks notwithstanding):


The presence of any letters not on this list means it’s not a Māori word.

There are some words (notably, Otago) which match this pattern but are not Māori words, but they are rare (rah-reh).


What I’m assuming here is that producing a sound bank specifically for Māori, which would be the best solution, is not feasible. But it also can be applied to people who just want to know the closest way to say a Māori word, without sounding awkward. For a more authoritative source, with sound bytes, see Whakahuatanga o te reo Māori from the University of Otago)

  • simple consonants [hkmnprtw] above: pronounce as in English. Yes, there are exceptions surrounding slight differences for “r” and “t” but they are less important, finessé really.

  • simple vowels: [aeiou] above. while the actual vowel sounds as spoken by a native Māori speaker and measured on the charts linguists use to map vowels will differ from this, it’s perfectly acceptable to use:

a rhymes with car or far
eeither a schwa (as in bed) or as in first part of air
irhymes with tree
orhymes with paw
urhymes with shoe
* macron vowels: this indicates stress, so emphasise or make the sound slighly longer. Don’t try to make a dipthong with the next vowel. If no macron appears on the word then you need to stress the first syllable or probably use no stress if it’s a dipthong.

Eg, “Māori” can be seen as Mā-o-ri (maaa-ore-ree) or Ma-ao-ri (Mar-ow-ree) which are pretty similar.

Other guides list them as “long” vowels vs. “short” vowels with corresponding English words, though I don’t know how useful this is.

  • dipthongs: these can always be constructed by taking the two vowel sounds (as above, but ideally as natively spoken), saying them next to each other, and then repeating it and trying to merge the two sounds into one smooth transition. As I’m using the term, it’s this smooth transition that distinguishes a dipthong from two vowel sounds simply spoken together.

Unfortunately not all the combinations seem be used in English, or I can’t think of a suitably rhyming sound, but these are a good start:

 ae: same as ai
ai: rhymes with try
ao: rhymes with how
au: rhymes with toe (almost)
ea: sounds like air
ei: rhymes with way
eo: (punt)
eu: rhymes with clue
ia: sounds like "ya"
ie: sounds like yeah
io: sounds like yore
iu: sounds like you
oa: rhymes with drawer (not really a dipthong)
oe: (punt)
oi: rhymes with toy
ou: rhymes with toe (li
ua: sounds like "wah"
ue: sounds like where
ui: sounds like "whee"
uo: sounds like war 

The ones I’ve marked (punt) are either hard to dipthong or I couldn’t think of a suitably distinct English word to rhyme it with. They can be pronounced as two syllables, as the difference between a dipthong and two consecutive vowel sounds is only slight anyway.

As for the dipthongs starting with “u” and “i”, I’ve used “sounds like” because “y” and “w” are not real consonants anyway. You won’t find a dipthong following “wu” and there is no “y” in Māori.

  • Odd consonants:

  • “wh” can correctly be pronounced as “f” consistently, though some regions will pronounce it as “w”. There’s a historical argument there.

  • “ng” is a nasalised “n”, which only really happens mid-word in English but if you don’t have sound bank files for that then it’s perfectly reasonable to just say “n”. In particular NEVER end a syllable with “ng”. “orongomai” does not rhyme with “o, wrong am I”, it rhymes with “aw, raw know my”.

The above 5 rules will let you get pronounciation closer to correct than any attempt to read the words based on English pronounciation rules. They are not perfect, and to some degree include something of an imperial stamp to them. Also I’ve found people who consider themselves to “know” how a place name is pronounced because they live around it and some mangled-up English mockery of a pronounciation is what everyone in the area has adopted. These tend to not be regular, and certainly not worth trying to emulate.

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