Being able to communicate effectively is one of the most important aspects of life. Communication is something we do every day, whether it’s by listening to a conversation, paying attention in school or college, or ordering food in a restaurant. Many people struggle with communication but Makaton can help to develop skills for people of all ages. What is Makaton, though? Continue reading our helpful guide to discover its advantages and how it helps to develop communication.

Makaton explained

What is Makaton and how does it work? Makaton is a unique language technique that uses symbols, signs and speech to help people better understand communication. Essential communication skills – like attention and listening, memory, recall, and comprehension – are all developed with the use of Makaton.

Makaton uses signs alongside speech in spoken word order, which provides extra clues about what the person is saying. Using signs and symbols can help people whose speech is unclear, or have no speech, to communicate. Being unable to communicate effectively can be a frustrating experience, so Makaton helps people overcome this.

The complete Makaton Language Programme comprises of two vocabularies, which are:

  • Core vocabulary of 450 essential words, signs and symbols. This is taught first and is the foundation of the programme.
  • A much larger open-ended vocabulary provides a huge bank of further signs and symbols that cover broader life experiences. This is also used in association with the core vocabulary.

What is an example of Makaton?

Babies use gestures to communicate. They point at food when hungry and hold their arms up to indicate that they want to be picked up. Makaton works in a similar way by using signs and symbols to help communication. For example, a person offering a child a drink and gesturing a drinking motion with their hand to their mouth helps them to understand what is being communicated. This helps to build and develop communication skills.

How is Makaton different to sign language?

While Makaton and British sign language (BSL) offer a similar solution to communication difficulties, they differ quite a bit from one another.

Makaton is designed to help people with learning or communication difficulties and uses signs and symbols alongside speech to aid communication. BSL is a naturally evolving language used by the deaf community that has its own grammar, word order, hand signs, uses facial expressions, body language and lip patterns, and can have regional variations.

Wherever Makaton is used in the world, the signs that are selected remain specific to the country of their origin. So, if a student moves school to a new region, they will still use the same signs and symbols they did in their previous location. Due to potential regional variations, this may not be the case for sign language.

Tips when using Makaton to communicate

There are a range of techniques you can use to communicate using Makaton, and here are some helpful tips to guide you:

  • Familiarise yourself with key vocabulary.
  • Only sign key words, but retain the use of grammar in a sentence (E.g. Give me the drink, rather than just ‘give drink’).
  • Grab the person’s attention by using their name or asking them to look.
  • Remain consistent, clear and repetitive with the use of signs (also use dominant hand to sign for consistency).
  • Use facial expressions and tone of voice to match the word, like tired or happy.
  • Provide hand-over-hand support to develop the individual’s skill.
  • Always provide lots of encouragement and positive support.

Learn Makaton with Seashell

Makaton is a great language technique for developing communication skills with children and adults of all ages. The use of signs and symbols with spoken words helps people understand and follow instructions and conversations.

At Seashell, we provide training courses from beginner to advanced levels of Makaton for professionals and parents or carers. If you would like to join one of our Makaton courses then follow the updates on our website to check when the next one will be available.

Our speech and language therapy services provide communication training for Makaton and other skills for people caring for individuals with complex needs.

If you’d like to get in touch with Seashell to discover more about Makaton and the courses we offer, contact us on 0161 610 0100, or email us at