Learn a new language this summer… Makaton signing

This summer, we’re challenging parents to learn Makaton signing and help raise awareness of this important way to help children who have difficulty communicating. We asked our Speech and Language Therapist and Makaton Tutor, Kate Stradling, what makes it unique, and the top five signs to learn today…

Hands signing

“Makaton signing is so easy to learn, and it can be a really fun and enjoyable thing to do with your child. It’s a set of specially-designed signs for people who have difficulty communicating; but I always think the best way to describe it is an extension of natural gestures you make all the time.

“For example, if you want to say 'hello', you just wave your hand at shoulder height. Likewise, 'a drink' is signed by miming lifting a cup to your mouth.

“When you use Makaton signing, you always speak and add the Makaton sign as you talk. This helps your child understand what you’re saying, and helps them to learn the signs at the same time.

Top Five Signs

“If I had to choose five most useful signs to learn? Aha. Well, if you imagine that you couldn’t talk, the top five would be the ones to tell others what you are thinking or what you need.

“I would choose:

  1. More - this could be of anything, especially if you could point at exactly what you wanted!

  2. Drink - a general sign for any drink.

  3. Food - if you are hungry, it should help!

  4. Toilet - helps in getting there in time.

  5. No - being able to reject what you don’t want is a crucial thing to say, and one that babies learn early!

What Makes it Unique

“For me, what stands out about Makaton is how carefully it has been designed to support communication for people who need it. It has a core vocabulary of 450 words, learnt in eight developmental stages.

“So signs like 'mummy', 'daddy', 'drink', and 'food' are learned first, and 'why?' and 'because' are learned last. Altogether, there are 7,000 additional words with signs and accompanying symbols.

Where to Start

“You might be surprised at how early you can start using Makaton. Your child’s first word can come around their first birthday, but children are listening and learning to understand language well before then. Children can start to learn Makaton before they are a year old.

“I’m a Regional Makaton Tutor, along with 1,000 other Makaton trainers throughout the UK. We run various training courses for parents, carers and professionals, which teach the key signs and symbols and how to use them with children. The sessions are really fun and you don’t need any experience of Makaton to come along.

“I think going to a class is one of the best and quickest ways to learn it, but spending time with a Makaton-trained person (such as a speech and language therapist) will support you learning it with your child.

“Makaton is becoming more popular all the time; the BBC now has a children’s TV show, Something Special, which is fantastic! Children are sponges for learning, and for them, Mr Tumble’s adventures bring lots of different people, experiences and vocabulary to their homes.”

Visit the Makaton charity website to find out about training courses, as well as lots of starting resources. To book a consultation with Kate, please call us on 0208 6737930 or find out more about our speech and language services

Lizz Summers

Voice & Presentation Skills Coach