Makaton and British Sign Language (BSL) are two different ways that people communicate with one another. There are a number of differences between the two forms of communication that many people don’t know about. Makaton is excellent at helping people with communication difficulties to improve the way they interact with others. But, what is Makaton sign language and what is the difference between Makaton and BSL? 

What is Makaton sign language?

First created in the 1970s, Makaton is a unique language that uses a combination of speech, signs and symbols to help people improve their communication skills. 

Makaton helps to develop all essential communication skills, such as memory, recall, comprehension, attention and listening. The communication language uses signs and symbols alongside speech in spoken word order. This provides extra clues about what the person is saying, helping to achieve clarity. 

Signs and symbols used together can help individuals whose speech is unclear, or who have no speech, to communicate. 

Due to following the same grammatical structure as spoken English, Makaton is mostly used in the UK. However, since its inception, it has been adopted by more than 40 countries around the world. 

The complete Makaton Language Programme consists of two vocabularies: 

  • A core vocabulary of 450 essential words, signs and symbols. As the foundation of the programme, this is taught first. 
  • The second is a larger open-ended vocabulary which provides further signs and symbols that cover broader life. 

What is British Sign Language?

British Sign Language is the main language used by deaf people in the UK. It is a visual and gestural language that uses facial expressions, hand shapes and body movements to communicate. BSL has a different grammatical structure to spoken English, so you are unable to speak English and communicate with BSL at the same time. 

British Sign Language is similar to spoken language in one way, and that is how it has adopted regional variations around the UK. BSL variations are like spoken accents so there are some signs in certain areas of the country that are not used elsewhere.

What is the difference between Makaton and BSL?

Makaton and BSL are similar in one way in that they both use signs and symbols to aid communication. However, while Makaton makes use of these aspects of sign language, it can be used alongside spoken English, which British Sign Language cannot. 

A major difference between the two forms of sign language is that Makaton is used to help hearing people with learning or communication difficulties. Meanwhile, BSL is used as the main source of communication for people who are hard of hearing or completely deaf. 

British Sign Language is the primary language of the deaf community in the UK and is not used alongside speech to aid communication. BSL is also a naturally evolving language that uses its own grammar, facial expressions, lip patterns and hand signs. 

Another thing BSL has that Makaton doesn’t is regional variations. Makaton is a core language programme widely used around the UK whereas British Sign Language has signs and expressions in one corner of the UK that others don’t.

Learn Makaton with Seashell

At Seashell, you can join training courses from beginner to advanced levels of Makaton. It is ideal for everybody, but especially professionals and parents or carers. To join our Makaton courses follow our regularly updated website to check when the next is available. 

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

If you’d like to get in touch with Seashell to find out more about Makaton, contact us on 0161 610 0100, or email us at