Signing up for Lengua de Signos Española

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”?

Helpful links:

  • 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.

Have you had any experience with Lengua de Signos Española? What signs would you like to learn?

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  1. I’m in love with this post! I’m so excited to hear that the hearing impaired students are incorporated into regular classes at your school. You’ve definitely sparked my interested, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget the sign for nos vemos.

    Your video was great, thanks for getting behind the camera to share what you’ve learned!

    • Cassandra

      Thanks so much for your kind words, Ashley! I was really nervous about making a video, but of course it was the best medium to share the signs. I’m happy to hear that you will remember “nos vemos”!

  2. I really liked this post. Mario has a deaf cousin, but I still wasn’t really aware of much, so this was educational!

  3. Christine

    I thoroughly enjoyed this post and video. You have a natural and friendly way of introducing a subject, a subject which has particular interest for me as my 15 month-old daughter is hearing impaired and we are currently learning LSE (well actually Espanol Signado Exacto, but at this early stage there is not much difference ). Our situation is quite unusual in that we are a French-American family living in Madrid for only a couple of years. It was difficult to decide what was the best type of support we could give our daughter during these crucial language development years in a foreign country. We were originally going to put her in a Piruetas which is a nursery school that is also DHH/ normal hearing integrated, but the instruction was naturally in LSE and Spanish. To have our daughter learn 3 spoken languages and one signed was just too much. We went with a French/English daycare with biweekly speech therapy in French with ESE. She is making progress so I feel it was a good decision. To keep up with her signed language development, I would like to learn either LSE or ESE but don’t have a firm basis in spoken Spanish just yet. I guess one thing before the other. I will nevertheless check out your links. Thanks again for your wonderful post.

    • Cassandra

      Christine, thank you so much for your comment. I have so much respect for parents like you who are learning sign language to communicate with their children.

      With your specific multilingual situation, it must have been incredibly difficult to choose which form of education would be best for your daughter. I’m glad to learn that this current path seems to be the right one.

      I hadn’t heard of Espanol Signado Exacto before, so thank you for bringing that up. I will look up more information about it as I hope to update this post with useful links and info.

      Best of luck with your family’s LSE/ESE/Spanish, French, and English journey, Christine!

  4. you’re so cute! i love how passionate you are about languages of any kind! i was going to guess that the first sign was madrid!

    • Cassandra

      Thanks Annie! I do love languages 🙂

      Madrid was a good guess–it could have referred to the arches at the Puerta de Alcala!

  5. Really enjoyed this video, Cassandra! It was a super accessible introduction to sign language in Spain and I found myself signing along throughout the video. I always forget that sign languages are languages in their own right and not just speaking English, for example, with your hands, and I made that realization when you explained that the signs for “¿Qué tal?” and “Bien” are the same, kind of like the informal French “ça va?” (how’s it going?) you reply with the same word “ça va (bien).”

    • Cassandra

      Thanks for the kind words, Trevor! I’m happy to hear that you were signing along with the video. Which sign was your favorite?

      And yes, I agree that sign language can differ quite a bit from the spoken form of the language. First there’s the conjugation aspect, but this also comes into play with vocab, register, etc. I find it especially interesting how the same gesture/sign can take on different meanings depending on context. It sounds difficult to master but of course we do this in spoken English all the time with homophones.)

  6. That Christmas video was ADORABLE! I have a couple friends who speak ASL and I met one this year who speaks LSE so it’s been interesting learning signs from both languages (although I promptly forget them).

    • Cassandra

      Thanks for watching, Erin! We had a lot of fun making the Christmas video. And–that’s cool that you’ve run into LSE during your time here, too!

  7. Wow, I had no idea your school offered integrated classes for hearing-impaired students! (Is that the new term for deaf? I’m assuming not all students have the same level of deafness and others may be able to hear better than others). I always wondered when I was little whether ASL was a universal language–would all hearing-impaired people across the world be able to communicate with each other? But it makes sense for each country to have their own sign language. I always wanted to learn ASL (or any sign language). And the video was great!

    • Cassandra

      Exactly–there are so many different levels of hearing loss that it’s hard to sum it up in one blanket term.

      It is an intriguing question as to whether all signers can communicate worldwide. Since I’ve been learning a bit about LSE I’ve realized just how culturally-specific different terms are! It’s always fascinating to me when I need to translate an English–or even Spanish–word into LSE and the interpreters are stumped as to what the sign might be. The other day they couldn’t find a sign for “popcorn,” for example!

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