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What is Makaton?

Makaton is a language programme that uses signs and symbols to help people communicate.  It’s designed to support spoken language:  the signs are used alongside speech, in the same order as spoken words.  Makaton signs are based on the signs used in British Sign Language (BSL). 


It is used extensively across the UK and has been adapted in over 50 countries.  

Makaton's popularity has grown enormously since it was first developed in the 1970s.  The BBC's Something Special has demonstrated that signing is great fun and a brilliant skill to learn.  


Over the last few years, Makaton has been increasingly recognised and celebrated.  One of the original founders, Margaret Walker, received a Pride of Britain Award.  And the wonderful Sign Along With Us were runners up on Britain's Got Talent 2020!

While Covid has undoubtedly created huge difficulties and challenges for most of us, it has allowed the Makaton community to reach many who previously struggled to access training, advice, support and opportunities to practice.  The online community has gone from strength to strength, which has been great for those of us in Cumbria and beyond.

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Why Use It?

Anyone whose speech is hard to understand can use signs to help them get their meaning across.  This reduces frustration and encourages participation.

Making words ‘visual’ helps make them more interesting.

Matching a sign to a word makes that word easier to understand.

Signing when speaking reduces the amount you say and makes you say it more slowly so you are easier to understand.

Learning and using Makaton is fun!  And is easier than ever now it's possible to learn Online!

Who can use it?

Anyone!  Signs are used with children and adults experiencing communication difficulties, but Makaton can be used to support communication from young babies to the elderly.  It builds on early communication skills such as pointing and gesture and so is fairly easy to learn.

Makaton signs can be useful for people learning English as an additional language.  Using signs and symbols makes words easier to learn, understand and say.


​It’s being used more and more in nurseries and schools with typically developing children to support early communication and literacy skills.  Using Makaton signs don’t stop us from speaking, in fact they encourage us, as we’re more likely to be successful in getting our message across.  Signs are used as long as they are needed.  And as spoken language improves, the need to sign will reduce.

How does it help?

Signs are visual, so they make the spoken word easier to understand. We tend to speak more slowly when we sign, and we simplify what we’re saying. So that makes us easier to understand too.

Using signs makes us more interesting to look at, so attention and listening skills improve.

Signs are easier to learn than speech, so a young child may be able to use a sign before they know the word.

If our speech is unclear, using a sign too can make our message easier to understand.

It works well to support integration and inclusion as Makaton signs can help those with and without language difficulties to communicate, and learn together.  The structured approach can also help people who are learning English as an additional language, helping break down the communication barrier, whilst supporting learning.

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