Some English-language assistants find themselves at Spanish schools where Euskara or Catalan is the norm. At my high school, however, the most common second language isn’t English or French, Valenciano or Galego. It is Lengua de Signos Española (LSE), or Spanish Sign Language.
The entrance to IES Gómez-Moreno boasts that it is a bilingual school (referring to English-language ties); the reality is that our school has been bilingual (with LSE) since 1988!
Students travel from several neighborhoods to attend classes at IES Gómez-Moreno because this public high school offers integración de alumnos sordos. 19 of the approximately 500 students are hearing impaired, and they attend classes alongside hearing classmates. Because of this, I’ve also picked up a few signs during my time at the school.
Below I’ve included some noteworthy facts on LSE. But first, some signs!*
Here’s the alphabet so that you can learn to sign your name.
Teachers aren’t typically trained in lengua de signos. Luckily, our school has four full-time interpreters and several fledgling interpreters doing internships. These interpreters are assigned to specific classes and accompany the students on field trips as well as visits to the principal’s office and teacher’s lounge. In addition, the school counselor and speech therapist are also fluent in lengua de signos.
There are usually between two and eight alumnos sordos per class. The hearing-impaired students take almost every subject with their hearing peers. (They also have extra apoyo classes.) This extends to the language classrooms. Several of my English classes over the years have included alumnos sordos; the teacher and I must always adapt the lesson plans to make it possible for every child to learn. This can be tricky when the English teacher wants to devote the auxiliar’s classroom time to speaking and listening activities.
One important thing to note is that range of hearing varies widely among people with auditory disabilities. Some students with profound hearing loss have Cochlear implants while others have hearing aids. Every individual still takes part in class, either through writing answers on the board, sounding out words, or communicating through interpreters. We include everyone by taking turns, allowing extra time for interpreters to explain information, and of course, finding video clips with subtitles. Mr. Bean is a perennial favorite because he shows that words aren’t necessary to convey meaning.
The school hallway during a quiet moment
Some facts about Lengua de Signos Española:
- In Spain, LSE was only officially recognized as a language in 2007.
- An estimated 100,000 people use sign language as a first or second language in Spain.
- There are no subjects or conjugations in LSE. You can point to yourself or to the person you are talking to, but in general verbs aren’t conjugated.
- There are not as many tenses in LSE as in spoken Spanish. LSE has tenses for past, present and future, as well as a tag for conditionals.
- In Spain, June 14 is Día Nacional de las Lenguas de Signos Españolas.
- Note the plural above; that’s because there is more than one lengua de signos! For example, there is lengua de signos catalana as well as lengua de signos valenciana. Just like spoken Spanish, LSE varies from region to region and also differs from sign language in Latin America.
- There are approximately 800 hearing-impaired students across primary and secondary schools in Madrid (based on info from 2008-2009).
- There are 23 primary schools and nearly 20 high schools that welcome hearing-impaired students in Madrid.
- Like any European language, LSE has a CEFR guideline for language learners.
In December 2013, more than 50 teachers and staff from our school learned “All I Want for Christmas is You” in LSE. The interpreters taught each of us different lines from the song, and we recorded it during our mid-day break. On the last day of school before winter break, we played the video for the students as a surprise. It was an immediate hit with all of the kids. To see it, follow the link to “Watch this video on YouTube.”
Can you pick out the sign for “Navidad”?
- The Confederación Estatal de Personas Sordas is a good place to start if you’re looking for info on LSE or working with the hearing-impaired.
- CNLSE, or the Centro de Normalización Lingüística de la Lengua de Signos Española, aims to promote the language as well as research related topics.
- Want learn how to sign more of Spain’s Comunidades Autónomas y Provincias? Click here.
- Learn LSE on YouTube! Mis Manos Hablan is a YouTube channel that gives clear instructions on the language.
- Aprende Lengua de Signos has a lot of practical resources for learning about the language.
*I am by no means an LSE expert. Even with my rudimentary signing, I hope I’ve piqued your interest in LSE.