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UC Expert Wants More School Children to Learn Sign Language

UC Expert Wants More New Zealand School Children to Learn Sign Language

May 10, 2013

A University of Canterbury lecturer wants more New Zealand school children to learn sign language.

Some students learn sign language but with many deaf New Zealanders and children with hearing difficulties, more children should learn the language, UC researcher Dr Dean Sutherland says.

``New Zealand sign language is one of three officially recognised languages in the country. There are many common misunderstandings about what constitutes sign language, who can learn it and what the benefits of learning it are. 

``Public awareness of sign language has increased with the presence of sign language Interpreters during press conferences and public events and the 2010 election of Mojo Mathers, the first deaf MP to Parliament.

``The 2006 census showed 24,000 people were using sign language. Most deaf children will receive implants to help them hear better early in life but international research suggests that relying purely on oral language without sign language does not alleviate all communication, language and literacy difficulties experienced by deaf children.

``Deaf children often struggle to develop age appropriate oral language and literacy skills. However deaf children with deaf parents typically perform well in comparison to deaf children of hearing parents.

``As most deaf students in New Zealand are now integrated into regular schools they will experience many challenges to develop their sign language skills as most of their peers will communicate using speech,’’ Dr Sutherland says.

As part of National Sign Language Week, Dr Sutherland will give a public lecture at UC next week (May 15). For details see:

A current UC research project aims to help many of the 500,000 New Zealanders who are deaf and have hearing problems. UC researcher Dr Donald Derrick received $553,436 in Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment funding last year to look into the use of smartphones, hearing aids, and mobile radios which currently rely solely on the acoustic signal.


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