New Zealand children are active users of te reo Māori

Data from Growing Up in New Zealand study indicate that parents and young children are enthusiastic about including te reo Māori in developing language skills.

There has been concern for the poor state of te reo Māori and the critical need to support strategies to revitalise Māori language. Previous findings from New Zealand’s contemporary longitudinal study Growing Up in New Zealand highlighted a growing enthusiasm among parents and their young children for te reo Māori.

New information collected from more than 6,100 children participating in Growing Up in New Zealand reveals that while fluency in te reo Māori remains low, use of te reo Māori is common among New Zealand preschool children. When they were four years old, 28% of children sometimes or often greeted or farewelled people in te reo Māori. A larger proportion of children (43%) sometimes or often spoke simple words in te reo Māori, and 38% sometimes or often recognised or responded to simple or spoken words in te reo Māori.

Dr Te Kani Kingi, Māori Expert Advisor for the Growing Up in New Zealand study, sees these results as particularly encouraging given that the data reflects te reo use by all children, Māori and non-Māori, participating in Growing Up in New Zealand and includes children from households where te reo Māori is not usually spoken.

Among children for whom te reo Māori was one of their spoken languages (around 10% of the participants), more than half (52%) sometimes or often spoke simple sentences or phrases in te reo Māori. In addition, almost three quarters (71%) of these children sometimes or often recognised and responded to spoken sentences or phrases in te reo Māori.

“While these new findings do not suggest that te reo Māori is safe or secure, it does highlight the fact that significant numbers of Māori and non-Māori preschool children use te reo Māori, understand te reo Māori, and recognise or respond to te reo Māori,” said Dr Kingi. “The implications are that te reo Māori is used more frequently than previously documented and that it is part of New Zealand’s unique lexicon - a positive marker of our national identity.”

Growing Up in New Zealand will continue to collect detailed information on language development within this unique and treasured cohort of children as they get older.