How Makaton works

How Makaton works

Girl signing 'drink' as someone hands her a drink in a yellow beaker

Most communication is through speaking to others.  However, some people have difficulty with using speech and they need to use different ways to communicate, like using Makaton symbols and signs.

When we speak, we often use extra tools to help the person we are communicating with understand what we are saying.  For example, if we are asked for directions, we might point (gesture) or draw a picture.  These are clues to help provide more information.

Makaton uses speech with signs (gestures) and symbols (pictures) to help people communicate.  We also use facial expression, eye contact and body language to give as much information as possible.


Line drawing of the sign 'sleep'

To sleep (sign)

Makaton symbol for 'sleep'

To sleep (symbol)

Line drawing of the sign 'where'

Where (sign)

Makaton symbol for 'where'

Where (symbol)


Signs and symbols give extra information which can be seen.  Research has shown that signs and gestures are easier to learn than spoken words.  This makes sense.  Babies use gestures before they can speak, to tell us what they want.  For example, they might point at the biscuit tin or hold out their arms to be lifted up.  Children and adults can use Makaton to let others know what they want, make choices, share information and understand more.  This helps build and develop important communication and language skills.

Top tips

  • Using Makaton is fun!
  • Use signs and symbols as much and as often as you can.
  • Always speak as you sign or use symbols.
  • Offer lots of encouragement.
  • Don't give up!  It may take a while but it is worth it in the end.
Glad we learned Makaton

Tom H with his sword, and two dogs

How would we have had that conversation and shared that laughter without us both learning Makaton? I'm so glad we did...


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