Android App Review: NZSL Dictionary

There are plenty of apps that help you with American or British sign language, but far fewer that are specifically for New Zealand. The NZSL Dictionary is one of those, and it does a pretty good job of it.

New Zealand sign language is one of the country’s official languages, but it is not one that has a large community of speakers. It’s not taught in mainstream schools, and it’s rare that you see it on television. It can be daunting for someone who wants to learn, and anyone who watched the awful translator at Nelson Mandela’s funeral knows that trying to fake it isn’t an option.

The NZSL Dictionary is a free app that provides a useful resource to anyone learning NZ sign language, and possibly even to fluent speakers as well.

The app has two main parts to it. The first is a dictionary of words, each with a diagram of how to perform the corresponding hand shape. Tapping this will bring up a brief video of the action being performed so you can see how it’s supposed to go.

The other part of the NZSL Dictionary is a ‘word of the day’, which is exactly what it sounds like: when you open the app it presents you with a (presumably) randomly chosen word and how to perform it. This is great if you’re actively trying to expand your vocabulary, but might get annoying if you’re only trying to use the app to look up specific words.

This app is a dictionary rather than a specific tool for learning (or teaching) sign language. The words are presented alphabetically rather than in any sort of order that might help with learning them (grouping them by meaning, say, or arranging them so that you work your way from easiest to hardest). But the app never claims to be anything more than a dictionary – it’s really just a resource for people who have at least some prior knowledge of the language, rather than the total novice who wants to begin learning.

If you were using this app as your sole resource to learn NZSL, I think you would struggle. But if you were taking lessons, or had someone close to you that was an NZSL speaker, then this app would serve as a good supplement, not to mention a handy resource for day-to-day reference.

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