Every year, New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) Week comes around, and every time it does, I get a wee pang in the part of me that really wishes I could learn it – like, properly learn it. Sure, I went along to the taster class we had at Able a few years ago, and I even did an eight-week course through a local community education facility a few more years ago.
The tutor himself was Deaf, so as soon as we stepped into the class, we’d have to bumble along with whatever sign language we’d picked up the week before or – more often than not – just make up our own and hope he’d catch our drift and put us out of our misery. But the only things I can ever remember how to sign are my name (which is really going back now to when I was in primary school) and the words ‘orange’ and ‘encourage’. Our community-education tutor had to do a lot of that – encouraging, I mean.
The aforementioned part of me that pangs also wishes New Zealand Sign Language was on offer as a subject at the high school I went to. I’m sure it would’ve done me more good than the three years of French I did. The only things I can ever remember are how to tell someone my name, ask for the time and where the toilet is (‘Ou est la toilette?’).
There is actually a plethora of NZSL resources available online, which we are very fortunate to have, but is there ever really an ideal time to just sit down and teach yourself a new language? (Don’t answer that. That’s a rhetorical question.) And so time goes by; seasons change; NZSL Week comes and goes, and I wonder what could have been for all of two minutes.
Until this year, that is. The two minutes have stretched out to a couple of weeks, because this time, I stumbled across Sign Ninja, a joint effort by Deaf Aotearoa, the Office for Disability Issues and NZ On Air. It’s a game that can be played free on computers and certain smart devices. You can play as a guest but need to create an account if you want to save your progress (and you will want to save your progress).
The premise is – you’re a young Padawan (though ‘mukyū’ is probably a more appropriate term) trying to make your way through a labyrinth to the Great Hall of Communication, learning about the history of NZSL and signs for different words through interaction with friendly Sign Ninja characters. You use this (possibly) newly found knowledge to unlock doors and earn points and tokens.
All good heroes need a villain to test their mettle, and in this game, it’s the Shouters – noisy types who don’t know how to use NZSL and threaten to collapse the walls of labyrinth with their raucous carryings-on. This probably reads cuter than it literally sounds, though, because I jumped without fail every time a Shouter reared its ugly head,… and they reared their ugly heads a lot.
Having vanquished the Shouters and earned enough points, you reach the Great Hall of Communication, where you’re awarded belts of different colours to reflect your progress. You then make your way back through the labyrinth, having unlocked more signs to learn, and the good times roll on.
Sign Ninja is relatively straightforward to use, but figuring out where you are in the game and how to proceed takes some getting used to. Even so, it’s suitable for all ages. I mean, I think I, as a grown human woman, engaged and had as much fun with it – if not more – than a 5-year-old would. I currently have my yellow belt and hope to get my red well before NZSL Week comes around next year.
Shrutika, Able Caption Editor