New app makes language learning a game

Official Languages and Bilingualism Institute
Official Languages and Bilingualism Institute
passeport de prise de risques linguistique
The Official Languages and Bilingualism Institute (OLBI) celebrated a milestone in the development of an innovative second language learning app, the popular Linguistic Risk-Taking Passport.

In 2013, Prof. Nikolay Slavkov, the man behind the app, was a new professor at OLBI, taking French language classes at the University’s Social Sciences Building to be able to teach in both official languages. Despite advancing in his language learning, he always ordered his French pastries in English during class breaks at the building coffee shop.

“I was too shy and anxious to even order my croissant in French,” says Slavkov, who understood that he was missing an opportunity. “I realized the disconnect between achieving some sort of high level in the classroom, but not applying it in real life. When we learn languages, we need to take risks. We need to overcome these stresses and anxieties and worries.” And as we do that, we also discover the fun of speaking a new language.

Slavkov notes that people worry about appearing less competent or vulnerable when speaking a second language. His Linguistic Passport app is the perfect risk-taking tool, with its 89 short, straightforward challenges that encourage language learners to practise in real-life settings.

How it works

The downloadable app offers opportunities for gamification of language learning.

Most challenges (for example, “I spoke French to a friend with whom I normally speak English” or “I sent a text message in French.”) can be attempted three times. After completing at least 20 challenges, students can win prizes such as gift cards for local restaurants. 

For students who’ve used the Linguistic Risk-Taking passport, their enthusiasm and accomplishments speak loudly. According to Slavkov, some students have said the passport gave them the courage to apply for bilingual jobs, positions that they had never considered because they didn’t see themselves as bilingual. Additionally, people who master more than one language develop their intercultural competencies.

“In developing this tool, my dream is to motivate and engage language learners all over campus,” Slavkov says.

The new Linguistic Risk-Taking Passport app can be downloaded by selected English as a Second Language (ESL) and French as a Second Language (FLS) students, as well as students in the uOGlobal program. Plans include one day opening the app up for users from all faculties.

Major gift boosts app

The University has received a four-year $500,000 gift from the Molson Foundation. This will strengthen the Francophonie and bilingualism on campus, including scaling up the Linguistic Risk-Taking Passport  and launching new initiatives to raise awareness and use of both official languages.

As well, through the gift, the Official Languages and Bilingualism Institute (OLBI) and the Office of the Vice-President, International and Francophonie will strengthen their collaboration to support Francophonie and bilingualism initiatives at uOttawa.

“The Molson Foundation believes in service to the community, and as such we support organizations and institutions from across Canada, in order to shape innovation and create lasting change for the benefit of society,” says Andrew T. Molson, foundation president. “We are proud to support the University of Ottawa, which shares our values of cooperation, generosity and building an even greater Canada, together.”

Learn more about the Linguistic Risk-Taking Passport.