Top 5 Tips for Learning New Zealand Sign Language

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The 9th to the 15th of May marks New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) week, and this year's theme is NZSL is Essential. NZSL is vital to the expression of Deaf culture and community, and while mastering any language takes time, learning to communicate in one of our country’s national languages is possible.

To help celebrate NZSL week and support Deaf people in our community, take a look at our top tips for learning New Zealand Sign Language.

1. Begin with the Basics of NZSL (And Bring a Pen and Paper)

Learning the basics of communicating with your hands starts with fingerspelling the alphabet. NZSL uses a two-finger fingerspelling system to represent the English alphabet. When you communicate using NZSL, it’s important to keep eye contact with the person you are signing with. Once you’re comfortable moving your fingers, try spelling out your name to a friend so you can practise looking at them and not at your fingers. 

After you’ve learnt all the NZSL letters, you can spell out any name you like, even if you don’t know the actual sign for the whole word itself. It’s handy to carry a pen and paper with you so you can jot down notes and signs as you learn them. That way, you’ll build your own visual diary that you can refer back to on your learning journey.

2. Refer to NZSL Learning Tools

There are a number of NZSL online learning tools to help you refine your fingerspelling skills and move on to learning signs for words. New Zealand Sign Language Dictionary will show you how to sign a word a day, while Life Unlimited has a list of learning support resources for whānau, family and caregivers. 

Perhaps you’re learning for fun, or you’d like to connect with a colleague or friend in the Deaf community. Whatever your motivation, with Learn NZSL you can watch, learn and practise how to use NZSL in common situations, from inside the home to going on holiday. Make sure you go through the nine topics in sequence to get the full story of Learn NZSL.

3. Learn NZSL from a Professional

Professional tutoring can help fast track your progress. Having one-on-one guidance will help you learn the rules and avoid making mistakes early on in your progress. TeachSign is a hub for teaching NZSL and all their tutors are fully qualified and registered.

Of course, if you prefer to learn in a group setting, New Zealand Sign Language For You offers full-day crash course workshops in NZSL, face-to-face and online. Workshops can also help your immersion into NZSL by allowing you to practise in a comfortable setting.

4. Practise in the Real World

If you commit to learning NZSL and follow through with the effort, your New Zealand sign skills will improve with practice. There are many ways to practise daily, from communicating with members of the Deaf community to practising with others who are learning NZSL.

Interacting with those who regularly use NZSL will not only allow you to sharpen your skills in the real world, but will also help you build new connections too. Try to have fun with it and enjoy your practice! Also - if you have a Facebook account and live in Wellington city, you can meet up twice a week with members of this dedicated NZSL Practice Group.

5. Embrace Your Mistakes

Learning anything new is usually fraught with mistakes. Don’t be afraid of looking silly, or of getting it wrong. The people you practise with are all learning too. Members of the Deaf community will appreciate your effort no matter what. After all, how many times have you admired someone speaking your mother tongue when it's not their own?

Stay open to receiving feedback and be willing to learn from it. Try to think progress, not perfection, as you fill out your visual diary and enjoy your experience of learning NZSL! On that note, drawing different signs can help you with understanding and memorising their distinctions. Try drawing each sign five times, and writing the spoken English translation next to it to cement your learning.

Learning NZSL takes practice and dedication, but it is a commitment worth making. Remember the theme of New Zealand Sign Language Week is NZSL is Essential. The effort we make goes a long way towards supporting the 24,000 New Zealanders who use sign language every day.

Additionally, if you'd like to ensure that your hearing health is in tip-top shape, get in touch with the team here at NZ Hearing, and get a hearing test today!

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