Why learn New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL)?

NZSL is complex, fascinating, beautiful, unique, graceful and expressive.

Spoken language is by and large linear; only one sound can be made or received at a time. Sign language, on the other hand, is visual and, hence, can use simultaneous expression.

NZSL is three dimensional; many sign languages take advantage of the spatial nature of the language through the use of classifiers.

General /History

NZ Sign Language is the natural language of the Deaf community in New Zealand and one of three official languages of New Zealand.  It has no linguistic connection to spoken or written languages.  It has its roots in British Sign Language with influences from Australian Sign Language. NZSL reflects New Zealand culture by including signs for Maori Terminology and culture unique to NZ/Aotearoa.

Benefits – Brain

Medical studies have shown the positive effects of learning a second language has on the brain.

Bilingualism of any languages (whether signed or spoken) is a great booster for the brain. It enriches and enhances your cognitive processes: higher abstract and creative thinking, better problem-solving, greater cognitive flexibility, better listening skills and greater academic achievement.  It also promotes cultural awareness, literacy, and other intellectual benefits.

Being bimodal, that is using visual-spatial medium, expands your visual-perceptual skills: spatial awareness and visual sensitivity.

Benefits – Culture

Learning Sign Language opens your mind to different cultures and different perspectives.  It also provides a view on your own culture from the perspective of another.  It is a ticket to learning about Deaf culture. Deaf individuals have a very rich and diverse background to share with you. They aren’t in some far away country that requires an expensive flight to reach. They are right here, in your own backyard.

Benefits - General

Learning NZSL causes you to literally, open your eyes! Relying on a different sense to communicate, exercises your peripheral vision and trains you to become more aware of your environment. Deaf people are notoriously sharp-eyed, and by learning NZSL, you can be too! 

By learning NZSL, you become a better communicator and listener. When learning the structure of NZSL, you will learn how to constantly reformulate ideas and check understanding. The communication of ideas is much more precise and situation-oriented. Those are valuable skills which non-signers often do not develop.

More benefits!
You can ‘talk’ conveniently in sign language with your mouth full or ‘talk’ through windows of a building from a distance.

You can also ‘talk’ in loud night clubs or ‘whisper’ in a church or a library. You can have a private talk in public - as long as no other signers are watching!

Manual communication in the hearing world.

There are many examples from history and today of hearing people using ‘manual communication’. 

  • Some religious communities.
  • Scuba Diving.
  • In TV Recording Studios.
  • In loud environments such as horse racing (tic-tac).

Learning NZSL

The best way to learn NZSL is in a class taught by a Deaf tutor; the other resources listed below are intended to accompany classroom learning.

NZSL Classes

Sign Equity Ltd teaches skill-based courses in NZSL to individuals, community groups and businesses. We tailor our programme to your needs. Short courses, Extension Sessions or Refreshers offered.

Papanui High School offers Sign Equity’s Introductory Course in a class setting. For further information and enrolment please visit our website https://www.papanui.school.nz/com-edu/category/languages or email ace@papanui.school.nz or telephone our office on 033520701

Hagley Community College runs year long NZSL classes at Level 1,2,3 and Advanced.  Risingholme Community Centre offers classes term by term at Level 1 and 2.

Books & DVD's

The Consise NZSL dictionary is available from bookshops.

Christchurch City Council Libraries have a good selection of NZSL books and DVD's available to borrow for free or a small fee.


Learn NZSL is a new online learning portal. 

NZSL Online dictionary includes video clips of signs.

Beginner NZSL Exercises from Victoria University.

Ministry of Education have developed a 20 unit learning programme.

van Asch Deaf Education Centre have a range of NZSL resources available to buy online.

Sign Ninja is a fun way to learn NZSL.

Watch the NZ National Anthem in NZSL & Maori.

Te Reo Singalong in NZSL 

Education TV Programmes in NZSL