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under5s - British Sign Language and Makaton
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British Sign Language and Makaton

We often talk about using Sign Language or Makaton with young children, and there are many different reasons for doing so including:

  • Signing with babies
  • Children with a unique need.
  • To teach a second language.
  • For children with communication problems - either vocally or with hearing.
But what is the difference?


Makaton is a very simple language based on a list of simple everyday words, which uses speech, gesture, facial expression, eye contact, body language, signs, symbols and words to aid communication.

For example if you wanted to ask a child if you would like a drink - you would sign the word drink, asking the question at the same time, raising you eye brows in a questioning look, - or alternatively you could show a simple picture (a symbol of a drink) and ask the question. 

If you had a child who couldn't express what he/she would like to do, perhaps they could choose a symbol to show what they wanted, from a limited choice. These same symbols could be displayed around the setting - to reinforce their meaning.

The easiest way to learn is at a Makaton Workshop, as with all Sign Language the only way to really learn it is through being taught first hand, and by being demonstrated, and then reinforcing your knowledge with regular use - however it can now be learnt by distance learning.

Makaton have produced a parent and training pack suitable for people working with children under the age of 8, so you can learn together, and the video even includes children signing - you may be able to borrow this resource from your local library.

For more information about Makaton, visit their web site - www.makaton.org/

British Sign Language
B.S.L. is often the language of the deaf community - it is a language in its own right, and does not need to be spoken. It relies on signs, body language, facial expression and gesture. It uses the key words in our language today and therefore much fewer words are signed than actually spoken.

If I was to ask you your name in sign - instead of asking "What is your name?" I would sign - "Name. What?" and show a questioning facial expression - you would then perhaps fingerspell your name, or show me your sign name - which would be a lot quicker to use in everyday conversation.

It is important to remember with British Sign Language that there are regional dialects, and signs can vary in different parts of the country and that other Sign Languages are a different language.

You can start to learn B.S.L. by Distance learning - there are CD-ROM's and videos available to help you, or you can attend a local course. Further information can be obtained from the R.N.I.D.

Or alternatively you may come across
Signed Supported English (S.S.E.) - This is when Signs are used to reinforce the spoken language, to clarify speech or meaning. Only the key words are signed.
Signed English (S.E.) - Where every word is signed, this is usually used as a teaching tool for reading and writing 
Your Questions Answered

"I want to learn more"

A great site with children's' interests at heart is the National Deaf Children's Society - amongst their pages is a free booklet which you can download all about how technology can be used with signs - Happy Birthday Billy.

"I have no experience of sign language but would like to introduce some signs at home/nursery..."

There is a fantastic video on the market starring Dave Benson Phillips - Makaton Nursery Rhymes. I have a copy and you can sing along to any of the 19 Nursery Rhymes, including favourites like the 'Wheels on the Bus', 'Old McDonald had a farm' and learn the signs at the same time.

The video not only includes the songs and the signs, it stars real children and you get to visit different places too - the farm, the school, the bus ride, bringing the songs into context and making it a really enjoyable video for everyone.

Programmes on television are sometimes accompanied by Sign Language - including children's programmes on CBeebies, and the BBC. For more information about this weeks programmes visit the BBC.

"I would like to learn some British Sign Language..."

How about having a taster session - you can choose some key signs from the list on the RNID site, and see them demonstrated right now on your media player - there is no time better than to learn more than right now. Have a look at - www.rnid.org/html/interactive/clips.htm

Or take a look at the Deaf Books website

"I have heard about using sign language with babies - where can I find out more?"

This is an American Site and therefore uses American Sign Language A.S.L. - but it does give you lots of useful information Signing with Babies - www.babysigns.com

There is also this great British site that we have just found out aboutwww.signingbabes.co.uk

"I would like to find some sign language resources - can you point me in the right direction?"

The Forest Bookshop - will happily send you a free catalogue to browse through at leisure, which includes Books with signs in, videos, CD-ROM's, books about deafness and communication, and the B.S.L. Baby Signs Pack. You are sure to find something useful.

Helen Renouf
B.S.L. Stage 1, Makaton workshops 2 and 3a

under5s - British Sign Language and Makaton
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