OLBI conversation workshops: Let’s talk about it!

Official Languages and Bilingualism Institute
Faculty of Health Sciences
Language learning
Official Languages and Bilingualism Institute
Deux étudiants parlent au Centre de Ressources Julien-Couture
Vara, a Health Sciences and French Immersion stream student, explains how OLBI’s conversation workshops help students hone their second-language skills while having fun!

“When I first heard about the workshops, I was super excited to find an opportunity to practise my oral French in a safe space, free of judgment.”


— student at uOttawa

1. What made you want to start attending workshops?

Coming from Toronto, I had some trouble adjusting and getting used to conversing in French, especially during my first two years at uOttawa. Outside of the few classes I took in French, I wasn’t specifically encouraged to speak French on my own and, being very shy, I knew it would be difficult for me to come out of my shell and practice on my own. When I first heard about the workshops, I was super excited to find an opportunity to practise my oral French in a safe space, free of judgment.

2. How would you describe conversation workshops to people unfamiliar with them?

Conversation workshops are split into beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels. They are informal, 55-minute meetings that occur at different time slots during the day and don’t require students to be enrolled in a second-language course or program prior to signing up. They are a great, educational way to spend longer breaks between classes in your schedule.

They typically start with participants introducing themselves, and then the student host guides conversations on topics ranging from TV shows to campus experiences by asking questions and directing activities. Conversation workshop hosts offer a shared sense of relatability and understanding of the difficulties of learning another language in an academic environment. Workshops then end with a fun group activity, such as playing a game or watching a short video. They can host up to five participants, but at times, it was just a student host and me. It allowed me to get more personalized attention and support to improve my spoken French.

3. Have you had favourite workshops or activities?

One of my favourite workshops was with Rianna, one of the hosts, who had planned an activity around the idea of a fictional “doomsday”. First, she showed us a video about the Diefenbunker, a real-life bunker located in Ottawa that was used during the Cold War. Then she divided the participants into breakout rooms on Zoom. She asked us to invent our own doomsday scenarios, and then specify where we would build a bunker if the event were to actually occur. This activity was super fun because it allowed us to practise speaking spontaneously in a more comfortable environment as opposed to a formal class setting. Another one of my favourite workshops was with Tsoa, a leader whose workshops I often attended. She planned an activity around French expressions. Learning such casual and colloquial aspects of the language with help from a native French speaker helped me better understand how and when to properly use expressions without having the pre-orchestrated format that textbook exercises use.

4. Have the workshops helped you improve your French? If so, how?

Yes! I have definitely improved not only my vocabulary, but also how to better express myself in spontaneous, colloquial conversations in French. The facilitators and the other participants have also been very accommodating and encouraging, so I’m never afraid to put myself out there and immerse myself in the language.

5. What is the most rewarding part of the workshops?

Being surrounded by a small group of students who are learning French is not only a fun way to learn the language, but also a great way to meet fellow learners. There’s no need to be self-conscious about pronunciation or accent since no one criticizes how you speak at all. On the contrary, everyone is super helpful. The hosts have resources to introduce different aspects of French culture, which helps to enhance the learning process. It’s really just an all-around win-win situation; you gain the confidence to speak the language in a safe space, and get to meet people too!

6. Where do conversation workshops take place?

OLBI conversation workshops are usually held on campus at the Julien Couture Resource Centre in Hamelin Hall. During the pandemic, they are hosted on either Zoom or the Gather.Town platform.

7. How do you sign up for OLBI conversation workshops?

Students can reserve a time slot at least 24 hours before the workshop time. They are always free and open to all.