New device for measuring Samoan and Tongan language skills

Auckland – Researchers from the Growing Up in New Zealand study have developed the first ever Samoan and Tongan language inventories to formally gauge the language skills of New Zealand toddlers speaking Samoan or Tongan as their first language.

While similar language inventories are used to assess children’s skills in a range of languages, this is the first time the vocabulary check list has been adapted for Samoan- and Tongan-speaking children in New Zealand.

Pacific peoples are the fourth largest ethnic group in New Zealand, making up 7.4 percent of the population. Compared to some other Pacific languages, the Samoan and Tongan languages are widely spoken in New Zealand.

“Language skills are vital for children’s thinking and social interactions, as well as for their later reading and school success,” says Professor Elaine Reese, Education Expert Adviser to the Growing Up in New Zealand study.

“That is why we need to support families in every way possible in their efforts to raise their children in a Samoan or Tongan language environment within New Zealand.”

The researchers adapted the short form of the so called MacArthur-Bates Communicative Development Inventories (CDI), a widely used tool to assess language abilities of young children, for the Samoan and Tongan languages. The inventories measure a child’s language competency by asking parents if the child understands and actively uses any of 100 select words, and if the child already combines two words when speaking (eg ‘milk gone’).

Over 500 mothers in the Growing Up in New Zealand study completed the vocabulary checklist for their 2-year-old children in Samoan (344 mothers) or Tongan (242 mothers). Most of their children were monolingual speakers of either Samoan (83 percent) or Tongan (89 percent). Most of these mothers were born outside New Zealand (52 percent of the Samoan-speaking children and 67percent of the Tongan-speaking children).

The average total vocabulary from the 100 target words for two-year-old Samoan speakers was 13.5 words, compared to 23 words for Tongan speakers.

The research also found that children knew more words in Samoan and Tongan if their mothers were born outside of rather than in New Zealand (17 versus 10 in Samoan; 28 versus 14 in Tongan).

Just like for toddlers around the world, the most common words were about people, objects, and everyday routines: in Samoan, susu (milk),vai (water), ‘ofu (clothes), pepe (baby) and ‘aua (don’t); and in Tongan, mami (mum), (car), mālō (thanks), ‘ulu (head) and  inu (drink).

For Samoan speakers, girls, children of mothers born in NZ and children of more educated mothers were more likely to combine words, whereas for Tongan speakers there were no significant differences in word combinations by gender, or the mother’s education and birthplace.

“We know from other research in New Zealand and internationally that when children are strong in their first language, those skills transfer to their second language and to literacy,” says Professor Reese.

“By adding more language assessment tools like the one we developed to our toolkit, we are in a better position to realise a national language policy.”

Future analyses from Growing Up in New Zealand will be able to assess how these children’s language skills in Samoan and Tongan at age two spell success in school at age seven and beyond.

The results in brief:

  • The average total vocabulary for two-year-old speaking Samoan was 13.52 words, compared to 22.82 words for Tongan speakers.
  • Children knew more words in Samoan and Tongan if their mothers were born outside of rather than in New Zealand (17 versus 10 in Samoan; 28 versus 14 in Tongan).
  • Most common words in Samoan at age two: susu (milk, 51%), vai (water, 41%), ‘ofu (clothes, 38%), pepe (baby, 37%), ‘aua(don’t, 37%)
  • Most common words in Tongan at age two: mami (mum, 46%), (car, 46%), mālō (thanks, 45%), ‘ulu (head, 45%), inu (drink, 43%)
  • For Samoan speakers, girls, children of mothers born in NZ and children of more educated mothers were more likely to combine words. For Tongan speakers there were no significant differences in word combinations by gender, or the mother’s education or birthplace.

Download the full article from bit.ly/samoan-tongan-language
About Growing Up in New Zealand

Growing Up in New Zealand is a longitudinal study tracking the development of approximately 7,000 New Zealand children from before birth until they are young adults. The study has collected detailed multidisciplinary information about children’s early development and reflects the ethnical diversity of today’s pre-school children.

Growing Up in New Zealand is designed to provide unique information about what shapes children’s early development in contemporary New Zealand and how interventions might be targeted at the earliest opportunity to give every child the best start in life.

Early information from the study provides insight into areas like vulnerable children, housing, breastfeeding/early solids, immunisation, languages, early childhood education, interaction with health and other key services, paid parental leave and maternal return to the workforce.

Growing Up in New Zealand is University of Auckland-led research and funded by multiple government agencies. The government contract for the study is managed by the Social Policy and Evaluation Research Unit (Superu).

