language, translation

Spanish and Latin American Hand Gestures

As translators and especially interpreters know, not all language is verbal. And while it may not be true that 93% of language is non-verbal as past researchers suggest, non-verbal cues, gestures and tones still account for a lot of nuance when it comes to interpreting communications and messages between people. As a Spanish-language interpreter and owner of ACR Spanish Translations for more than two decades, I have made it an important part of my work to master non-verbal communications in both Spanish and English. After all, a gesture here might not mean the same thing there and even within Spanish and Latin American communities, gestures and mannerisms can vary widely.


One of my favourite things about the Spanish language and the cultures it is found in is how expressive they are. Spanish is a whole body language from expressive eyes to hand gestures and even leg movements. For the most part, a Spanish-speaking person’s body language says a lot and meaning abounds in their gestures! I want to share some of my personal favorites with you!

“Está lleno de gente”/It’s full of people (packed).

This phrase may or may not accompany a gesture which involves one or both hands brought in front of the body, rapidly opening and closing. It is used when entering a public space like a restaurant or music venue in which many people have gathered and can be positive or negative (ie. It’s packed like the food is good or it’s packed like let’s get out of here).

“Güeno, güeno, güeno”/Really, really, really good.

Typical of the southern Spanish dialects, this gesture is performed by forming circle with the thumb and index finger, and moving the hand two or three times in a downward motion. It’s obviously used for emphasis.

“Te estoy viendo”/ I’m watching you.

Performed by pulling the bottom eyelid downward, this gesture is meant to convey that someone is keeping their eye on you. Similarly, in Latin American cultures, pointing at one eye for a few seconds can connote “¡Ojo!”/ “¡Cuidado!” which means “Watch it!” as a warning.

“Te lo juro”/I swear or I promise you.

A common gesture, this one is performed by having the thumb outside a clenched fist, bringing it to the mouth and kissing it before flicking it up and forward.

“Está delicioso”/It’s delicious.

Bringing a hand with fingers together to the mouth and flinging it forward with fingers open can signify your satisfaction with a beverage or food dish.

Other favourites of mine include the Nicaraguan nose scrunch which is short form for “what, on earth, are you talking about?”, the Peruvian temple tap meaning “They are crazy”, and of course, the all-pervasive hug and kiss on the cheek which is a greeting in itself!

Until next time!


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