Sign language (New Zealand)

Where can I find information about sign language?

Image: [photo] by Carlos Pereyra on Pixabay.

Entry last updated: 24/05/21


Sign language is a way to communicate using body movements, facial expressions, and hand signals to give meaning. It is used when speech is not possible. For example, when people don't speak the same language or when a person is deaf.

There is no one form of sign language that is used everywhere. Instead, there are many dialects that are used in different parts of the world.

Here is a list of words you may come across:

Signing: Signs are made with a combination of hands, facial expressions, and body language.

Fingerspelling: The word for signing letters of a written alphabet.

Dialect: A form of a language that is spoken in a particular place or by a particular group of people. It is different to other forms of that language because of words, grammar, or how it is said.

BANZSL: This is a group of sign languages that share the same alphabet, signs and grammar - British, Australian, and New Zealand.

New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL): The New Zealand dialect of sign language. It is an official language of New Zealand.

General websites

These sites have good information about sign language and its history.

Britannica School

This is one of the EPIC resources. EPIC is a collection of reliable databases covering lots of different topics. It’s put together especially for New Zealand school students and helps to answer questions like this.

  • Choose the Middle level.
  • Enter 'sign language' in the search box.
  • Select Sign language (communications).
  • You can make the information simpler or harder by changing the reading level at the top of the page.
Tips: To get to the EPIC resources you will need a password from your school librarian first. Or you can chat with one of our AnyQuestions librarians between 1 and 6 pm Monday to Friday and they will help you online. Some EPIC databases may also be available through your public library.

Middle School (Gale In Context)

This is another EPIC resource. It has information about the history of sign language.

  • Enter 'sign language' in the search box.
  • There are two useful articles.
  • Select Sign language from the World of Invention or Sign language from UXL Science.
Tips: To get to the EPIC resources you will need a password from your school librarian first. Or you can chat with one of our AnyQuestions librarians between 1 and 6pm Monday to Friday and they will help you online. Some EPIC databases may also be available through your public library.

New Zealand sites

In 2006, the New Zealand Sign Language Act was passed which made NZSL an official language of New Zealand. Here are some websites about the history of NZSL or to help you learn the language.

Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand

Te Ara is an excellent starting point for all questions about New Zealand Aotearoa. If we scroll down to the bottom of the page we can see that the website belongs to the Ministry for Culture & Heritage, so the information is well-researched and reliable.

  • Look down the page for Sections and select Daily Life, Sport and Recreation.
  • Next go to Social Customs and Language.
  • Finally choose New Zealand Sign Language.
  • Find out about New Zealand Sign Language and deaf education.

New Zealand Sign Language Board

This website is part of the Office for Disability Issues. It has information about NZSL.

There is also information about the history of the New Zealand Sign Language Act 2006.

  • Scroll down the homepage and select NZSL Act 2006.
  • Look at the menu on the right hand side and select NZSL ACT 2006 History.
Tips: We like sites like this because they’re reliable. You can tell because of their web address – they have either .govt or .ac, meaning they are from government or educational organisations. They’re also New Zealand sites, so relevant for us.

Learn NZSL

This site teaches NZSL for everyday situations. It uses videos and other resources to help you learn and practice.

  • To start learning scroll down the page to 1: Meet and Greet and select Start.
  • If you don't have time to finish a lesson you can come back to it later.
Tips: Some websites have .au, .nz, .uk or other codes in their url. This can tell you which country this website comes from eg .au is from Australia or .nz is from New Zealand. You can check the ‘ About ’ link on the website for more information.

New Zealand Sign Language dictionary

This site has over 4500 entries using pictures and videos to demonstrate NZSL words and phrases.

If we go to the bottom of the page we can see that the website belongs to the Deaf Studies Research Unit of Victoria University of Wellington, so we know the information is well-researched and reliable.

  • Use the search box to search for a word
  • or select the link for Topics to browse words
  • or find the link for Alphabet at the top of the page to learn about fingerspelling.

Thumbs Up! New Zealand Sign Language

Thumbs Up! is a resource to help teachers teach NZSL. The language may be a bit harder, but the information is still useful.

  • Select the introduction tab and read through the links on the left-hand side to find out About NZSL and about Deaf culture.
  • To start learning, go to the units tab.
  • Select a unit to start learning eg Unit 1 - Hello Hello!
  • Look at the links to videos, activities and support material.
Tips: Websites that have .org or .net in the address can have good information, but you need to assess how reliable it is. Check the About this site link on the website, if you can find one. That can tell you what the organisation’s mission and values are.

Sign Ninja

This is an online game that you can use to learn or practice NZSL. The site also has a section about the history of NZSL.

  • To play the game, select Intro for a video introducing the game.
  • Select Play Game to get started.
  • To find about the history of NZSL, choose the tab NZSL History.
If we look at the homepage we can see it is from Deaf Aotearoa, the Office for Disability Issues, and NZ On Air, so the information is reliable.


Your local library will have books about sign language. Here are some titles we found:

SCIS no. 1965596
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