Research Projects Using Growing Up Data

Cultural differences in perception of language development in a New Zealand population sample of 54 month old children and their parents

Publication Date:
Lead Organisation:
University of Canterbury
Lead Researcher:
Jayne Newbury, Bridget White, Karen Waldie, Elaine Reese, Rahera Cowie, Alana Batcheler, Kane Meissel
Access Type:
Primary Classification:
Psych and Cog
Secondary Classification:
Culture and Identity

In the field of speech language therapy, children are typically defined as having a "language disorder" if their scores on standardised language tests are below a cut-off (usually 1-1.5 standard deviations below the mean) and accompanied by difficulties with communication (spoken and/or written). This definition is based on a Western cultural view. However, valuing early verbosity is not universal across cultures. Very little literature is available on the cultural viewpoints of Māori, Pasifika, Indian and Asian ethnic groups regarding children's language development. An example of a different cultural viewpoint is the Northern Canadian Athabaskans who consider a child who does not speak until he is 4 or 5 years old to be growing up respectfully, not as having a language disorder. A key question facing the speech language therapy profession is: If a child scores poorly on a language test relative to normative data, but the family is not concerned about a child's language ability, is it appropriate to diagnose a "disorder"?

To add further complexity, vocabulary in the preschool years is a moderate predictor of later literacy and academic success. A parent who is unconcerned about a child's low language development in the preschool years may also want their child to do very well at school, and perhaps be unaware that language is one of the key determiners of this success. Are some parents not concerned about language when perhaps they should be, given their academic goals for their children?

This study seeks to report on the children's vocabulary scores at 24 and 54 months and the concordance or dissonance with their mothers' concern about language, report of their child's language development and aspirations for their child's educational achievement across cultural groups. Factors known to influence language development and the demographic makeup of the culture groups will be described and analysed with regards to the results.

The results of the study will be published in academic journals, presented at conferences, and will support the development of culturally sensitive practices for identification of children who need language supports.