Talking Matters





Some children heard thirty million fewer words by their 4th birthdays than others.

The children who heard more words were better prepared when they entered school.
These same kids, when followed into third grade, had bigger vocabularies, were stronger readers, and got higher test scores. The bottom line: the kids who started
out ahead, stayed ahead; the kids who started out behind, stayed behind
this disparity of learning is the achievement gap.

Thirty Million Word Initiative quoting research by Hart & Risley, 20

Talking Matters Update!

Exciting new changes for Talking Matters. We have announced our new partnership with the NEXT Foundation, who are supporting us through the next phase. We have a new website launched: Talking Matters 

Visit us on our facebook page here

Follow us on Twitter @TalkMattersNZ

 TM Web pic

 What is Talking Matters?  

Talking Matters is a ‘whole of community’ initiative aiming to transform the potential of our children by growing confident young listeners and speakers who are enthusiastic about learning and ready for reading at age 5 years.

About 1/3 of Auckland’s annual 21,000 new school entrants don’t have the oral language and early literacy to learn to read easily. Research clearly points towards differences in language use between families who struggle economically and socially, and those with greater economic and social advantages.  Children from low socio-economic (SES) backgrounds are starting school with a 3,000 word vocabulary compared with the 6,000 used by children from higher SES backgrounds  (van Hees, 2011).

Talking Matters wants to build on the strengths of families, family-facing services, educators and communities so that our children  build their listening and speaking skills and get the best chance for their future.

Talking Matters is an Auckland project with national implications. It’s the first time there has been a systematic endeavour in New Zealand to link early oral language and school readiness and put them at the centre of collaborative community action.

Click here to keep up with what we've been doing

Want to get involved?

Contact Alison Sutton, Manager Literacy:
Email:  |  Mobile: 021 279 6804
Follow Talking Matters on Twitter @TalkMattersNZ   #TalkingMatters

Why is listening and speaking so important?

We communicate who we are through oral language - through listening and speaking. People who are confident listeners and speakers are much more likely to succeed through life.

People who are not confident communicators often struggle with learning, reading, subsequent employment and life success.

Early oral language is an important predictor of future thinking and problem solving skills and school performance. The size of a child’s spoken vocabulary matters because it impacts on the ease and speed with which a child learns to read; if they have never heard a word, or never used it, it’s much harder for a new reader to read and understand it.

The quality and quantity of talk and interaction with a child in their 0-5 years, more or less sets a child up for future educational success and life opportunities.


The link between oral language and literacy

When a child starts school advantaged in vocabulary, conceptual knowledge and oral expression, they are well prepared to move into literacy. Approximately 24% of Auckland students are below reading standard on transition into high school, which is of huge concern. 

The impact of low skills is potentially long term. Students with low literacy are particularly vulnerable to failure and disengagement from school. Two thirds of students with low literacy
at 16 had low literacy at age 8, and about 20% of our young people drop out of high school with no qualifications.

A good place to start reading about the importance of early reading is Raising Children



Get involved – what your organisation can do

  • Include a deliberate focus on listening and speaking in your work
  • Focus on families
    - Actively build families’ confidence about talking with their children. 
    - Explain to families that talking, storytelling, singing and reading are all ways to build children’s oral language - these are simple, free and easy things to do.
  • Make your service or programme language rich. 
    - Add storytelling and reading to your family activities. 
    - Make sure all children are participating in storytelling and reading every day! 
  • Demonstrate to families how to read to children, particularly when parents are not confident readers.  Explain that babies benefit from being read to, right from birth. 
  • Encourage families to use their home language if they are new to speaking English.  Children will learn most when families use the language in which they are strongest. 
  • Learn about the language strengths of communities who have different approaches to oral language and reading at home.
  • Encourage storytelling
  • Promote reading at home. Grow the number of books in your place and in your families’ homes 
  • Join the Talking Matters Network  to link into new research and effective practice ideas

Who is behind Talking Matters?

Talking Matters is a Learning Auckland project.  Learning Auckland, a cross-sector initiative to improve education outcomes ‘cradle to career’.  The Learning Auckland leadership table has identified Talking Matters as their first major initiative, recognising the transformational potential of this project for Auckland and the  national impact. COMET Auckland acts as the backbone organisation for Learning Auckland.


Talking Matters targets

Children learn first at home so Talking Matters is all about enabling the enablers, building capabilities among families, family-focused services and educators to develop strong pre-school language users; building on the strengths of families and communities to grow confident and enthusiastic young communicators who are ready for school.

Our 2020 objectives:
• 4,000+ Auckland children with speaking, listening and early literacy directly enhanced • 1,000 families more capable of supporting their children’s learning • Strategic action across communities and agencies supporting families as language builders &  coaches • Systems and resources developed for a national rollout.

Our long-term legacy goal:
Breaking intergenerational cycles of low literacy and underachievement in vulnerable Kiwi families and ensuring more children get a great start.

For all our latest updates on Talking Matters progress, click here


Related overseas projects

Four UK longitudinal cohort studies have found that the more a parent talks with,
listens and responds to a child, the greater the child’s language development. Other international initiatives promoting early oral language development include:

  • The US based collective impact Campaign for Grade Level Reading (GLR) has identified language and vocabulary development as key components to school readiness. GLR has a major work-strand on parents as ‘first brain builders and coaches.’
  • In 2015, the Clinton Foundation and Next Generation launched a major national initiative ‘Too Small to fail’. One action is a major web platform ‘Talking is Teaching’, to support parents to talk more and differently to their children.
  • The Thirty Million Words Initiative –encouraging parents to use words to grow their children’s brains – tune in (pay more attention), talk more and take turns (as opposed to predominantly giving instructions). TMW, developed by the University of Chicago Medicine, has been created to develop evidence-based, parent-directed programs.


What organisations have a role in Talking Matters?

Many organisations support families to support their children’s learning.
Talking Matters aims to influence these organisations to be focused and
intentional about helping parents build their children’s early oral language.
Click here to view Agencies & programmes  supporting families to support children's early learning

How are listening and speaking linked to literacy?

Oral language underpins everything we do. Listening and speaking are key to learning and development and form the underpinning of litercy.
Click here to see Oral Language Development Journey diagram


What is school readiness?

Click to view infographic on How you can help your child be 'school ready'.

fletcher logo