A few years ago, I went to New Zealand for my studies. My mother being British, I could already speak English quite well, but I only knew British English, and had only heard the Kiwi accent on rare occasions… I discovered once I was there that it wasn’t just the accent that was different in New Zealand, but also some parts of the language and the intonation, which is quite confusing when you’re not expecting it!!
When I arrived in New Zealand, I had to get used to the fact Kiwis seem to ask questions all the time and say “eh” at the end of their sentences. So when people answer “good, eh?” to the question “how was your weekend?”, they don’t actually expect you to know if they had a good weekend or not, they are just telling you it was a good weekend… I used to think “eh” meant something like “wasn’t it” or something… Mind you, “eh” sometimes does mean “isn’t it”… you (just) need to understand it from the context (easy to say, I know)…
The second expression I had to get used to was “sweet as”. Kiwis seem to say it all the time! It can mean “good”, but it may also mean “yes”, “right”, “excellent”… So a Kiwi could also answer “sweet as” to “how was your weekend?” (gosh, so many possible answers, and you’re just asking to be polite!). Someone might also answer “sweet as” to “do you want to go to Emma’s party”… and the list goes on…
As for the actual accent, one of my Kiwi friends was surprised when I gave him a pin and he had actually asked me for a pen… both words are pronounced exactly the same… And I thought someone they were talking about had a lot of holes (pits) in her garden, but they were actually talking about pets, which makes much more sense! (pits and pets are also pronounced the same). The other words I found difficult to grasp (despite the context) were: six and sex, beer and bear, here and hair… and many others 🙂
There are also words that mean different things in British and New Zealand English. For instance, “ice block”, which is a block of ice in British English, means an ice lolly (ice cream) in New Zealand English. Or “chips”, meaning “fries” in British English and crisps in Kiwi English… Yes it can get rather confusing!!
And then there are words specific to New Zealand, for instance for plants or cultural facts that do not exist in the rest of the world. A lot of these words come from the Maori language. I was quite bemused, for example, when someone mentioned a Pohutukawa (I still find the word interesting). It is actually a type of tree quite common in New Zealand, also called the New Zealand Christmas tree as it has red flowers around Christmas time.
But despite all that, I totally fell in love with the New Zealand way of speaking and really miss it now I am back in Europe. I actually got so used to it that when I got back home (in France), people asked me why I sounded like I was asking questions all the time – I had become so used to the intonation that I just did it in French too!