Clever kids with clever tongues:  Individual and societal linguistic multi-competence in Fiji

Suzanne C. Hopf, Charles Sturt University, Australia (

Background: Monolingual, bilingual or multilingual? Whatever the case children can do amazing things with their brains as they learn to speak their mother tongue in addition to one or more dialects or languages of the community in which they live.

Aim: To describe the linguistic multi-competence of Fijian children.

Method: Descriptive statistics and non-parametric statistical analysis of 140 paper-based questionnaires revealed the language use patterns of 75 school-age children, mothers and fathers, and 25 child-minders and teachers.

Results: The participants spoke between one and six languages (M = three languages). Environmental context influenced language use. At home children typically matched the same main language as both or one of their parents (92%). At school children mainly spoke English. In the community the conversational partner’s ethnicity and languages within the students’ repertoire determined language use. Participants actively used the range of their linguistic repertoire in their interactions with others but the students’ degree of language mixing varied depending on conversational partner.

Conclusions: Fijian children and their conversation partners are flexible speakers (Franceschinii, 2016) who use their communication repertoire to maximise communicative opportunities across conversations and contexts. Given their linguistic multi-competence we argue that Fijian linguistic abilities emphasise the need to consider individual and community total linguistic repertoire when developing educational language policy.

Implications for children: You know that you need to speak in different ways with different people. Maybe you speak to your teacher in “book” English, your Mum in the Nadroga Fijian dialect, your Dad in the Bauan Fijian dialect, and your friends in a mix of them all. You really can do clever things with your brain and your tongue when you talk.

Implications for families: The language of your culture is important for your children’s connection to their relatives near and far. Allowing exploration and expression of the linguistic diversity in your community is important for development of your child’s self-identity. Valuing each and every language equally in a diverse language context should be encouraged.

Implications for practitioners: For children from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds to have positive and enriching experiences in early childhood education, educators need to support development of all languages in a child’s repertoire and build a school community of acceptance of diversity.

Funding: Australian Government Endeavour Post-Graduate Scholarship; Charles Sturt University Post-graduate Research Scholarship.

Key words: Fiji, children’s voices, linguistic multi-competent

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