NZSL With Your Little One

First Signs is about enabling you and your family/whānau to have NZSL as a language in your home. 

Developing language: 

As you develop more awareness and confidence using NZSL, with the guidance of your First Signs Facilitator, you will learn to look at the handshapes and movements your child is making. These are their attempts at communication and described as ‘manual babble’. You will then be able to reward the manual babble and model more NZSL to encourage further language development.

Motherese is an important part of developing language. This is a strategy that adults use when communicating with infants, whereby the intonation, pace and pitch are altered to make the language sound more melodic to hold the child’s attention and make it easier for the child to mimic.

The same is true when NZSL is the language of communication. Signers adapt how they produce a sign, making the signs larger, more rhythmical and using more simple handshapes, for the same reasons i.e.: to hold the child’s attention and make it easier for them to mimic.

By responding in a meaningful way you are continuing to give your child the building blocks for language.

As with learning any language, receptive skills develop quicker than expressive skills. So don’t be discouraged if your baby is not yet signing back to you. They are storing and increasingly understanding what is being signed to them. Lots of repetition supports this learning. When the child is ready, they will start using signs themselves.

Using the signs that you know in a variety of settings and with a variety of people will mean that your child has multiple opportunities to be exposed to that language. Then watch the manual babble closely for any handshape or movement that resembles the sign e.g.: ‘Bottle’ 

Tips and Tricks: Learning New Zealand Sign Language

– Try to learn a new sign each day

– Focus on using the signs that you know

– It is not important to sign fast, it’s important to sign clearly

– How many signs you know is not important it is how you use the signs you know

– Have periods in the day when you will focus on NZSL.

– Make use of the NZSL Dictionary app

-Connect with the Deaf community and interact with a variety of NZSL users

Tips and Tricks: New Zealand Sign Language in play

– Point to an object/toy and make the sign for that object/toy

– Move the object into the babies/toddlers line of vision and make the sign on the object/toy

– Hide the object/toy and make the sign of the object/toy and sign WHERE? Then show the object/toy making the sign again

– Copy your child’s early handshapes and hand movements and show them the correct sign

– Add meaningful sign/s as you sign back to them

– If you don’t know the sign use natural gestures and expressions to help get the message across

– Use lots of repetition (Children need to see a new sign many times to process, comprehend and use it themselves)

– Use simple sentences and phrases

– Use the same sign in a variety of contexts

– Choose a special story book that you would like to work on and ask your First Signs Facilitator to support you with signing it

Tips and Tricks: Make a list of words  

Make a list of the words that interest your child. Find the signs for these words on this website or the online NZSL Dictionary or ask your Deaf Aotearoa First Signs Facilitator. 

Use descriptive words; for example:

– Size: big/little, tall/short

– Appearance: cute, pretty, broken

– Texture: cold/hot, wet/dry, hard/soft, heavy/light

– Taste: sour, sweet

– Smell: stinky, mmmm-good

– Speed: fast/slow

– Direction: up/down, in/out

Also in First Steps

How it works

Have you recently learned that you have a deaf child under five in your family/whānau?

About Us

Come and meet the team!

Contact Enquiries

Ask a question or book an appointment below. 

0800 33 23 22

firstsigns@deaf.org.nz