New Zealand Sign Language

Key points about New Zealand Sign Language

  • 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 isn't universal. Most countries have their own sign languages and NZSL is unique to Aotearoa New Zealand.
  • Sign language conveys meaning through signs on the hands, combined with facial expressions, lip patterns and body language. It has 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.
NZSL in sign language
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New Zealand Sign Language is unique to Aotearoa 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 Aotearoa New Zealand by including signs for Māori concepts.

There are several online resources you can use to learn NZSL.

Learn New Zealand Sign Language(external link) This site offers an online course to do at your own pace.
NZSL4U(external link) Learn New Zealand sign language in person or online
Usign(external link) Classes run by NZSL tutor in peron (Waikato) or online, 1-on-1 or in groups.
The Online Dictionary of New Zealand Sign Language(external link) 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(external link)
 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(external link) NZSL classes at different levels run as evening classes or online.
First Signs(external link) 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(external link) This is an interactive, free, online game to help you learn, practice and explore NZSL. It is compatible with computers, tablets and smartphones. 

What does an interpreter do? 

Many Deaf people use New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) as their first or preferred language. 

A sign language interpreter facilitates communication between Deaf and hearing people by interpreting between NZSL and spoken language. This helps to ensure Deaf people have access to services and can participate more easily in society. 

An interpreter’s role is to facilitate communication between Deaf and hearing participants, not to be involved in a meeting or appointment in any other way. 

The Sign Language Interpreters Association of New Zealand (SLIANZ)(external link) is a professional body that sets a code of conduct and/or code of ethics, including requiring interpreters to maintain confidentiality and impartiality.

What interpreter services are available?

There are a number of interpreter booking agencies. Some are specialised booking agencies for NZSL interpreters, while provide others provide a range of language interpreters, including NZSL interpreters.

Interpreter service


iSign(external link) 

iSign is an NZSL interpreter booking service provided by Deaf Aotearoa. It provides qualified NZSL interpreters for jobs around New Zealand. iSign’s NZSL interpreters are members of SLIANZ.

iSign provides on-site face-to-face interpreters, which is generally the most appropriate way to ensure full accessibility and participation. 

Connect Interpreting(external link) 

Connect Interpreting is a nationwide service providing sign language interpreting services for all types of assignments. This service only contracts qualified interpreters who are SLIANZ members. 

WordsWorth Interpreting(external link)

WordsWorth Interpreting provides onsite and online NZSL interpreter bookings and interpreter coordination throughout Aotearoa New Zealand for all types of assignment, including specialised subject areas.

Interpreting New Zealand(external link) 

Interpreting New Zealand is a general interpreter booking agency that includes NZSL interpreters.

New Zealand Relay(external link)

New Zealand Relay offers a video sign language interpreting service, and other relay services for people who are Deaf, hard of hearing, speechimpaired, or Deafblind.

Video: New Zealand Video Interpreting Service

This video may take a few moments to load.

(New Zealand VIS, 2016)

Who pays for health-related interpreter services?

Your local health service is responsible for paying for interpreters for health appointments at services provided in public health, such as public hospital appointments. The iSign service covers other health-related appointments, such as seeing your GP or going to a private hospital.

Who pays for other interpreter services?

For other services not mentioned here, it is expected that organisations pay for NZSL interpreting services as part of ensuring access for all New Zealanders and recognising New Zealand Sign Language as an official language of New Zealand.

Click the image below, then scroll down and click on the video to view.

(external link)
(isign, Deaf Aotearoa, 2018)

The National Foundation for Deaf and Hard of Hearing NZ(external link)
Freephone 0800 867 446 (in New Zealand only). Provides online forums, links to support services and organisations, financial aid opportunities, information about your rights, events, education and prevention advice, personal stories and more.

Deaf Aotearoa(external link) 
A national organisation representing the voice of Deaf people, and the national service provider for Deaf people in New Zealand.

First Signs(external link) 
Supports the learning of New Zealand Sign Language for family and whānau of Deaf or hard-of-hearing children aged 0–5 years.

Hauora(external link) 
Deaf Aotearoa’s service for Deaf and hard-of-hearing people that provides needs assessment and coordination, applications for assistive equipment and information and advice.

A guide to working with New Zealand Sign Language interpreters(external link) New Zealand Sign Language Board, 2017
New Zealand Sign Language Board(external link) Ministry of Social Development & Office for Disability Issues

The following links provide further information about NZ Sign Language interpreters. 
A guide to working with NZSL interpreters(external link) New Zealand Sign Language Board
Hearing and vision services(external link) Whaikaha Ministry of Disabled People, NZ
Sign Language Interpreters Association of New Zealand (SLIANZ)(external link) SLIANZ maintains a national directory of qualified members, which contains contact information for interpreters as well as their speciality areas. This list can be searched by name, region(external link) or work preference. 


  1. About New Zealand Sign Language(external link) Office for Disability Issues, NZ, 2018
  2. Hearing and vision services(external link) Whaikaha Ministry of Disabled People, NZ
  3. Interpreter directory(external link) Sign Language Interpreters Association of New Zealand (SLIANZ)

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