New Zealand Sign Language is an often overlooked part of the global deaf community. With a niche and smaller population of people using NZSL, there is a lot for people to learn about its origins, usage, development, history, culture, and progression in the future. It differs from other English-based sign languages like British Sign Language (BSL), American Sign Language (ASL), and Australian Sign Language (Auslan), carrying some of the same features, but with its own unique character and style. The deaf community in New Zealand is one that is thriving, check out some more about NZSL below.

What is NZSL?

New Zealand Sign Language is a form of communication using hands and lips for people without the ability of hearing or those who are hard of hearing. Using fingers, hands, arms, and parts of the body, words are formed. Combined with lip patterns, people without hearing can have conversations without the use of oral communication. Sign language is an essential tool all over the world, and most countries have their own version, even differing among English-speaking countries, and New Zealand is no different. NZSL began as a version of British Sign Language ( BSL) and has slowly evolved over time to reflect and include New Zealand’s rich history and culture. It became one of the many official languages of New Zealand in 2006.


The NZSL community has a long and not always happy history. Ignored by schools and made up of a mixture of BSL and Auslan (British Sign Language and Australian Sign Language) as well as the construction of people’s own signs, it was driven mostly underground and used outside of school in private. It wasn’t until the 1980s that NZSL was acknowledged and began to form its own community. Today, the NZSL community is stronger, although fights are still ongoing to integrate NZSL into politics and government. Education around NZSL is growing, and more tools and opportunities are available.

Cultural Heritage

NZSL differs from ASL, BSL, and Auslan in how it integrates Maori and New Zealand culture into its words and signs. Originally beginning as BSL, it quickly deviated, as common words specific to New Zealand culture and way of life were introduced. Due to the slow uptake of the acknowledgement of the deaf community, many parts of NZSL include facial and lip movements.


Many schools around New Zealand are open to the deaf community and those wanting to learn NZSL. As well as that, there are now a lot of platforms online dedicated to teaching more about the community and welcoming those into the world of NZSL. For those with any family members or friends with deafness, this can be a much-needed tool and way of learning more about NZSL, its history, culture, and community.

Learn More

If you live in or around the Canterbury area in New Zealand and want to learn more about NZSL and the deaf community, reach out to a nearby chapter in your area. Take a further look around our site, reach out to your local community centres, and find out more to involve yourself, educate yourself about the history and culture, and maybe even start learning some basic NZSL. NZSL should be a tool available to every deaf or hard of hearing person, so let’s expand the conversation now.