Makaton is a communication tool strategically designed to improve spoken language development and is used by 1 million people in the UK. By seamlessly integrating signs and symbols, Makaton improves communication across various contexts, ensuring a personalised approach that caters to individual needs. This blog post explores the benefits of Makaton and its impactful role in healthcare settings. It also illustrates how Makaton elevates interaction and comprehension for individuals of all ages, offering a dynamic tool that transcends linguistic barriers.

What Is Makaton?

Introduced in the 1970s, Makaton is a communication tool seamlessly blending speech, signs, and symbols to improve individuals’ communication skills. Makaton employs signs and symbols with speech, providing additional clues for heightened communication and clarity. Originating in the UK, this language system has transcended international borders, finding adoption in over 40 countries globally.

Crafted by Margaret Walker, Kathy Johnston, and Tony Cornforth, the Makaton Language Programme comprises two vocabularies. The core vocabulary, featuring 450 essential words, signs, and symbols, serves as the program’s base, while the second, a more extensive open-ended vocabulary, expands on broader life experiences. Makaton is known as “keyword signing” and distinguishes itself from British Sign Language (BSL) by seamlessly integrating signs into spoken English, enabling simultaneous speech and signing. This makes it an adaptable communication method suitable for individuals with different needs.

Furthermore, Makaton is employed inclusively, benefiting individuals with communication difficulties and fostering equal opportunities in communication and language development for children.

Who Uses Makaton?

With 1 million global users, Makaton is a highly effective language system addressing different communication needs. It offers a visual and adaptable means of expression for people of all ages and backgrounds. Its adaptability proves invaluable for individuals with communication challenges, including over 100,000 children and adults in the UK alone.

Makaton is used to support individuals with:

Additionally, it aids English as an Additional Language (EAL) learners and individuals facing communication and speech difficulties. Individuals seamlessly integrate Makaton into daily activities, such as reading stories, while dedicated workshops and resources aim to improve staff communication.

Extending beyond healthcare settings, Makaton finds application in schools and libraries, public institutions and courts. Embraced by teachers, healthcare professionals, family members, friends, and other supportive individuals, its use promotes inclusive practices, nurturing communication, language, and literacy skills among children.

How Does Makaton Work?

Makaton functions as a dynamic communication tool, seamlessly integrating signs and symbols with speech in the natural order of spoken language. Rooted in the intrinsic link between gestures and communication, Makaton uses hand movements, facial expressions, and body language in daily conversations—a phenomenon even observed in infants who use gestures before speaking.

In contrast to formal sign languages like British Sign Language, Makaton’s gestures align with standard English sentence structure, facilitating a smooth transition of learned signs into spoken English. With an expanding core vocabulary surpassing 450 concepts and a resource vocabulary exceeding 11,000 concepts, Makaton accommodates diverse communication needs. The incorporation of simple line drawings further enhances comprehension and retention of vocabulary.

Practitioners are encouraged to maintain eye contact, employ facial expressions, and use clear, concise sentences while combining signs with speech, emphasising an enjoyable and inclusive learning process. Empowering individuals, Makaton boosts confidence, fosters social connections, supports decision-making, and improves overall communication, establishing itself as a powerful tool for cultivating an inclusive and understanding environment.

The Role of Visual Symbols in Makaton

Within the Makaton framework, visual symbols support communication, providing a reference for words and concepts. While not extensively utilised in everyday conversations, these symbols prove invaluable during the learning journey, enabling individuals to grasp the real-world representation of objects, feelings, or actions. Makaton symbols operate at diverse levels, embodying functional meanings, key sentence elements, or even including grammatical elements and endings.

Using pictographic representation, hand-drawing, and alignment with language themes, Makaton symbols strive to convey meaning and stimulate language structure development effectively. It fosters an adaptable application, and many individuals carry a booklet or sheet of symbols to aid communication. The pictures allow them to point to relevant symbols while expressing themselves. This significantly contributes to the inclusivity and accessibility of the Makaton language system, ensuring a comprehensive and adaptable approach to communication needs.

Difference Between Makaton and BSL

Makaton and British Sign Language share common ground in employing signs and symbols for communication, yet they differ significantly in application and linguistic structure. The hallmark of Makaton lies in its adaptability, harmonising with spoken English and proving invaluable for individuals with communication difficulties. In contrast, BSL has its own distinct grammar, facial expressions, and hand signs employed independently of speech.

Additionally, BSL introduces its own syntax and word order, distinct from spoken language conventions, while Makaton aligns seamlessly with spoken word order. BSL is a recognised language predominately used by individuals with hearing challenges or hearing loss. This contrasts with Makaton, which is predominantly embraced by individuals living with learning disabilities, autism, or specific communication needs.

Makaton Use in Healthcare Settings

Integrating Makaton into team communication improves the healthcare experience for individuals and fosters empathy and accessibility. Healthcare professionals, such as nurses and therapists, undergo Makaton training to refine their skills in connecting with individuals facing challenges in verbal expression. Makaton promotes a person-centred and inclusive approach within healthcare services, ensuring individuals receive tailored care in a supportive and understanding environment. Embracing Makaton is a proactive step for healthcare settings seeking to elevate communication, improve individual well-being, and cultivate a genuinely inclusive atmosphere for individuals with diverse communication needs.

Benefits of Makaton Use

Makaton provides many benefits. Its notable advantage lies in improving communication, promoting inclusivity, and aiding comprehension.

Some of the benefits of Makaton use are the following:

  • Children employing Makaton for communication and self-expression often demonstrate reduced challenging behaviour.
  • Makaton improves attention and listening skills, offering a visual focus.
  • Practice of Makaton cultivates fine motor skills, refining finger and hand positioning for sign differentiation.
  • Empowering individuals of all ages, Makaton facilitates autonomous decision-making and fosters independence.
  • Through calm and effective expression, Makaton improves well-being.
  • Research indicates Makaton expedites the acquisition of speaking skills, which is particularly beneficial for children learning English as an additional language.

LD Network Offers Makaton Training

LD Network provides Makaton training courses tailored to various proficiency levels, accommodating beginners to advanced participants. Our carefully crafted courses equip clinicians with the tools to provide proactive care tailored to individuals with different communication challenges.

Our training sessions also cover introductory sign language, offered in a classroom-based format over Zoom or through hands-on practical sessions. Upon completion, participants receive a certificate affirming their proficiency in Makaton.

LD Network is committed to fostering the professional growth of our clinicians, who seek to improve their skills and support individuals with learning disabilities, autism, and mental health challenges.

Contact us today to learn more about our proactive staffing solutions, or discover how to join our team.