Drawing on experience and the emerging results of a research project, this article examines the role of play, in particular child-initiated play, when learning languages in pre-primary settings. It begins by characterizing play and highlights the importance of a balanced relationship between adult-led and child-initiated play activities. It proposes that English learning areas might facilitate child-initiated play in the target language, and analyses the relationship between adult-led and child-initiated play, consequently outlining a possible format and its components: structure, role, and script. Analysis of a teacher-led activity with a group of children demonstrates how this format supports children in later child-initiated play. Excerpts from observations of children in English learning areas exemplify how teacher-led instruction can enable child-initiated play. The article concludes with a discussion around the implications for practice in pre-primary EFL settings.