This report shows that some ethnic groups are at greater risk of not maintaining their first languages than others. Among these, Cook Island Maori and Niuean are the most at-risk languages, while the Korean and Khmer/Kampuchean/Cambodian ethnic groups have relatively high proportions of people speaking a first language in New Zealand.
Concerning Language shows that language retention is influenced by a number of variables. All variables analysed in the report influenced the likelihood of people speaking their first language to some degree.
Birthplace was among the more significant variables to impact on language retention. Data showed that overseas-born residents were more likely to speak their group’s first language than people born in New Zealand. Multivariate analysis further showed the mother’s birthplace as being the most significant parental characteristic influencing the probability of children speaking their first language.
Analysis by age showed that people aged 0–24 years were less likely to speak a first language than their older counterparts aged 25-49 and 50 and over. This is of direct relevance to language communities interested in monitoring language retention and developing education initiatives.
Analysis of overseas-born 10–24 year olds revealed that both age at arrival and the length of residence in New Zealand influenced language retention. Younger members of the 10–24 year old group who had lived in New Zealand for 0–4 years were more likely to speak a first language than older members of the 10–24 year old group who had lived in New Zealand for 20–24 years.
Language retention is also influenced by the number of ethnicities reported by a respondent. People who reported a single ethnicity were more likely to speak a first language than people who reported two or more ethnicities. Multivariate analysis showed that the number of ethnicities reported by a child was the most significant child characteristic influencing their probability of speaking a first language.
Household analysis of language retention revealed two of three adult characteristics examined were significant to New Zealand-born children’s ability to speak the first language of their ethnic group. Firstly, it showed that children were more likely to speak a first language when living in households containing more than one adult member who was born overseas. Secondly, children were more likely to speak the language when living with more than one adult who also spoke the child’s first language. A first language is therefore more likely to be actively used on a daily basis in households containing adults with these characteristics.