Locals will have the opportunity to gain insight into New Zealand’s least known official language this weekend, with Otago Deaf Society’s New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) taster sessions.
The sessions are funded by the New Zealand Sign Language Board and Otago Deaf Society, and will be delivered by Josje Lelijveld, who is a member of the Dunedin Deaf community.
“We have funding to promote sign language, and want to reach the Otago area, not just Dunedin,” Lelijveld said.
“We’re looking to spread the word and the language, and we’re doing that with the taster sessions. People can just come along. You don’t have to be deaf or hearing impaired, it’s for people who can hear too.”
Lelijveld said it can be more difficult for those in the Deaf community to live outside of the main centres.
Of the 20,235 people who speak NZSL, according to the 2013 Census only 42 of those live in the Queenstown-Lakes district.
“That 100 percent Deaf signing community is not there,” Lelijveld said, adding that communicating with hearing people depends on how much they can hear, or pick up - “if they are lip reading or a little bit oral” - and how much of an effort the other people in the community make to communicate with them.
“Often for Deaf people, if NZSL is their first language, they’ll go to places with a higher population of Deaf people, because then there is a community.
“Wanaka is a lovely place - beautiful lake and the scenery is lovely - but there are not many deaf people there. They tend to go to more highly populated places.”
Lelijveld is keen to promote NZSL as one of New Zealand's official languages and said everybody is welcome to go along to the sessions to watch people sign and pick up some of the language.
There are currently no sign language tutors in the area, but those interested in progressing with the language could do so remotely.
“There is definitely some [local] interest from what I can see. Perhaps we can do classes through Skype and we have some courses that you can learn online. It may not be face-to-face to start off with.”
Saturday’s introductory session will last about 50 minutes and the Otago Deaf Society will provide a basic barbecue lunch, but bring your own drinks.
“We would love to see deaf people, hard of hearing people, especially young people. If they can carry on learning the language then it can survive.”
The first Sign Language session will be held in Wanaka at the Eely Point barbecue, from noon on Saturday, March 16. The second session will take place in Pioneer Park, Alexandra, at noon on Sunday, March 17.