Diane Smith is passionate about sign language. But until recently the new Rural Education Activities Programme (REAP) tutor was a student.
With a keen interest from the Taupō community, the early childhood educator and registered teacher was rapt to be asked by REAP community education manager Linda Moss if she would pass on her new-found knowledge and become a tutor.
Eighteen years ago Diane entered deaf education when she became a teacher at Kelston Deaf Education Centre in Auckland. She completed her Teacher of the Deaf training and then had children of her own.
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"I came back a few years ago and did a refresher course through REAP," says Diane.
She then decided to advance her studies and along with three others completed Intermediate Level Sign Language through online learning using Skype. She says there is a really small deaf community in Taupō and the four catch up to sign together.
"It's like any language, it's about fluency. When you have the passion for sign language and someone 'gets it', it is really cool."
Having learnt sign language through Skype, Diane says it is great to be able to offer students the chance to learn in a class situation with a tutor.
"It is an interactive language and good to be able to sign with an actual person. Then there is the group dynamic, someone gets it and they share with the other. Plus you can have a good laugh."
Diane says there is a growing interest in learning sign language, mainly from people who find themselves communicating with others with hearing impediments.
"In my class I am teaching a librarian, a church leader, teachers, a speech language therapist, and people working with special needs children."
Along with English and Te Reo Māori, New Zealand Sign Language is an official language of New Zealand.
"Even if you can just sign the basics of 'Can I help?' What do you need help with?' and then they can explain what they need by signing the alphabet or writing it down."
Learning baby sign language has been particularly helpful when communicating with the young children Diane looks after at home. She says sign language is also helpful for quiet children or those with a lisp or speech impediment.
"It can save the kids becoming frustrated. If they can communicate they want to eat or drink or sleep, then it saves them standing there pointing going 'Ahhhhhh'."
Diane says children aged 12 months are actually better able to communicate with sign language than spoken language. She says through sign language they can communicate things like 'I want milk. I am finished. I want more. I want a biscuit.'
"When you see the Prime Minister on TV, she has someone signing beside her. From the deaf person's point of view, without a signer there is no communication."
Diane signed to her own three children when they were babies. Now in their teens, her daughter and two friends have signed up for the beginner class and Diane says she is looking forward to providing a future community service through REAP.
* If you are interested in learning sign language, get in touch with Diane through REAP, phone 378 8109 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. A short beginner class starts on
Thursday February 27. Currently there is a beginners class on Tuesdays, and Level 1D classes are on Wednesdays.