Madrid, Spain

Insider’s Guide to Understanding Spanish Hand Gestures

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Most people are familiar with the stereotype of passionate Spaniards having animated conversations at top volume, while punctuating their every word with a movement of the hands. It’s not uncommon to see groups of people gesticulating wildly while in conversation. And while some of it can be classified as general hand-waving used for emphasis, there is a whole array of particularly Spanish hand signals with very specific meanings.

Everyone has given a good job the thumbs-up before, or maybe had their coach assign them “time out” or even “I’ve got my eye on you.”  Here are examples of some of the most common Spanish gestures to add to your repertoire:


Spanish Gestures

Movement: Repeatedly brush fingers downwards
Literal Translation: I’m down to two candles
Meaning: I’m broke!
¡Que cara mas dura tiene!

Spanish Gestures

Movement: Tap cheek with fingers (can be done with palm facing towards or away from face)
Literal Translation: What a hard face he/she has!
Meaning: How cheeky!
¡Esto esta petao!

Spanish Gestures

Movement: Open and close fingers with thumb repeatedly
: It’s packed (full of people)! (slang)
Te estoy viendo

Spanish Gestures

Movement: Pull bottom eyelid downwards
: I’m watching you!

Spanish Gestures

Movement: Hold up one pinky finger
Literal Translation: It’s that thin
Meaning: This thin (usually when talking about sudden or dramatic weight loss)

Classroom Activity

Along with this brief guide to Spanish hand gestures, here are some ideas to incorporate in class:

  • Which gestures could you teach a Spanish exchange student for use in your school?
  • Split into teams, have one team sign a message and the other win points for knowing the verbal equivalent (in Spanish).
  • Have each team pick three or more gestures, opposing teams are challenged to make up a narrative/skit (in Spanish), which is to include the gestures picked.
  • Make up your own dictionary of gestures to go with other expressions.
I hope you learned something new about Spanish forms of communication and enjoy using these suggestions in your class!–Lisa
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