It’s hard to believe, but the Let’s Go series is nearly 20 years old. We recently had a chance to talk with the series authors, Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto, Ritsuko Nakata and Karen Frazier, about the changes they’ve seen in publishing, and in teaching English to children, over the past two decades.
As a special thank you, Barb thought it would be nice to share a short video with you, as a little flavour of the last 20 years of working on Let’s Go. Thanks also to Barb for conducting the following interview.
Barb: Let’s Go was one of the first course books for teaching English as a foreign language to children. Quite a few features that are commonplace in young learner courses now started with Let’s Go. What were some of the “firsts”? Please complete this sentence: Let’s Go was the first English course to _____.
Ritsuko: It was the first English course to expose children to the Roman alphabet at such a young age. Let’s Go was also the first English course to include so many verbs. If you know plenty of verbs, you can talk a lot! Also, it’s written so that children can actually use the dialogues they are learning.
Karen: It was the first English course to include full answers and question forms to get kids talking. With Let’s Go, kids don’t just learn one word answers to teachers’ questions, they learn the words to ask the questions, too. It’s so common now that it’s hard to believe that it was a pioneering approach back in the 1990s.
Ritsuko: I’m pretty sure it was the first book to include chants, and to include movement to help children remember sentences as well as the verbs.
Barb: What’s something teachers may not know about Let’s Go?
Karen: In an early draft of Let’s Go, one of the characters was a cute little alien called Moo Moo. Being an alien, of course he wouldn’t know the names for things, so the characters could teach him.
Barb: What happened to Moo Moo?
Ritsuko: As our philosophy evolved, we realized that we wanted Let’s Go to present real characters in real situations using real language. Having to bring in aliens, or talking animals, to create situations didn’t feel very realistic.
Karen: Right. For example, “What’s this?” is a really useful question. There were so many real contexts we could use to help children understand the meaning of the question, it didn’t make any sense to bring in an alien who didn’t know the name of objects on this planet.
Ritsuko: Teachers also may not know that our Let’s Go cats, Sam and Ginger, are based on my cats, Koh and Ivy. They were kittens when we started the first edition.
Barb: One thing I find that surprises teachers a bit is that we’ve worked together on all levels of Let’s Go, but have never lived near each other, usually not even in the same country. How would you describe our writing process?
Ritsuko: Since we’ve always worked long distance, it feels normal. Of course, it’s easier now than it was in the beginning. We didn’t even have email then!
Karen: It was rather primitive, wasn’t it? Remember when we first starting using the fax machine?
Ritsuko: Yes, we’d print out the unit and fax it, make comments and fax it back. I remember coming home to rolls and rolls of that fax paper all across the floor.
Karen: I remember how excited we were when we got our first computers.
Ritsuko: Me, too! We felt so high-tech writing on computers instead of typewriters!
Karen: Then we’d discuss the units on conference calls late at night and early in the morning to accommodate the different time zones we all lived in, and every few months we’d meet at a hotel near one of our homes to work for a few days. Those were always fun times, especially when we brought the kids along.
Barb: It’s amazing how some things have changed. Now we work in Google Docs while talking on Skype, and almost everything is done digitally.
Ritsuko: But, a lot of those work sessions are still very, very early, or very, very late, and I still love whenever we have a chance to meet!
Barb: Another question I often get is “Who writes what? How do you divide the work when you’re writing?”
Karen: We really don’t. We’ve worked together so long now that we really can…
Ritsuko: … finish each other’s sentences!
Karen: Right. We always start by talking things over, and then whichever one of us has time writes the first draft. We all edit, and revise, and talk through things as we go.
Barb: Final question. What do you like best about being a Let’s Go author?
Ritsuko: Meeting teachers around the world.
Karen: And meeting children around the world. What about you, Barb? What do you like best?
Barb: Having a chance to work with people that you really, really like and respect!
Ritsuko: We’re lucky that there’s almost always something new happening with Let’s Go, so we have plenty of chances to work together!