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International Sign Language Day: Five Top Tips for Learning Makaton

Friday 23rd September is the International Day of Sign Languages. To celebrate this day, language experts at Preply have shared their top tips on how to learn and understand Makaton.

What is Makaton?

Makaton is a unique language programme that uses symbols, signs and speech to enable people to communicate. It supports the development of essential communication skills such as attention and listening, comprehension, memory, recall and organisation of language and expression.


Makaton is used to support all children to develop communication, language, and literacy skills. 

It is an effective method of communication for:

  • students who have difficulties with understanding or remembering what is being said;
  • children whose speech is difficult to understand; or
  • children whose first language is not English.
Makaton Signs

Five tips for students learning Makaton

Experts share the following five tips for students learning sign language using Makaton:

1. Familiarise yourself with key vocabulary 

Firstly, familiarising yourself with the key vocabulary will help you progress further with learning and also help you feel more confident to use it.

The Core Vocabulary provides a small nucleus of basic concepts essential to everyday life, presented in stages of increasing complexity.

The Makaton core vocabulary contains 450 words, signs, and symbols, such as;

One way which can be helpful for children when memorizing keywords is to start with some songs and rhymes. Learning a few signs to go along with your child’s favourite nursery rhymes is always a great idea. 

There are also an additional 7000 concepts based around topics such as people, vehicles and animals which are always being developed further.

Therefore, songs such as ‘Wheels on the bus’ and ‘Old McDonald’ are good ones for learning the core words using core vocabulary, along with animal and colour signs.

2. Match words to symbols and signs

Whilst it can be easy to produce materials using symbols and signs, care must be taken so that the correct symbol or sign is used both semantically and syntactically so that the brain absorbs the meanings as much as possible. 

Often, there is more than one symbol or sign for the same word which can be confusing. 

For example, the word orange can refer to a colour or a fruit, therefore learning to distinguish these types of words will be extremely helpful.

3. Don’t learn too much at once

Whilst the brain of children can absorb new things like a sponge, it is still important not to cram too much information into one day. 

Ideally, you want to consider having one or two ‘signs of the week’ that the child can focus on. 

Start with what’s important to your child, this could be items they use around the home or key things they do at school.  For example, functional language like names, days of the week, and weather will help children follow instructions and curriculum vocabulary.

4. Continue to be consistent and clear with the signs you have learned

Once you have mastered a certain group of words, continue to remind yourself of them and go over them regularly. 

It can be easy for your child to forget the signs or symbols that they have learned, therefore it is important to keep them fresh on the brain, by incorporating the sign language into your child’s daily routine.

5. Use your dominant hand as your main signing hand

It is recommended that using your dominant hand as your main signing hand will help keep signs consistently the same.

Essentially, if you are right-handed, your right hand is your dominant hand. If you are left-handed, your left hand is your dominant hand.

When using two hands, signs typically have the dominant hand do the primary action.

This is so you get into a habit with your signs and are not changing up the learning process which can cause confusion.

Finally, always remember that:

  1. Makaton is clever and fun
  2. Always speak as you sign or use symbols.
  3. Use signs and symbols as often as you can
  4. Keep encouraging yourself and others
  5. Don’t give up! Whilst it may take a while it is worth it in the end.

International Day of Sign Languages!

*This post has been brought to you by Preply.


Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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