Linguatastic started out as ‘L’école Maternelle’ over 30 years ago…
Based on Chansopha Biermann’s wish to share a foreign language with her daughter in a structured manner from as early an age as possible, she set about creating L’école Maternelle, together with ex-pat French fellow Chineham resident Nicole Walker. L’école Maternelle, a French-speaking playgroup was launched in 1985, with the first session taking place in April. Anita Taylor (another French ex-pat) also joined the team, but after a while, both she and Nicole drifted into other activities, leaving only Chansopha to carry the playgroup forward. Over the years the structure of the contact with children has been broadened, and hopefully improved. Thankfully, following the time when Ofsted became responsible for pre-school activities, L’école Maternelle has very successfully weathered the various inspections, despite bureaucratic challenges in “pigeon holing” the unconventional profile of L’école Maternelle.
In later years, when the children who used to come to the playgroup, started going to school, an after-school club – Le Goûter – was opened. Le Goûter and L’école Maternelle together, started being referred to as “L’école Française”. And now, over 30 years later, it has evolved into "Linguatastic" and hundreds of pupils have passed through its doors, a surprisingly large number of which have performed well above average in their school years.
Linguatastic likes to believe that it has not only succeeded in helping international understanding (albeit in a small way), but that it has helped “pupils” in many practical ways. For example, it is hoped that having been introduced to a foreign language, enjoyment of foreign travel has been enhanced, friendships have been and will be built and in several cases, it has been reported by ex-pupils that they have gone onto language studies with a higher level of confidence and, ultimately, success. A particular example of this would be one pupil who received one of the five top marks nationally in GCSE. That said, it has always been emphasised that Linguatastic is not in any way dedicated primarily to academic achievement, but rather to the principle of having fun whilst learning another language in a NATURAL way.
When L'école Maternelle was first launched, it is believed to have been the only such activity in the whole of Hampshire. Indeed the nearest similar activity of which one eventually became aware was in Bristol. Meanwhile, there have been many imitations; sadly in some cases motivated more from a commercial than cultural angle. L’école Maternelle has traditionally never operated as a business enterprise and has always been grateful for a truly amazing level of volunteer engagement. The rewards have always been in the form of the absolutely incredible ability of the young children to soak up French without embarrassment or inhibition. Again, many media reports (often following serious academic research) have meanwhile emphasised the success to be achieved by early language tuition. It is truly believed that even for an English-speaking nation, learning a second language is very worthwhile; well beyond the practical aspects. It opens a deeper understanding of what makes other nations “tick”, which is surely desirable with all the international suspicion and mistrust evident around the world.
Having grown up with the reality of human misunderstanding in war-torn Cambodia, it was and still is, Chansopha’s hope to offer children activities based on an international concept. Now, with Linguatastic taking L’école Française further and offering even more languages, Chansopha and her colleagues hope that even more doors will be opened.