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How to Learn Makaton Sign

By Michelle Valenzuela ; Updated April 18, 2017

Makaton is a sign language that uses gestures and simple pictures to represent words. It was developed in England in the 1970s for people with hearing impairment as well as other disabilities. It is based on British Sign Language and is still primarily used overseas, though it is emerging all over the world as a way of communicating with babies. Makaton has a core vocabulary of about 450 words, and users are encouraged to mouth or speak the words they are conveying. Learning Makaton is not especially difficult, but it takes practice to master the signs.

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Start with beginning words. Makaton signs are typically taught by category. Category 1 includes common words such as Mommy (tap three fingers into the palm of the other hand twice), Daddy (tap index and middle fingers on one hand twice on the top of the index and middle fingers on the other hand. There are 35 to 40 words in each of the nine categories. Once you have mastered one category, move onto the next.

Incorporate pictures. Simple pictures are part of the Makaton system of communication. Your Makaton guide will include the simple sketches that accompany or replace gestures.

Practice your skills. Even if others do not know Makaton, you can use it while speaking with them, since part of the Makaton system is vocalizing the words as well as signing them.


The name Makaton comes from the initial letters of first names of inventor, Margaret Walker, and two psychiatric hospital visitors who helped develop it, Kathy Johnston and Tony Cornforth.

The Makaton picture symbols closely resemble the gestures. For example the sign for drink is to hold an imaginary cup to your mouth and tip it as if drinking. The picture shows a similar image.


Finding Makaton resources in the United States can be difficult, though many books about using sign language with babies incorporate Makaton signs.

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About the Author

Michelle Valenzuela is an award-winning journalist with experience since 1989. She has worked as an editor at the "Odessa (Texas) American," "The Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer" and the "News & Observer of Raleigh (N.C.)." Valenzuela earned a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from the University of Arizona.

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