Sign Languages Used in Spanish Speaking Countries

Just as the Spanish language varies from one Spanish-speaking country to another, so does the version of Spanish sign language used. Each Spanish-speaking country has its own sign language, e.g. Mexican Sign Language, Columbian Sign Language, etc.

Teacher showing pre-school girl sign language
Juan Silva / Getty Images

Countries That Use Spanish Sign Language

Andorra, Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Gibraltar, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, Spain, and Venezuela are the Spanish-speaking countries of the world. In most of these countries, national associations of the deaf have published sign language dictionaries.

Many of the dictionaries listed below were found on the Gallaudet Library page " Sign Languages of the World, by Name," and others were from the International Bibliography of Sign Language. Population data came from Ethnologue. Some countries are too small to have their own native sign language and are instead utilizing American Sign Language (ASL) or something close to ASL.


Andorra is a very small country between France and Spain with a population of under 100,000. One resource indicates that Andora has fewer than 5,000 deaf. I can not find any resources for a specialized sign language for Andorra. Belize is another small country, with a population under 300,000; its deaf and hard of hearing population is estimated to be around 3,000.


Argentina has a well established deaf community with national organizations and its own sign language.


Bolivia has a deaf population estimated by one resource to be around 50,000.


Chile has this book but it is not a sign language dictionary I am told: Pilleux, Mauricio, Cuevas, H., Avalos, E. (eds): El Lenguaje de Señas. Valdivia: Univ. Austral de Chile 1991 - 151 p. This book is described as a "linguistic analysis" of Chilean sign language (LSCh).

I was told that the "subtitle is 'Syntax-Semantic Analysis,' and the book focuses primarily on analyzing LSCh from a linguistic point of view in the same vein of Stokoe and ASL. While there are a fair number of diagrams included, they are all used to demonstrate certain particularities, such as the existence of classifiers, etc.


It appears that Colombia has a sign language dictionary: Royet, Henry Mejia, Lengua de Señas Columbiana, 1996. A search of Library of Congress holdings yielded another book, Diccionario de gestos. España e Hispanoamérica/Giovanni Meo-Zilio, Silvia Mejía, Bogotá : [Instituto Caro y Cuervo], 1980-1983.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica has a sign language dictionary, published by a ministry of public education's department of special education: Departamento de Educación Especial (1979). Hacia una nueva forma de communicación con el sordo. San Jose, Costa Rica: Departamento de Publicaciones, Ministerio de Educación Pública.


Cuba's sign language dictionary: Meneses Volumen, Alina (1993). Manual de lengua de señas cubanas. Habana, Cuba: ANSOC.

Dominican Republic

One resource indicates that while the Dominican Republic does have a sign language, it is apparently not well developed. "I live and work with the deaf in the Dominican Republic," said one local. "The Sign Language here, "Dominican Sign Language," might be called a dialect of ASL.

I would estimate it is about 90% the same as ASL, but with a smaller vocabulary, and use of fingerspelling largely confined to names of people, streets, or places. This is true of the Sign Language all over the country. It is a small country, and there are regional differences, but they are not great since there is plenty of interaction between regions."


Ecuador's sign language dictionary: Libro de señas: guia básica (1987). Quito, Ecuador: Sociedad de Sordo Adultos

El Salvador

According to a resource, El Salvador has fewer than 50,000 deaf. There is reportedly a Salvadoran Sign Language, but I am unable to find any resources.


Gibraltar is another country that is apparently too small to have its own sign language. The country's total population is under 30,000.


Estimates of Guatemala's deaf population vary from 73,000 to as high as 700,000, depending on how deaf is defined. There is a Guatemalan Sign Language, but I cannot find any resources.


"I have been working amongst the deaf in rural Honduras for the past 7 years," said one source, "and there is a thriving beautiful sign language in Honduras indigenous to this land. The name of the language is Lesho or Honduran Sign Language."


