Rebecca Quilliam is senior reporter at the NZME. News Service office in Wellington.

NZ toddler speech patterns to be studied

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

Speech experts hope a project studying the speech patterns of thousands of New Zealand toddlers will help in faster treatment of problems young children might encounter when they learn to talk.

The University of Canterbury will survey 3000 children aged 16 months to 30 months in the first comprehensive study on early language development in New Zealand.

Professor of communication disorders Tom Klee said when the study was finished he hoped to be able to compare the language development of New Zealand children to those in other countries.

It will look at when children first start speaking and when they start combining words into short sentences.

Researchers hoped the study would be able to tell them how many words New Zealand toddlers knew by the time they were 2 and a half.

Professionals who worked with young children, such as speech and language therapists, early childhood educators and developmental psychologists, have had to rely on studies of American, Australian and British children rather than data from New Zealand communities.

Professor Klee said scant factual information was available about early language development in New Zealand children.

"We don't know when Kiwi children actually first start using words on average or when they start combining words into short sentences.

Professor Klee said that without knowing what the early language milestones were here, it was difficult to assess the situation when a child was not talking like other children the same age.

"It's difficult to know what advice to give parents."

Many children had difficulties in learning to talk and delays in early talking could sometimes be the first sign of problems in other areas such as hearing, learning or developing relationships with other children, he said.

Speech and language therapist and owner of Wellington-based Kidz Talk Sarah Campbell said the project would have a huge impact.

"We are relying on other people's data for New Zealand children and we don't actually know what's appropriate for our children."

She hoped the results would help therapists to target the New Zealand population specifically.

Victoria University Associate Professor in Linguistics Paul Warren said the study would hopefully help in targeting New Zealand pronunciation.

"Getting a target database for New Zealand English speakers seems to make very good sense."

He said children in comparable countries such as Britain and the United States should all start speaking about the same time as children here, but the way words were spoken was obviously different.

Parents are asked to complete a questionnaire on the researchers' website.


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