Fijian children’s speech acquisition

Holly McAlister, Charles Sturt University, Australia (
Suzanne C. Hopf, Charles Sturt University, Fiji (
Sharynne McLeod, Charles Sturt University, Australia (

Background: The ability to produce sounds in the languages spoken by family and community increases children’s communication participation. Learning to produce the speech sounds of a language (consonants, vowels and tones) is an important milestone for all children. For multilingual children, sounds in one language may influence the production of sounds in another. The population of Fiji speaks three official languages (Standard Fijian, Standard Hindi and English) and hundreds of other dialects and languages. The linguistic multi-competence of Fijian children has received limited research attention.

Aim: To investigate the acquisition of English consonants by multilingual school-aged Fijian children.

Method: English speech samples of 80 words were collected from 72 multilingual Fijian school students (32 in Year 1, 40 in Year 4). The transcribed samples were analysed to calculate the percentage of consonants produced correctly for two Fiji English dialects (Fijian Fiji English and Fiji Hindi Fiji English).

Results: The pattern of English consonant acquisition for these children was similar to that reported for English-speaking children in other parts of the world. Minor differences for later developing sounds were noted (e.g., ‘th’ was produced as ‘t’ or ‘f’). There was evidence of cross-linguistic transfer.

Conclusions: This study expands understanding of linguistic multi-competence and multilingual speech sound acquisition and supports educators and communication specialists (e.g., speech-language pathologists) working with multilingual Fijian children.

Implications for children: Did you know that different languages have some sounds that are the same and some sounds that are different? Children are very clever at learning the sounds of different languages.

Implications for families: Children are capable of learning to speak many languages and their pattern of learning to pronounce consonants is similar across the world.

Implications for practitioners: When supporting multilingual children, it’s important to determine which languages and which specific dialects are spoken by the child and their family members. You should incorporate home language models when assessing children’s communicative competence.

Key words: Children’s voices, communication, international communities, quantitative methods, Fiji, Pacific, speech, multilingual

This presentation relates to the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: