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Chapter 5: Years Since Arrival in New Zealand

From the time of their arrival, migrants face a range of settlement pressures which affect language retention. To take advantage of educational and employment opportunities, migrants commonly need to use the language of the host country. Over time, this can contribute to a loss or undermining of first language(s) in favour of the mainstream language.

For migrants, schools and other educational institutions are influential in the immersion and development of the language of a host country. Ongoing immersion further enforces the gradual shift away from using first languages.

This chapter examines overseas-born 10–24 year olds at the time of the 2001 Census to understand the relationship between length of time in New Zealand, age and language retention. This age group was chosen because it reflects recent language retention initiatives. Some ethnic groups have been excluded from the analysis because of low levels of migration in the 24 years preceding 2001.

Analysis of the overseas-born 10–24 year age group reveals a significant decline in language retention with longer periods of residence in New Zealand. This would suggest that migration at a young age, along with longer periods of immersion in New Zealand society, affects the propensity for individuals to develop or retain the use of their ethnic group’s first language.

Pacific peoples

As illustrated in figure 13, most Pacific ethnic groups experienced a declining rate of language retention among overseas-born 10–24 year olds as time of residence increased. The Samoan ethnic group had the highest language retention rate throughout the entire timeframe. Eighty-eight percent of 10–24 year old Samoans who had lived in New Zealand for up to four years could speak Samoan in a conversation about everyday things. This figure dropped to 80 percent for those who had lived in New Zealand for 20–24 years.

The Cook Island Maori and Fijian ethnic groups recorded the largest decline in language retention with increasing length of residence in New Zealand. Just over half of Cook Island Maori and Fijians aged 10–24 who had lived in New Zealand for fewer than five years could speak their first language in an everyday conversation. By comparison, 15 percent of Cook Island Maori and 13 percent of Fijians who had lived in New Zealand for 20–24 years could do so.

Tokelauans were the only ethnic group to record more long-term than new residents speaking their first language. However, caution must be taken in interpreting this result because of the small number of Tokelauans who had lived in New Zealand for 20–24 years.

Figure 13

Overseas-Born Pacific Peoples Aged 10–24 Years Speaking a First Language
By years since arrival in NZ
Usually resident population, 2001

Asian

Asian ethnic groups also recorded a decline in language retention with increasing length of residence. The Khmer/Kampuchean/Cambodian group recorded the largest decline. As figure 14 illustrates, Khmer/Kampuchean/Cambodian people aged 10–24 were the ethnic group most likely to speak their first language within their first five years of residence in New Zealand (89 percent). However, after 20–24 years residence in New Zealand, they were less likely than other groups to be speaking their first language (38 percent). Koreans were the most likely to speak their first language after 20–24 years residence (75 percent), while also recording the smallest decline during the 24-year period.

Figure 14

Overseas-born Asians Aged 10–24 Years Speaking a First Language
By years since arrival in New Zealand

Usually resident population, 2001

European

The Greek, Croat/Croatian and Italian ethnic groups have been excluded from analysis because of low numbers.

In contrast to the Pacific and Asian groups, the rate of language retention for the Dutch/Netherlands group fluctuates over the 0–24 year period, as shown in figure 15.

Figure 15

Overseas-born Dutch/Netherlands People Aged 10–24 Years Speaking a First Language
By years since arrival in New Zealand

Usually resident population, 2001

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