What is Key Word Sign?

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A mother communicates with sign language with her toddler aged boy as they play in an urban environment. Taken in downtown Portland, Oregon.

Key Word Sign (KWS) is a type of Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC). You can use KWS with other forms of AAC such as communication boards and books.

Key Word Sign is used in many countries around the world and is referred to by different names. For example, in the UK, it is known as Makaton, in Ireland it is called Lámh. In each country, KWS uses signs from the local sign language.

When using KWS, the key words or most important concepts in the sentence are signed. The use of natural gesture (eg. pointing), facial expression and body language are also important parts of using Key Word Sign. Watch the video to see KWS in action and read more about the differences between KWS and Auslan here.

Caucasian mother and daughter work with preschool teacher. They are sitting at a table in the classroom working with educational toys.

Features of Key Word Sign include:

  • Use of sign and speech at the same time
  • Signing the key words but saying the whole sentence
  • Using other visual strategies including:
    • body language
    • natural gestures
    • facial expression
    • directionality and placement (sign production features used in Auslan and natural gesture)
    • some finger spelling

KWS products, resources and training are available to support the use of KWS.