What is the difference between British Sign Language (BSL) and Makaton? Is Makaton a basic/simple version of BSL? Is Makaton different to BSL? Do deaf people use BSL and only children with learning difficulties use Makaton? These are a sample of the many question we are asked repeatedly.
Similarly we cringe when we hear incorrect statements said about Makaton from others , such as “Makaton has only 50 signs and you can’t hold a conversation in it,” “Deaf people don’t like Makaton,” and “Makaton is only for babies and small children”.
So, putting on both my hats and, of course having over 22 years experience as a registered qualified BSL interpreter working across the country and as a qualified, licensed Regional Makaton Tutor with over 30 years experience working in the field of communication and special needs, I believe this gives me unique insight to tackle this confusion.
In this article I will tackle the first question asked above – or the easy one: What is the difference between BSL and Makaton?
|British Sign Language||Makaton|
|BSL a language in its own right that uses the natural sign language of the deaf.||Makaton is a language programme to aid communication, understanding and speech for anyone with a communication difficulty.
Makaton selects signs from BSL(originally regional signs from London and south west area, but now the criteria is the most iconic and suitable BSL sign).
|BSL does not use any voice/speaking||Makaton users are encouraged to always speak at the same time as signing (if possible)|
|Makaton also uses symbols (simple drawings). Every sign has a matching symbol which can be used to aid understanding.|
|BSL has its own grammar and syntax. The word order is different to spoken English.||Makaton follows the grammar and syntax of spoken English. The word order is the same as spoken English.|
|Like spoken language BSL has regional dialectsand variations of the same signs are common just like accents vary in English from Cornwall to Wolverhampton to York (and all the ones in between!)
In some cases the signs look completely different. I can think of at least 6 different ones for ‘toilet’ and 4 for ‘mummy’ off the top of my head.
|Makaton encourages standardisation of the signs (so no regional variations). This is to ensure that if the users moves around the UK he/she will not have the confusion of different signs in different areas. Misunderstandings are reduced to the minimum.|
|Some ‘old signs’ have been replaced naturally for PC reasons and as culture has changed.||New signs have been introduced to replace a few ‘old signs’ for PC reasons. As our society has become more multi-cultural, signs have been added to respect this change.|
|BSL helps develop basic communication skills for Deaf children||Makaton helps develop basic communication skills for anyone with a learning or communication difficulty|
|BSL sign vocabulary is picked up ‘naturally’ as the deaf child grow and is in relation to their exposure to it.||Makaton was designed to provide signs and/or symbols for everyday needs and events as they occur for all of us. The early stages of Makaton cover signs and symbols relating to immediate needs and were selected because they are proven to be used most frequently.|
|Once a deaf child has developed their BSL language to say that of a hearing child about to learn reading and writing, teachers can then introduce ‘English’. (Can use their first language to teach the second language of English by comparison – although for some their production of speech may not be intelligible)
Deaf children are introduced to ‘English’ reading schemes (not written in BSL word order)Teachers of the Deaf have to borrow from other language programmes or Signed Systems to help fill in where there are no comparable BSL signs e.g. IS, ARE, ING. This could be Signed English or Makaton.
|From the start the building blocks for progression to full literacy skillsare in place, especially as the signs and symbols are produced in English word order.
Can use the symbols with text to further aid understanding of the written word.Reading schemes have been produced using Makaton, and other reading schemes have been translated into symbols (keep the original text just add symbols below to aid meaning and understanding)Makaton has signs and symbols for all the grammatical markers e.g. ING, IS, ARE. Full verb conjugations can be achieved if necessary.
Slowly the symbols can be removed for some children as they progress to understanding text alone.
|Various organisations produce flashcards, books (signs in English order), videos, mobile apps etcThere is a BSL Dictionary which has approx. 9,000 signs(includes dialect variations of same word).
However, like any evolving language new words are being created daily by the deaf community in response to living in today’s society (including idiosyncratic signs). Some slowly spread, others remain local or die out naturally.
|Makaton have produced Topic based Resource Vocabulary books, CD, videos, Ipad apps etcMakaton Databases collate all the signs and symbols for reference.
The Makaton Charity databases now have over 11,000 signs(each with a matching symbol). Each sign/symbol is researched by a dedicated Working Party and tested before release.
|Most Deaf people who are BSL users continue to sign all their life.
However, modern digital hearing aids and cochlear implants have enabled some the choice to be able to ‘hear’ better and thus communicate with speech and/or sign in English word order (sign supported English S.S.E.)
|Many children who use Makaton go on to develop fully intelligible and age appropriate speech and language skills.
Many then naturally choose to no longer use signs to aid their communication (e,g Children with Down Syndrome)
|Finger spelling is used in BSL to spell outpeople’s names, places and words that have no sign.||Finger spelling is used in Makaton, but only to give the first initialof a person’s name or place.|
|Facial expression is very much a part of BSL grammar, used to aid meaning (as in questioning face with the sign ‘What’)
Also used to add emphasis to words such as adjectives e.g. when signing ‘big’ the cheeks are puffed out to match the varying degrees of how big!
|Facial expression is used to aid understanding e.g. questioning face when saying and signing ‘what’, or indicating being surprised when saying and signing ‘surprised’|
|Grammar: placement, directional signs and movement when signing are used to make the signing ‘picture’ clear.||Makaton also uses correct placement, directional signs and movement when signing to order to make the signing easier to understand visually.|
|BSL is a recognised language for the UK It is not an international language.Each country has their own sign language evolving from their own deaf communities.||Makaton (language programme) is used in over 40 different countries. The signs are taken from the country itself (not BSL unless that country’s own language for the Deaf is too under developed).
The country’s own spoken language is used when signing and using the symbols.Many of the symbols, however, are more universal so can be used internationally.
The above is not a full explanation, just my thoughts of today. It is not meant to be a thesis or research based piece, just my opinion based on my experience in the field of both BSL and Makaton and a lover and advocate of both! I hope you can see why.
Your comments are welcome, but I hope to have shed some light on the confusion and difference. Both valid, both very important and both very necessary.
I will continue trying to shed light on those other common questions and misunderstandings in future articles over the next few weeks.
Thank you for taking the time to read and being open to the information that given so far. Communication crosses Barriers!