NZ Sign Language Week 2022
New Zealand Sign Language Week (NZSL) runs from 9 to 15 May and provides a chance for the Deaf community to stand proud and celebrate their language and culture.
NZSL became an official language in 2006 and is the natural language of Deaf New Zealanders. NZSL is used daily by more than 20,000 Kiwis.
Geotechnics Concierge and Sample Co-ordinator, Tze Wee, gives insight on his experience working with Deaf Youth, and NZSL culture.
Tze says like te reo Māori, the Deaf community struggled with access to the language and were prevented from learning it.
"It's important to acknowledge and celebrate the language to show support for our Deaf Community. Learning NZSL is important as it allows you to be able to confidently communicate with them," Tze says.
Different sign languages are used across different countries and regions. Rather than simply being a signed representation of spoken English, NZSL is a separate language, with its own structure and grammar.
Tze says there's a common misconception that sign language is an international language, but like any language, NZSL is unique, having signs to incorporate Māori concepts. NZSL is not a spoken language, so facial expressions and body movements are used to express emotion while communicating, whereas spoken languages use tone and volume.
"Things like maintaining constant eye contact, pointing directly at someone, waving your hands in front of them to get their attention, or walking through two people having a sign conversation (without ducking or saying excuse me) are just some of the different and unique things to Deaf Culture, not to mention stomping or flickering lights!"
Tze reflects on his amazing experience with Deaf youth in a residential role, where kids from all over the country would stay during the school terms.
"Many of the kids came from whānau that were hearing and didn't sign, so when they learned I could communicate in their language they felt more comfortable around me. We built a good relationship, even though I still had to remind them to do their chores! Teenagers are all going through the same struggles: wanting to be cool, high school, exams. Deaf youth have that extra language barrier, but knowing NZSL and being able to communicate with them shows them that their language is valued, and by default, they are valued and that NZSL is for everyone."
In 2019, Ian Ray, CAD Draughtsperson, and Gerard Seth, Content + Analytics Specialist, produced a video, showcasing a NZSL conversation.
Resources to support with learning NZSL:
- NZSL Alphabet
- NZSL online dictionary
- Participate in the Leaders' challenge: learn how to introduce yourself, workplace and role
We also note that AUSLAN Day (Australian Sign language Day) took place on 13 April. In Australia, 20,000 people use AUSLAN to communicate.