Languages spoken

SD Sophie Davies Public Seen by 407

Data on languages spoken is used to monitor knowledge of languages other than English among different groups. It can help with:

  • measuring the level of language change and the impact of government initiatives, such as Government’s Māori language revitalisation programme
  • understanding the health of the Māori language
  • determining what languages to provide services in
  • developing policies and planning services for the deaf community.

Our current recommendations relating to languages spoken:

  • We recommend that languages spoken be included with no changes in the 2018 Census.

See our preliminary view of 2018 Census content (page 25) for a more detailed discussion on languages spoken information

See 2013 Census information by variable for information on the languages spoken variable.


Phil (Facilitator) Thu 30 Apr 2015 2:57AM

Nau mai haere mai.
Welcome to our Loomio discussion about the measurement of languages spoken in 2018 census. We are really keen to hear your views about this important topic and to understand what matters to you and why. I’m Phil Walker and will be facilitating this discussion. I look forward to engaging with you all over the coming weeks.


[deactivated account] Sat 2 May 2015 9:39PM

Yes - useful category, and should be kept.


Laydan Mortensen Sat 2 May 2015 11:47PM

Only one minor niggle with language. In 2006 and 2013, there was almost 1 percent of the population who said they spoke a Chinese language but couldn't identify which Chinese language (Mandarin, Cantonese, etc.). Maybe this can be solved simply by listing Mandarin and Cantonese as tick boxes on the census form.


Laydan Mortensen Sun 3 May 2015 10:50PM

Second suggestion: swap positions of the ethnic group and language questions so visitors to New Zealand answer the language question (and do not answer the ethnicity question). This would capture visitor languages which could be important for the tourism industry.


Jonathan Godfrey Wed 6 May 2015 9:36AM

Noting the comment about Chinese - where there is a range of dialects (as is the case with Chinese) perhaps a tickbox for Chinese with an associated free-text field that is labelled "Dialects spoken" or similar?


Robert Didham (topic expert) Tue 19 May 2015 10:33PM

Good morning - I am Robert Didham (a topic expert). Thank you Laydan for your two suggestions. As a user of this data I also would have found it useful to be able to have Chinese languages better identified, and separate tickboxes is perhaps one solution. Collecting information on languages spoken by visitors would be useful too but the ethnicity data collected is also very important and does have much wider use since census is the only source of information on the ethnicities of visitors. Jonathan has made a point about Chinese languages and whether we should collect dialects as well as the languages (we collect the languages not dialects). Extending the collection to include dialects would make collection very difficult because of the huge number of dialects and the multiple names used for many dialects and different dialects may have the same name as a dialect in another language. The primary use of the language data is languages.


Thomas Robinson Fri 22 May 2015 9:47PM

I've found the language data useful, but did wonder if it could be more helpful in "determining what languages to provide services in" (as the preliminary view says) if it distinguished between language use and language ability. Some of the people indicating that they speak both English and another language will have the other language as their primary, best language, and would find it helpful to be provided with services in it, but some will be native speakers of English who have learned the other language as a secondary language and don't need services in it.

For example: based on the census, an organisation might decide that providing services in (say) French is more useful than providing them in (say) Tagalog, but is that actually the case? How many of the census respondents for French are actually just people who learned it at school and will never use the French services? It's sometimes possible to estimate (for example, from birthplace and from the number of people per language who don't select English at all), but it's not always simple, and explicit data would be nice.

I don't have any evidence beyond my own small experience, but I suspect even a simple question along the lines of "Are you a native speaker of English?" might improve the ability of organisations to put the answers to the existing language question to practical use.


Robert Didham (topic expert) Sun 24 May 2015 7:02PM

Thanks Thomas for that suggestion. Having that type of information would be useful. But in most cases decisions on which languages to offer services in is not based purely on the number of speakers. What is also useful is looking at language by whether or not they also speak English - the majority of people who speak French also speak English, for example. Birthplace can be a useful indicator too - for example former French colonies may have French rather than English speakers. The problem with "native" speaker is that this is sometimes not a person's strongest language. A further thing to consider is that the question asks about ability to speak and understand - in other words oral contexts. Services are often written so literacy in the languages may be more relevant in those cases.


Phil (Facilitator) Mon 22 Jun 2015 3:00AM

There’s been some great discussion in this thread so far! I just want to encourage anyone who wishes to, please take advantage of our formal submission process before our engagement and consultation closes. All the discussions on loomio will be formally assessed but sending in a formal submission adds weight to your perspective on what census needs to do, or change, to meet information needs around measurement of languages spoken.