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An introduction to Makaton

Updated: May 3, 2023

What is Makaton?

Makaton is a communication programme that uses signs, symbols and speech to help people communicate. It can be used by anyone, but it is mostly used by people who have learning disabilities and/or difficulties in using spoken language. The word Makaton comes from the names of the therapists who first developed the programme – Margaret Walker, Katharine Johnston and Tony Cornforth.

Is Makaton the same as Sign Language?

Makaton is not the same as British Sign Language (BSL) although some of the signs are similar. BSL is a recognised language used by the deaf community and it has its own grammatical structure, whereas Makaton uses signs and speech in spoken word order.

How is Makaton used?

Research has shown that signs are easier to learn than spoken words, which is why Makaton uses these alongside speech. Makaton is also very flexible so it can be adapted to suit the person learning or using it. The main idea is to use signs to communicate the key parts of spoken language. For example, to ask someone if they want a drink, you would say “do you want a drink?” while signing ‘you’ and ‘drink’ as you speak those words.

Makaton in the media

Makaton is becoming more widely known thanks to its use on some TV programmes and across social media platforms. The CBeebies show Something Special, featuring Mr Tumble, uses and teaches signs and symbols throughout each programme and has become one of the most popular children’s programmes on television. Makaton is also being used more within mainstream TV, with soaps like Eastenders and Emmerdale bringing Makaton into storylines.

How can I find out more?

Some useful links:

The Makaton Charity – the home of Makaton on the web and source of information and resources. For ‘Sign of the Week’ videos, check out their Facebook, Instagram and YouTube pages

Singing Hands – founded by two mothers of children with additional needs, Singing Hands started out as an early years Makaton resource using stories and nursery rhymes and has grown to include pop songs and ‘CarPark Karaoke’ videos to cater for older children and adults.

Something Special – website of the popular Cbeebies programme

Looking for personalized support to help your child succeed? Meet Bex, a qualified teacher with 9 years of experience working with children with SEN, 6 of those as a teacher and 3 as a teaching assistant. Learn more about Bex and how she can make a difference in your child's education journey: Bex

SEND Tutoring has helped my daughter gain confidence in reading and expanding her abilities. There are a variety of fun learning opportunities in each session, putting my daughter at ease and helping her stay engaged. SEND Tutoring has also been extremely helpful in signposting and sharing resources. Highly recommend. Amanda Bialy

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