For more information and interviews with our researchers please contact:

Sabine Kruekel, Growing Up in New Zealand Communications and Marketing Manager

Phone: 09 923 9690

Mobile: 027 886 0722

Email: s.kruekel@auckland.ac.nz

1 COMMENT

  1. Kuo lava faʻu ʻe he kau fakatotolo fakaako mei he Growing Up in New Zealand e fuofua meʻafua ki hono fua ʻo e pōtoʻi lea faka-Tonga mo Faka-Haʻamoa ʻa e fānau iiki Tonga mo Haʻamoa ʻi Nuʻu Silá.

    Lolotonga kuo ʻosi ʻi ai pe ngaahi ʻilo foʻou ʻoku lolotonga fakaʻaongaʻi ke fuaʻaki e pōtoʻi lea ʻa e fānaú ko e fuofua taimi ʻeni ke ʻi ai ha meʻafua ke ne vakaiʻi e ʻilo lea pe vōkepi faka-Haʻamoa mo faka-Tonga ʻa e fānau ʻi Nuʻu Silá.

    Ne hanga ʻe he kau fakatotoló ʻo ohi e meʻafuá ni mei he meʻafua foʻou fakafetuʻutaki ne ʻosi faʻu ʻo ʻiloa ko e MacArthur-Bates Communicative Development Inventories (CDI), ʻa ia ʻoku lahi ngāueʻaki ke tesiʻi e ʻilo lea ʻa e fānau īkí.

    Ko e founga ʻoku ngāueʻaki ʻe he meʻafua foʻoú ke vakaiʻi e malava ʻa e leká ke leá, ko hano ʻeke ki he mātuʻá pe ʻoku mahinoʻi ʻe heʻene leká mo ne faʻa ngāueʻaki ha niʻihi ʻo e ngaahi foʻi lea ʻe 100 kuo ʻosi filifili atu he meʻangāué ni ke ngāueʻaki, mo ʻeke foki pe kuó ʻosi lava e leká ʻo puʻaki fakatahaʻi ha foʻi lea ʻe ua hangē ko e milk gone.

    Kuo laka hake ʻi he ngaahi faʻē ʻe toko 500 ʻi he Growing Up in New Zealand kuo nau lavaʻi ʻa e ako ki hono tesiʻi ʻa e ngaahi lea kuo filifili ki heʻenau fānaú ʻa ia ne toko 344 e ngaahi faʻē Haʻamoá kae toko 242 e ngaahi faʻē Tongá.

    Ko e tokolahi taha ʻo ʻenau fānaú ʻoku nau lea faka-Haʻamoa (83) pe mo faka-Tonga (89). Ko e tokolahi taha ʻo e ngaahi faʻē ko ʻení ne ʻikai fanauʻi kinautolu ia ʻi Nuʻu Silá ni ʻa ia ko e peseti ʻe 83 e kau Haʻamoá ʻoku lea faka-Haʻamoa ʻenau fānaú mo e pēseti ʻe 67 e mātuʻa ʻa e fānau lea faka-Tongá.

    Ko e ʻavalisi fakakātoa ʻo e ngaahi vōkepi mei he foʻi lea kotoa ʻe 100 ʻoku fakataumuʻa ki he fānau taʻu ua lea faka-Haʻamoá ko e foʻi lea ʻe 13.5 pea ko e fānau Tongá ko e foʻi lea ʻe 23.

    Naʻe toe ʻilo foki ʻe he kau fakatotoló ʻoku ʻilo lahi ange ʻe he fānaú ʻa e lea faka-Haʻamoa mo faka-Tongá kapau ko ʻenau faʻeé ne ʻikai fanauʻi ʻi Nuʻu Sila (17 ki he 10 ko e Haʻamoa kae 28 ki he 14 ko e Tonga).

    ʻOku tatau pe fānau Tonga mo Haʻamoá mo ha toe fānau kehe ʻi māmani ʻa e lahi taha e ngaahi lea ʻoku nau ʻiló ko e lea fekauʻaki mo e kakai, meʻa ʻoku nau sio mo ala ki ai mo e ngaahi ngāue maheni fakaʻahó. ʻI Haʻamoa ko e ʻū lea hangé ko e , susu (milk),vai (water), ‘ofu (clothes), pepe (baby) and ‘aua (don’t); pea ʻi Tongá ko e , mami (mum), kā (car), mālō (thanks), ‘ulu (head) and inu (drink).

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