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Makaton Signs and Symbols – Image and Video Guide Included


Lead Academy

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You have come to the right place if you’re looking for a thorough explanation of Makaton signs and symbols, complete with images and video demonstrations. Here, I’ll provide a clear image of basic Makaton signs and symbols, as well as a step-by-step technique for signing Makaton, free printable Makaton signs and symbols, and other FAQs about this communicational language.

What are Makaton Signs and Symbols?

Let’s address the first thing first. To get familiar with Makaton, you have to understand what BSL is.

British Sign Language

BSL stands for British Sign Language.

In the United Kingdom, BSL is the most extensively used sign language. Although it was only recognised as a language in 2003, it had been in use since the 1570s.

Its principal users are mostly deaf persons. However, it is also used to communicate with persons who have trouble hearing or speaking. In fact, if you look at the number of people who use BSL, you’ll see how ubiquitous it is. BSL is used by 151,000 people in the UK, according to the British Deaf Association. There are 87,000 deaf people among them.

BSL is a dialect of BANZSL, which stands for British, Australian, and New Zealand Sign Language. While Australian Sign Language (Auslan) and New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) are not the same as BSL, they share the same manual alphabet, grammar, and lexicons.

BSL is made up of a combination of:

  1. hand signals
  2. lip patterns
  3. facial expressions and
  4. body movements

A woman communicating in sign language online


Makaton is also a similar communication system that employs signs and symbols to aid communication. Its purpose is to assist in the development of spoken language skills.

Makaton signs are based on motions used in British Sign Language (BSL).

However, unlike BSL, British Makaton signs are always used in conjunction with speech and in English grammatical word order.

In addition, if you consider that this language is only for those who have communication and learning issues, you are not alone. It’s a widespread notion, and it’s simply wrong.

blog-star Do you want to learn the British Sign Language?

If you’re looking to learn the British Sign Language or BSL, Lead Academy can help you. Remember, it’s a full-blown language. So you need experts who know the science behind speech and language learning. Otherwise, you’d be wasting time running in circles. Our British Sign Language (BSL) Course is made by experts who know the underlying science behind learning the language. It is laid out in a perfect order to help you learn quickly and efficiently.

One of the most crucial abilities we need in life is the ability to communicate. Basic Makaton signs are rapidly being adopted by the general public to improve communication. This language can truly assist folks who have felt frustrated by their inability to communicate significantly or efficiently.

Makaton alleviates this frustration by allowing people to connect with each other and their surroundings, bringing up a slew of new opportunities. It is very adaptable since it can be tailored to a person’s specific needs and used at a level that is appropriate for them.

Further, Makaton symbols and signs are used by approximately 100,000 children and adults today. The majority of people learn Makaton as children and then stop using the signs and symbols when they no longer require them. On the other hand, some people will need to utilise Makaton for the rest of their lives.

Facial expression, turn-taking, making decisions, comprehending, and sharing information may not develop effectively if a youngster relies solely on speech development.

Children and adults who struggle to understand and communicate grow irritated and withdraw. Young children may express this through their actions like screams and kicks, while older children and adults may shout or injure themselves. Makaton assists them in communicating in a more acceptable manner.

But, you may be wondering, what are Makaton signs and symbols?

Girl showing heart to the camera using her hands

Makaton Signs and Symbols

In the Makaton communication system, there is a combination of speech with signs (gestures) and symbols (graphics). To convey as much information as possible, we also use facial expressions, eye contact, and body language. Thus, this adds to the amount of information you have about what someone is saying.

However, this ‘combination’ is not done at random. Instead, Makaton combines signs and words in spoken word order. Signs can assist those who are unable to speak or whose speech is unclear.

Makaton Signs

According to research, signs and gestures are more accessible to learn than spoken words. This is reasonable. Babies communicate with us through gestures before they can speak. They might, for example, point to the cookie tin or extend their arms to be pulled up. Further, children and adults can use Makaton to communicate their desires, make decisions, share knowledge, and gain a better understanding of the world. This aids in the development of critical communication and language abilities.

Makaton Symbols

Symbols can be used in a variety of ways to aid communication. People with limited speech and others who cannot or do not want to sign can benefit from using symbols.

Here’s an example of Basic Makaton signs vs symbols. The image contains Makaton symbols followed by their associated signs.

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“Different Makaton sign symbols”

How to Sign Makaton?

To learn to sign Makaton, you need to learn the symbols and their associated signs. Don’t worry! This blog will include some resources for you so you can immediately start.

However, here are some tips on how to sign Makaton.

