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Apr 2017

Teaching Sign to the hearing

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Shaping the future of learning

Approximately 95% of deaf children are born to hearing parents and there is only a small pool of teachers available to teach sign language. Sign language is one of New Zealand’s three official languages. 

So how do you reach a wider audience? Find out about how we developed a free, online, interactive learning programme to teach New Zealand sign language – anywhere, anytime. 

The New Zealand Sign Language project 

When Victoria University’s Deaf Unit approached us to partner with them on this venture, we immediately saw the incredible opportunity with the project. It was a unique opportunity to support a critically important national project and support a very wide group of future learners. 

The team's vision was to build a rich and comprehensive programme that could replace or complement a classroom training session. It had to be easy, flexible and modern.   

Working with the team  

From the first meeting, it was a great learning experience. All our face to face meetings with the project lead (who is deaf) involved interpreters, often more than one. Just like working with a foreign language interpreter, we had to learn how communications work. Looking at the ‘speaker’ and not the interpreter, setting up the seats to position interpreters in the right place, taking care not to speak too quickly and using jargon.  

While some meetings were critical to hold face to face, technology tools were what really supported a strong and collaborative working style, with nothing lost in the online communications. We could keep up the regular back and forth discussions online, sharing and commenting on designs and ideas as we went. We used Trello which gave a great visibility for the team and client. As well as keeping key team members in direct communication with the client. Skype was also used for live chat.  

The design 

One of the key challenges for the project was the huge depth of content. It was not just letters, words and phrases. But also the very important social behaviours (e.g. banging on a desk or flicking lights to get someone’s attention). 

Nine key settings (such as on holiday or at work) make up the course. Within those, learners get to meet the characters and find out their stories. They learn the words first, then they see how these fit together as phrases. Finally, they get to hold a conversation.     



We incorporated over 660 videos, so learners could see real life examples and practise along. Each topic centred around a set of characters based on the context of the topic. Illustrated characters bridged the gap, but were designed based on the real characters in the videos!   


We are very proud to be a part of the New Zealand sign language project team and are looking forward to hearing how learners are getting on over the next few months. To view the full course take a look here.



Shaping the future of learning

Kineo helps the world’s leading businesses improve performance through learning and technology. We’re proud of our reputation for being flexible and innovative, and of our award-winning work with clients across the world.

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