First languages first, then English

Mary-Ruth Mendel; 28/11/09

The average four- to five-year-old has a listening vocabulary of 2800 words, which grows to an amazing 13,000 words by the time the child is between five and six. By that age a child should be able to say sentences with details, usually use appropriate grammar, relay a story, sing entire songs and recite nursery rhymes. By the time he or she is 17 an 80,000-word vocabulary will be needed. Much of the acquisition depends on the ability to read books. As long as indigenous children face the literacy challenges they do, this will not be acquired. Not learning to read fluently denies readers the key to many language and thinking skills. It denies them the skills to gain knowledge, find information and independently learn – essential modern skills. It is unacceptable that four out of every five indigenous children in remote Australia do not read to the minimum level.