The history of Comprendo!®
The game of Comprendo!® has been over eight years in the making by two fathers from East Yorkshire. Here's how its joint creators, John Ainsley and Stephen Foster, took it from idea to finished product....
In November 2000, Stephen's son Oliver, then 12, was learning Spanish at school, but wasn't interested in the subject or his homework. Stephen and Oliver had always had fun playing board games together, so Stephen searched the major toy retailers for a Spanish-language game to inspire Oliver. But his search was unsuccessful, as was his trawl through the Internet. So he decided to make one himself. The prototype was formed on a sheet of A4 paper with a track and some simple questions and answers. Oliver was speaking words and phrases in Spanish – and enjoying it!
In early January 2001, Stephen approached John – his friend of 30 years and a father of three himself – with the game, called 'Passport'. John thought the concept of a language learning game was brilliant, and with his enthusiasm and creative ability took the idea to the next level. The game was now set around a colourful map of Spain, adding elements of culture, history and geography to the original idea. It also gained the central concept of memorising answers – not only your own, but others' too – to progress in the game and win.
Family and friends played the enhanced holiday game, now under the working title 'Mind Your Language' with real enthusiasm and enjoyment. They learned words and phrase in a foreign language through interactive gameplay while having fun.
Grandparents, parents and children could all play together, and several families were asking to play the game. The two dads realised they were developing something unique.
Stephen and John piloted their hand-made prototype game in local schools. The pupils of Year 6 at Welton County Primary School in Brough, East Yorkshire (pictured right) loved playing the game!
Rachael Oakes, a language teacher at South Hunsley School, in nearby Welton, was delighted with the response of her Year 7 class after playing 'Mind Your Language' in class.
Local news soon picked up on the story. The game was featured in East Yorkshire newspapers, BBC News 24, and on bbc.co.uk. Enquiries came in from all over England, Japan and America.
A local government business support group, Business Link, helped finance and produce the first professional, printed prototype. Patent applications were filed for, which generated more interest, this time from national creative companies.
In February 2004, a marketing and design company intent on a joint venture contacted Stephen and John. Over the next three years they made modifications to the game. However, this began to turn it into a learning system and less of the competitive and enjoyable family board game it was supposed to be. Stephen and John were at their lowest point. There was only one thing for it...
A fresh start
So, in March 2007, Stephen and John started again. They worked with their original joint concept but worked with a new local design company, Jenko. They dedicated hundreds of hours to the project, which now acquired a new name – Comprendo! – as well as quicker and sharper playability and a completely new set of questions and answers.
Isabel Smedley, a Spanish teacher, had moved to East Yorkshire from Cartahegna in Spain. She worked with Stephen and John checking phonetics and pronunciations, and devising questions and answers that would work with all levels of understanding from beginner to fluent speaker.
For the next year, Stephen and John worked tirelessly, improving the playability of Comprendo! further. Family and friends would test each new enhancement, and the two dads incorporated their feedback to improve, improve and improve still more.
Ready for the market place
Two friends of Stephen and John, Cheryl and Steven Halls, had moved to Spain during 2006. After playing the game themselves, they had encouraged Stephen and John for years to continue its development. As professional sales people, Cheryl and Steven thought the game would help the British community in Spain to enhance their language skills. They were invited to become involved with the project. Now, as sales directors, Cheryl and Steven manage sales and marketing in mainland Spain and the Balearics.
Comprendo!® is now a registered trade mark throughout Europe, and the game is finally in full production. What Stephen and John thought would take a couple of months has taken nearly eight years... but it is now a unique and fun game both are immensely proud of!
John R Ainsley,
Stephen L Foster
Credits and thanks
Comprendo!® could not have come to fruition without the valued help, support and enthusiasm of many people. Stephen and John would like to thank the following.
Games playing and testing Steve and Cheryl Roberts and family; Mike and Ann Reid; Norman and Lucy Collier; Vic and Margaret Collier; Dennis and Muriel Hunter; Howard and Ruth Paterson; Les and Helen Horobin; Leslie Chu, Joe Donkin; Rob Ainsley; Our families: Karen, Gill, Oliver, Lucy, Jonathan, Tom, Lucy, Joseph and Kate
Photography Dave Uney; Graham and Karen Precious; Rosie and Oscar
Design and print creativity Emma, Graham, Colin and Barbara at Jenko
Licensing Howard Raper at Gosschalks of Hull
Prototype facilities Business Link Yorkshire
Trademark and IP protection Joanne Goodchild at WP Thompson, Liverpool
Finance Jon Tyson, John Rotherham and Fran Bouton at Yorkshire Bank
Spanish language consultancy and creation Isabel Smedley
Website design and consultancy Rob Ainsley
Help, support and use of office space Adrian Roach