By LEIGH BEDFORD.

The rarity of New Zealand Sign Language is significant, with only 24,000 New Zealanders actually communicating with it.

I speak fluent English and am learning French and New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) as second and third languages, and I’m finding sign language a new way to express myself. It is the most visual language in the world. The gestures and facial expressions are incredible in the way they allow hearing-impaired people to communicate thoughts and ideas to one another. I’m learning sign language to further develop my communication skills.

I have a friend called Cates who was born deaf, yet 18 years later she speaks four languages. She talks just like anyone else; it’s often hard to remember that she’s deaf. It’s amazing to learn the native language of someone else, and to be able to have a conversation with them.

An idea that was suggested to me recently: to learn sign language through song. This is a quick and easy way for able-hearing people to learn new vocabulary. I choose a song that I like, Cates teaches me the words, and then I pick up the language really easily, really fast. My friend and I meet almost every fortnight to catch up and learn more.

In September, I will be taking part in a talent quest called Versus, hosted by Zeal Hawkes Bay.  I’ll be signing my way to the top with the song You Raise Me Up by Josh Groban.

I personally think that NZSL should be taught in primary schools. Imagine being a kid all alone because you’re deaf and no one can communicate with you. It’s a great skill to have if you are one that loves making friends.

New Zealand Sign Language Week was in May, but one week a year does not give us enough awareness. During school, you’ll often find me teaching my fellow students a word or two, because repeating the signs in your everyday speaking is one way to remember.

Cates once said to me that her friend at school was complaining that his parents yelled at him the night before. Cates replied, “Well you’re lucky.” Her friend looked at her, confused and asked why he was lucky. Cates said: “At least you can hear them.”

Wow, that was so powerful for me. We take things like hearing, seeing and talking for granted, we really do. For me, if you don’t learn a new language, you miss out on adding incredible value to your life. Languages open some amazing doors.

If you want to get started on learning sign language, download the NZSL Dictionary for Andriod or Apple and rip into it!

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