New Zealand Sign Language is one of the official languages of New Zealand. It has developed over time within the New Zealand Deaf community and is central to Deaf people’s access to society, sense of identity and wellbeing.
- New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) is crucial to many Deaf people's ability to learn, communicate and participate in society. Using sign language is at the core of Deaf culture and identity.
- Sign language is not universal. Most countries have their own sign languages. NZSL is unique to New Zealand.
- Sign language conveys meaning through signs on the hands, combined with facial expressions, lip patterns and body language. Like any other language, NZSL has its own grammar and ways of expressing concepts that are not identical to spoken language.
- There are many resources for anyone who would like to learn NZSL, including hearing people who have Deaf relatives, interpreters or healthcare professionals and others who work with Deaf people.
What is New Zealand Sign Language?
New Zealand Sign Language is unique to New Zealand and is the main language of New Zealand’s Deaf community. NZSL became an official language in New Zealand in April 2006.
NZSL was created by Deaf people for Deaf people. It is a natural language that conveys information via a combination of signs, facial expressions and body movements. It is not based on English or other spoken languages and is not just fingerspelling.
NZSL reflects life in New Zealand by including signs for Māori concepts.
How can I learn New Zealand Sign Language?
There are several online resources you can use to learn NZSL.
Learn New Zealand Sign Language This site offers an online course to do at your own pace.
NZSL4U Learn New Zealand sign language in person or online
Usign Classes run by NZSL tutor in peron (Waikato) or online, 1-on-1 or in groups.
The Online Dictionary of New Zealand Sign Language On this site, you can search by English or te reo words to find NZSL signs and example sentences, as well as how to finger spell and use numbers. Below is an extract from this resource.
NZSL classes for the workplace Deaf Aotearoa NZ. This course provides your workplace with an understanding of relevant New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) vocabulary to increase your ability to effectively communicate with your Deaf clients and customers.
Merge NZSL classes at different levels run as evening classes or online.
First Signs Supports the learning of New Zealand Sign Language for family and whānau of deaf or hard-of-hearing children aged 0–5 years.
Sign Ninja This is an interactive, free, online game to help you learn, practice and explore NZSL. It is compatible with computers, tablets and smartphones.
For a list of NZ Sign Language interpreters, go to this page.
A guide to working with New Zealand Sign Language interpreters New Zealand Sign Language Board, 2017
New Zealand Sign Language Board Ministry of Social Development & Office for Disability Issues
- About New Zealand Sign Language Office for Disability Issues, NZ, 2018
|Dr Rachel McKee is the programme director for New Zealand Sign Language Studies at Victoria University of Wellington. She has 25 years’ experience interpreting, teaching and researching in the field of NZ Sign Language and Deaf Studies.