Accessibility Skip to Global Navigation Skip to Local Navigation Skip to Content Skip to Search Skip to Site Map Menu

Concerns about language skills of young New Zealanders

Tuesday 12 September 2017 11:48am

twins and book

A new study published in the Journal of Child Language has taken a selfie of the language skills of more than 6000 New Zealand two-year-olds and found some concerning gaps.

The work, which is part of the Growing Up in New Zealand longitudinal study, focuses on the children’s New Zealand English and te reo Māori speaking skill on two new screening instruments.

Professor Elaine Reese of the University’s Department of Psychology, the lead author of the article, says some of the findings are worrying.

“Language skill is the bedrock of children’s reading and writing once they enter primary school, so these gaps are very concerning.”

At age two, 87 per cent of the children are combining words into simple sentences in at least one language, which is an important marker of their language development.

Yet there are large gaps between girls and boys, and between rich and poor children, according to the study.

New Zealand girls’ vocabularies are eight per cent larger than boys’, and children growing up in poorer neighbourhoods in New Zealand use 12 per cent fewer words than children growing up in more affluent neighbourhoods.

The tools are publicly available.

Nearly all (96 per cent) of the children in the sample are growing up speaking New Zealand English, and 10 per cent are speaking both New Zealand English and Māori.

For more information, please contact:

Professor Elaine Reese
Department of Psychology, University of Otago
Tel: +64 3 479 8441

About Growing Up in New Zealand

The Growing Up in New Zealand study is designed to provide unique information about what shapes children’s early development in the context of 21st century New Zealand.

It is designed to provide information that will show how interventions might be targeted at the earliest opportunity to give every New Zealand child the best start in life.

The study provides multidisciplinary, scientifically robust, population-relevant evidence focused on identifying what works to improve the lives of New Zealand children, their families and whānau.
The cohort comprises nearly 7,000 children, born in 2009 and 2010, and their families. The children were recruited from before birth via their pregnant mothers. The study includes partners of the children’s mothers, the majority of whom are the children’s biological fathers.

It’s the largest, most culturally and socio-economically diverse study of children growing up in New Zealand today. The cohort is broadly representative of all primary-school age children in New Zealand.

Social policy and programme developers use anonymised Growing Up in New Zealand study findings to decide what works best to improve social and developmental outcomes for all New Zealand children and families.

A list of Otago experts available for media comment is available elsewhere on this website.

Electronic addresses (including email accounts, instant messaging services, or telephone accounts) published on this page are for the sole purpose of contact with the individuals concerned, in their capacity as officers, employees or students of the University of Otago, or their respective organisation. Publication of any such electronic address is not to be taken as consent to receive unsolicited commercial electronic messages by the address holder.