Due in part to the large Mexican community in the United States (see this article on Mexico's deaf community), there are quite a few resources available for learning Mexican sign language:

  • Signing Fiesta offers training videos in Mexican sign language and English.
  • Sign language dictionary: Serafín García, Esther (1990). Comunicación manual. México, D.F.: SEP

Research has also been done into Mexican sign language:


Nicaraguan sign language is relatively young, having been developed only in the 1970s and 1980s. A sign language dictionary, López Gómez, Juan Javier (1997). Diccionario del idioma de señas de Nicaragua, was published in 1997 by the Asociación Nacional de Sordos de Nicaragua.


Panama's sign language dictionary: Lengua de señas panameñas (1990). Panama: Asociación Nacional de Sordos de Panamá.


Paraguay's deaf population has been estimated to be over 50,000, and there is a Paraguayan sign language.


Peru has an association for the deaf and its own sign language.

Puerto Rico

The Gallaudet Encyclopedia of Deaf People and Deafness (out of print) has an article on Puerto Rican sign language. I do not know if this book is a Puerto Rican sign language dictionary, but a Library of Congress search turned up this book: Aprende señas Conmigo: Lenguaje de señas en español-inglés = sign language in English-Spanish / Aida Luz Matos. San Juan, P.R.: A.L. Matos; Río Piedras, P.R.: Concordia Gardens, 1988.

Someone provided this information:

"I wish to let you know that, as far as I know, in PR the 'official' sign language is ASL. Sign language classes and related material are provided in ASL. Even our Telecommunications Relay Service and VRS offices are located in the USA. That's why there isn't a Puerto Rican Sign Language dictionary; although I am sure there are a lot of people who debate (and wishes) that PR should have it because many Latin countries do. About the author of the book quoted Aida Luz Matos, she is also a Rehabilitation Vocational supervisor. Her book is out of print, although she provides photocopies of it at a low cost.

Sacred Heart Missionaries from Baltimore funded in Aguadilla the "Colegio San Gabriel para Niños Sordos" (St. Gabriel School for Deaf Children") in 1915. In 1909 they moved to Santurce to San Jorge Street. In 1956 it was transferred to "Hermanas Franciscanas de la Inmaculada Concepción" from Valencia, Spain. As I read, the Spanish nuns were responsible for oralism education in deaf schools in Latin America. References found in these web pages (they are in Spanish).

In 1957 the Evangelical School for the Deaf in Luquillo was funded by American missionaries that came from Jamaica.


The website Biblioteca de Signos (Library of Signs) appears to be a general resource for Spanish sign language. It includes a video of signed poetry. There is a bibliography of published material on the linguistics of sign language, including Spanish sign language. The Spanish resources are accompanied by signed summaries. Based on this bibliography, it is apparent that the Spanish language publication Magazine of Logopedia, Foniatría, and Audiología frequently publishes articles on Spanish sign language.

In addition, the website offers resources for learning Spanish sign language such as Spanish sign language dictionaries. One such dictionary is Pinedo Peydró, Félix Jesús (2000). Diccionario de Lengua de Signos Española. [Madrid]: Confederacion Nacional de Sordos de España (National Confederation of the Deaf People of Spain). The Confederación Nacional de Sordos de España (National Confederation of the Deaf People of Spain) has published some papers on Spanish sign language, such as:

  • Muñoz Baell (1999): ¿Cómo se articula la lengua de signos española?, Madrid, CNSE.
  • Rodríguez González (1992), Lenguaje de signos, Barcelona, Confederación Nacional de Sordos de España/Fundación ONCE. also offers the Spanish sign alphabet.


The Gallaudet University Press Book "Signed Languages: Discoveries from international research" discusses Venuzuelan sign language in part. Some research has been done into Venezuelan sign language: Oviedo, Alejandro: Contando cuentos en Lengua de Señas Venezolana. Merida - Venezuela : Universidad de los Andes 1996 - 124 p.

Additional Spanish Sign Language Resources

A search of the Eric database turned up this resource:

  • Schein, Jerome D. "Spanish Sign in the Americas.: ACEHI Journal/Revue ACEDA; v21 n2-3 p109-16 1995.

In addition, a Library of Congress search found these books (but no additional information):

  • Comunicación manual / Esther Serafín García., 1990.
  • Diccionario mímico español / Félix Jesús Pinedo Peydró., 1981.
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