Makaton and Signalong


Ciara is a first year Speech and Language Therapy student at the University of Manchester.

She recently had a joint online placement with Total Communication Services CIC and Elysium Health care.

As part of her placement she attended Total Communication Services Communication Advocates group and she had her first taster of signing as the group regularly practice Signalong.

Ciara then decided to research the different signing systems available and she wrote up her thoughts as a blog post.


Makaton and Signalong

Both are great systems and can really help a range of people from children to adults with learning disabilities who may be hearing impaired

According to the their website Makaton is the UK's leading programme for adults and children with learning or communication difficulties. They also have a TV presence for example, the CBeebies show 'something special' which is great for children learning Makaton. There have also been Makaton storylines in Emmerdale for those of you who like soaps, Makaton could be for you. There are currently over 1 million Makaton users. Makaton symbols are commonly used in public buildings such as hospitals and libraries to help people find their way around, you may be using Makaton in your daily life now without even knowing! Makaton is also continuously taught by a tutor in sessions which means you will have a go-to person to advise you on all your communication needs. Makaton tends to be more well known throughout the UK and there is even a "Makaton friendly" town in the UK, which is Romsey.


The main difference between Signalong and Makaton seems to be the way they are taught. Makaton is taught through continuous sessions with a tutor and Signalong is taught through learning the method then you can potentially independently learn further signs. This means using the skills taught by the tutor to copy the position of the hand, orientation, placement, and line drawing to copy the sign. This is great for people who want more autonomy over what they learn as you can learn about a specific topic you want to talk about. For example, learning signs about the topic of sexual awareness means can people have important conversations about consent or their sexual orientation. Signalong’s teaching method means you can actively keep learning new signs throughout your life without necessarily needing a constant tutor. Most of the signs will be recognised by British Sign Language (BSL) users because sign along has its roots in BSL. Signalong’s critical point is "one concept, one sign" this means that the same sign is not used for similar concepts. For example, in BSL the sign for 'doll and 'baby' are the same, however, in Signalong they are different. Therefore, people do not need to rely on context to help them explain. Signalong could be ideal for adults who want to learn specific signs quickly and especially for adults with a background in BSL. Signalong could be considered easier to learn because it shows specific ways of signing so you cannot get it wrong, this would be useful for adults with learning disabilities who may have been taught simple BSL previously and want direct instructions. BSL is a challenge because it is a language in its own right and has a different word order to spoken English. Both Makaton and Signalong are sign support systems and you speak as you sign the key words.


Both systems provide an effective way to communicate and can be applied at all ages. They are both very successful in enabling children and adults with Learning disabilities to communicate. Whichever system you choose, the important thing is learning one so you yourself can communicate effectively or you can listen and encourage others to communicate.

The self -advocates in the North West chose Signalong and this system has sparked a real interest for me in all signing.

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