In the beginning…
After teaching MFL in secondary schools for 16 years, my move to the primary sector felt like moving from the turbulence of the open sea into a sheltered bay. Children would see me arrive and jump for joy, “Yippee, it’s French today!” At the end of the lesson, instead of the stampede for the door, they wanted to carry on…was this for real?!
However, one of my classes in Y6 was considerably less motivated (euphemism!) with several children who didn’t show much interest or inclination to learn a language. Amongst the homemade and hand-written worksheets I had inherited from my predecessor I discovered some tatty sets of cards with hand-drawn illustrations of places in town. As we were just studying this topic, I decided to try them out. The result was spectacular: fidgeting and boredom stopped instantly, the rowdy boys morphed into highly competitive and very motivated learners and every single child absorbed the new vocabulary within minutes. It was a fantastic feeling… I was the surfer who has just caught the massive roller and we were all aboard it, exhilarated and excited rushing together towards the shore. I left school that day inspired …. it would be easy to make similar games on other topics, wouldn’t it! Wrong! Yes, it was easy to find the pictures I needed and printing was certainly easier than it must have been to run off the old “banda” produced cards which I had found in the cupboard, but with my secondary background, where children would effortlessly cut out their own cards from an A4 sheet, it had never occurred to me that children could make such heavy weather of cutting out their own pack of cards. I soon learnt! So I would have to make them myself beforehand… oh well.. no problem I suppose. How naïve! I soon realised that each sheet would have to be cut up independently to avoid creating a mountain of unsorted cards which would take literally hours to separate into sets. I gritted my teeth and set to work. Well over an hour later, pleased with the result, I set off to try them out on my challenging Y6 class.
Fantastic: they loved the games, learnt the vocab really quickly and enjoyed their lesson. In fact, we were so engrossed that time crept up on us, and before we knew it, the 3 pm bell was ringing and children were streaming past our door, homeward bound. My children, suddenly realising that the call of home was more persuasive than the excitement of yet another French game, stuffed their cards willy-nilly into the envelopes and stampeded out of the room, leaving a swathe of random cards scattered across desks and carpet (slight exaggeration). My second mistake: there was absolutely no way of distinguishing one pack from another… stupidly I hadn’t even numbered them! I set about sorting out the muddle berating my stupidity with every breath.
I think that it was as I drove home after that lesson that Let’s Play Languages was born or at least conceived. If card games could prove so successful in my class and yet so tedious to prepare, then surely other primary teachers must encounter the same frustration and dilemma. I must find an efficient way of producing and differentiating the games to provide a ready-made and time-saving resource to benefit children and teachers alike. Months of research followed, sourcing suitable, affordable materials and above all learning about die cutters, printers and packaging materials. Finally in January 2007, our first products were on the market. And the rest, as they say, is history….