Te reo Māori: Encouraging proof that learning it widens children's vocabularies

By Stefan Dimitrof

Research from the University of Auckland's ground-breaking study of a large cohort of Kiwi children as they grow up is showing that children who learn te reo Māori at school are more likely to score better on all vocabulary tests than those who have no instruction in te reo.

Growing up in New Zealand is this country's largest contemporary, longitudinal study of child development, and is tracking the lives of more than 6,000 children.

Professor Te Kani Kingi (Nō Ngāti Pukeko, Ngāti Awa) from Te Whare Wānanga O Awanuiārangi and the study lead  said the investigation had been going for 12 years so far. But he says that unlike studies of te reo, this research was not subjective. Instead researchers administer a quantitative tool "so it gives us a more valid and sophisticated tool".

Since the research is of the same cohort of 12 years, it was not a  survey as much but he said they were able to understand how much re reo tamariki Māori were speaking and, if that changed up or down, then they would know the reason, "which is incredibly important to developing strategies for te reo māori."

Kingi said it was encouraging to find  high levels of enthusiasm for te reo Māori and use of it, not just among tamariki but also among non-Māori. "I don't think you would have seen this 15 or 20 years ago."

But he admitted it might be too early to tell if the Māori in-school strategy has worked given that the study is longitudinal and still has a few more years to go before concrete evidence of how effective it is is seen.

“These encouraging results that we see now are directly correlated to the investment that has been put into it for a number of years; we are hearing a lot more te reo Māori on mainstream and that is incredibly beneficial.”