The power of rich, early language experiences

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On a mission to improve quality of life outcomes through rich, early language.

A recent recipient of an EPIT Innovation Seed Fund grant, the Talking Matters team sought to explore and build connections with Te Tai Tokerau, in the Far North. They were keen to deepen iwi and hapu connections (Ngāti Whātua, Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Kahu, Ngāti Kuri) and connect with caregivers and organisations engaged with tamariki and whānau; and to connect with te reo Māori champions.

Growing community knowledge about rich early language (REL) and delivering foundational learning – Tiakina te Kōrero - through shared stories and learnings from other Talking Matters' partnerships, were critical elements to the initiative.


New Zealand’s literacy is in steep decline and has been since the early 2000s. High levels of literacy drive educational success, improve health outcomes, directly impact income levels, strengthen cultural identity, promote better mental health and promote widespread participation in economic, cultural, and political life.  

Low levels of literacy are prevalent in children with speech, language, and communication challenges. One in eight adults in Aotearoa has low literacy proficiency and almost one in five has low numeracy proficiency according to recent research by the New Zealand Work Research Institute. Poor literacy capability also shows up in our prison statistics, with a 2017 Department of Corrections report estimating that 60% of all inmates have literacy and numeracy below that of NCEA Level One competency.

If you start ahead, you stay ahead

Literacy has the power to improve quality of life for individuals by driving educational success, promoting health and wellbeing, strengthening whānau, and building closer connected communities.   Talk and interaction in those first 1000 days is foundational with the key driver being responsive back and forth communication (serve and return).  Adults have the power to make a difference.

So, what's the solution?

Rich Early Language Experiences!

Literacy is built on rich, early language. Language development is integral to brain development, with 80% of brain development taking place in the first thousand days of a child’s life.

From 2017 to 2021, Talking Matters developed and trialled a range of community-based actions to improve early oral language for babies and children in Aotearoa New Zealand. Their strategy is built on a co-design methodology, developing bespoke partnerships that directly meet partner aspirations to produce results that are positive and enduring for the communities they are working with.

Talking Matter's work inspires and supports whānau (of any nationality or ethnicity) to access the traditional parenting practices of their tupuna ancestors to promote rich-language environments for children. Supporting the revitalisation of te reo Māori honours and strengthens language, culture, and identity for Māori and enriches language environments for all people of Aotearoa New Zealand – what works for Māori, works for tau iwi communities too – because language, culture and identity are key drivers of success for all humans.

Jane Treadwell-Hoye
22 August 2023
min read

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