Sign language interpreters from Latin America meet in Panama

AIIC present at milestone event bringing together interpreters, professional organizations, and representatives of governments and universities.

In July 2017 the Panamanian Association of Sign Language Interpreters welcomed over 200 participants to the 3rd Latin American Conference of Sign Language Interpreters. The conference was hosted on behalf of the World Association of Sign Language Interpreters (WASLI) and attracted interpreters and stakeholders from Mexico to Chile. The conference was a milestone in the history of the profession of sign language interpreters in Panama. Government officials, institutional and university representatives, members of national deaf organizations from Latin American countries, and WASLI and WFD board members were all present.

As coordinator of the AIIC Sign Language Network (SLN), I was invited to be one of the keynote speakers. My topic was the research study on the status of sign language interpreting in Europe which I have been conducting over the past sixteen years. The longitudinal nature of the study reveals how best practices from 45 countries and regions in Europe have evolved over time. As a result, national interpreter associations around the world can use it as a guidance for the development of their local profession.

I also made a second presentation on AIIC and the SLN jointly with Hilda Tejada, SLN member for Mexico. We provided insights into what AIIC stands for and the network’s achievements since 2012, the year that AIIC began to admit sign language interpreters. We underlined the importance of using the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD)[1], which will contribute to improving the working conditions of sign language interpreters; to date 175 state parties have ratified this convention. Moreover, AIIC’s role in negotiating a collective agreement with the UN on all conference interpretation services will help ensure equal treatment of all conference interpreters, signed and spoken. For example, if the UN agreement is honored, sign language interpreters will have the same access to documents and technical support, equal remuneration, and so on. Improving working conditions for sign language interpreters will go a long way toward establishing equal access for deaf sign language users.

Hilda Tejada and Maya de Wit

A short snap survey

We also explained AIIC's concept of A, B, and C languages, and asked interpreters working at conferences to fill out an information sheet we had designed. On the form they could indicate their name, country, email address and their working languages (A, B, C). A total of 35 interpreters from 12 countries did so: Bolivia (4), Chile (1), Columbia (6), Costa Rica (5), Ecuador (3), El Salvador (2), Guatemala (2), Mexico (2), Panama (2), Paraguay (1), Peru (6), and Venezuela (1). As the majority of the Panamanian Sign Language interpreters were actively interpreting, only two were able to fill out the form.

All 35 respondents have Spanish as an A language. Other spoken languages were: 

  • English (4 B; 10 C)
  • Portuguese (5 C)
  • French (1 B, 1 C)
  • Italian (1 C)
  • Guarani (1 A). 

The majority (80%) have their national sign language as a B language: 

  • LSCh-Chile (1 A)
  • LSB-Bolivia (3 B)
  • LSCh-Chile (1 A)
  • LSC-Columbia (1 A, 7 B)
  • LESCO-Costa Rica (2 A, 3 B)
  • LSEC-Ecuador SL (1 A, 2 B)
  • LESSA-El Salvador (2 B)
  • LENSEGUA-Guatemala SL (2 B)
  • LSM-Mexico (1 A, 1 B)
  • LSP-Panama (1 A, 1 C)
  • LSPY-Paraguay (1 B)
  • LSP-Peru (5 B)
  • LSV-Venezuela (1 B)

The fact that the majority of SLIs have their national sign language as a B language is in accordance with the worldwide trend in the sign language interpreter profession. Educational programs for SLIs report only a few native signers completing a degree in sign language interpreting (Roy & Napier, 2015; de Wit, 2016). Students who enroll in an interpreting degree program are mostly second language learners of a sign language.

Notable but not surprising, given the location of the conference, is the strong presence of Spanish. All participants have Spanish as an A language and very few know an additional spoken language; only 5 have another spoken language as a B language.

The results of the live short questionnaire provide a glimpse into the field of sign language interpreters working in conferences in Latin America. It is by no means intended as an in-depth survey, but merely a first step towards further study.


Roy, C. B., & Napier, J. (Eds). (2015). The sign language interpreting studies reader. Amsterdam, the Netherlands: John Benjamins.

Wit, M. de (2016). Sign Language Interpreting in Europe, 2016 edition. Self-published. Printed by Create Space, Baarn, M. de Wit.



Recommended citation format:
Maya DE WIT. "Sign language interpreters from Latin America meet in Panama". October 16, 2017. Accessed July 11, 2020. <>.

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