  1. Sign/symbol the keyword when you use Makaton. The keyword refers to the sentence’s most essential information-carrying word.
  2. Always speak and sign at the same time. Using the sign and repeating the word each time will help to reinforce the behaviour. The signs are there to support your speech, not to replace it.
  3. Use short, straightforward sentences.
  4. Make an effort to maintain eye contact and employ facial expressions.
  5. To convey the significance of your conversation, make sure you use eye contact, facial expression, and body language.
  6. Provide extra visual cues, and use objects of reference. In addition, these can include pictures, toys, props or anything that helps you communicate.
  7. To encourage children to make the appropriate gesture/sign, you can use ‘hand-over-hand’ signing. We learn faster if our efforts are appreciated! So, make an active effort to reward all attempts to communicate. Encourage them, even if their sign isn’t quite right, and then show them the correct sign yourself. Further, the key here is practice. With time, you’ll notice that their signing is improving.
  8. Signing should be enjoyable! Make learning as entertaining as possible by singing, reading stories, and playing games.
  9. Encourage the friends and family to utilise the signs as well so that the signer will learn even faster.

Doctor communicating in a video conference using sign language

Video Guide on Makaton Signs and Symbols

Here’s an excellent guide on how to sign Makaton. The guide is split into four parts.

Part One:

How to Sign Makaton Part 1

Part Two:

How to Sign Makaton Part 2

Part Three:

How to Sign Makaton Part 3

Part Four:

How to Sign Makaton Part 4

However, you’ll also need to learn how to fingerspell in Makaton.

In case you don’t know what fingerspelling is, here’s a quick introduction.


Dactylology, or fingerspelling, is a method of spelling words using hand movements. The fingerspelling alphabet is a type of sign language that is used to spell out names of persons and locations that do not have a sign. Fingerspelling can also be used to explain a sign to someone who is unable to read it.

The manual alphabets (also known as finger alphabets) were widely employed in deaf education and so became a distinct feature of various sign languages, including British Sign Language (BSL), American Sign Language (ASL), and others.

Fingerspelling in Makaton: How to Sign Makaton (Finger Spelling)

Mr Tumble and his buddies, played by Justin Fletcher, star in the award-winning BBC children’s television show Something Special. Throughout each program, Makaton symbols and signs are used to aid communication

The shows have a basic, repeated style that makes learning the Makaton symbols and signs in each episode a breeze. Everyone is invited to participate in songs and games used in the show, so it’s very interactive. In addition, they also have a YouTube channel called Mr Tumble and Friends, where they have many videos and you can actually start just about anywhere as they will show you how to use Makaton in a straightforward and interesting way.

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A man asking people to be quiet through hand gestures

Free Printable Makaton Signs and Symbols

Here’s a list of printable Makaton signs and symbols right from our NHS (The National Health Service). They are sorted into categories for convenience.

Children’s services


Oxfordshire Signing to Support Children also has some free resources for you. You just need to sign up with a free account and they’ll provide you with printable Makaton signs and symbols, which you can also view from a media device like a phone. Here are the links:


Makaton signs and symbols are widely used even in mainstream classrooms to help all students improve their communication, language, and literacy skills. Further, it promotes integration by making it easier for children with and without language issues to communicate, learn, and play together. Other public institutions such as hospitals, courts, and libraries also use Makaton to aid communication. So you might not even realise that you’re using Makaton in your daily life!


What is a Makaton symbol?

Makaton symbols are like any other symbols, such as those used in street signs. Those who cannot sign or don’t want to sign can use these symbols to communicate.

How many Makaton signs are there?

So far, Makaton released, over 11,000 signs and symbols.

Is sign language the same as Makaton?

Sign languages have their own lexicon and semantics. They also have regional dialects and variations, just like any spoken language.

How Makaton differs from sign languages is that it borrows its signs from sign language, which varies by nation. However, unlike Sign Language, which has regional differences and dialects, Makaton signs will be consistent across the country.

Are Makaton signs the same as BSL?

No. Although Makaton does use some BSL signs, you have to keep in mind BSL is a full-fledged language. However, you can use Makaton signs always in conjunction with speech, and in the grammatical word order of English.

What are Makaton symbols used for?

Makaton symbols are there to aid communication in case you don’t want to or can’t use signs.

Is Makaton nonverbal communication??

Yes, it is nonverbal in the sense that it uses signs and symbols for communication. But, you can use Makaton in conjunction with speech to help communication. It doesn’t aim to replace your speech.

Who is Makaton aimed to help communicate?

Those who find it hard to communicate in spoken language, including those with Autism, speech dyslexia etc, can use Makaton to communicate.

When using Makaton, do you speak as you sign?

Yes, you do.

What is Makaton communication in health and social care?

As I mentioned in the blog, you may have seen or used Makaton in public sectors like health and social care, and you may not even be aware that you’re using it. A lot of places use Makaton to help communication, including health and social care. However, it’s not different in every place. The signs and symbols remain the same as a language wherever you use them.

Does Makaton have grammar?

Yes, it does, in the sense that it follows the English grammatical rules for word order.

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