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Téléfun: Case study of an informal language partners program

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Posted: 
March 12, 2018
Written by: Mélanie Rivet , Parks Canada Innovation Lab

In winter 2017, the Parks Canada Innovation Lab launched Téléfun, a language partners program.

The concept may seem simple, but the road to the program’s official launch in September 2017 was full of challenges.

Here are 3 lessons we learned along the way.

1. Launching a program like Téléfun takes time

The idea for Téléfun came from employees who wanted to speak in their second language simply for the fun of it, without feeling shy, and without being evaluated or judged. What they wanted was to find someone to practise their second language with, in a friendly and relaxed atmosphere.

So the Innovation Lab developed a pilot project that would meet the following criteria:

  • a fun, no-pressure approach
  • online resources available for consultation, as needed
  • minimal coordination required

This is how Téléfun was initially conceived. Participants could register through Parks Canada’s intranet to contact a partner. You can imagine how pleasantly surprised we were when over 60 partipants registered as soon as the pilot project launched!

The comments we received after the first 6 weeks indicated that the program was not entirely meeting everyone’s needs. So we continued working on the program to improve it.

2. Needs and expectations vary

When we first analyzed the feedback, we were puzzled. No one could seem to agree on what the program should offer. Many participants would have preferred to be paired automatically, but others really liked being able to choose their buddy on the basis of their interests.

The program had to meet various needs, so we carried out a client needs analysis. From the comments we received, we were able to identify 4 kinds of potential participants:

Cubs

  • are looking for a buddy who will help them improve their second language
  • would like to have someone guide them through the process and the initial interactions

Beavers

  • want to talk about topics related to their work
  • challenge: finding the time to talk

Caribou

  • would like to help someone practise their second language, even if it means less practice for them
  • want to meet people, have conversations and learn

Squirrels

  • want short-term help for a specific purpose (an important meeting or an exam)

This analysis was the key factor in reviewing the program. Since September 2017, the improved Téléfun program has included several new options:

  • pairing by a coordinator
  • participation in a spontaneous discussion group (chat tool)
  • self-pairing

3. The first interaction is a major obstacle

Sometimes, we get really excited about a new program, but something holds us back. Of the over 60 participants, only 20 were active. Many told us they were too shy to speak to a buddy. Since the goal of Téléfun is to help participants feel more at ease, we decided to help them overcome this obstacle.

So, in addition to providing approaches and suggested conversation topics in the tool box, we drafted introductory messages that are sent to participants as soon as they’re paired with someone.

Conclusion

The new approach solved the problems that had been identified:

  • a simple matching platform based on interests that allows for self-pairing or pairing by a coordinator
  • a spontaneous discussion group for busy people

This Parks Canada exclusive program could benefit all of you, as clients. Because members of the Agency will be more at ease in their second language, they’ll be better able to serve you in the official language of your choice.

Do you have a language partners program where you work? What are the challenges you’ve faced? If you still don’t have one, what are the obstacles to implementing a program like Téléfun in your workplace?

Translated by: Josephine Versace, Language Portal of Canada

 

Disclaimer

The opinions expressed in posts and comments published on the Our Languages blog are solely those of the authors and commenters and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Language Portal of Canada.

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About the author

Mélanie Rivet

Mélanie Rivet is a language professional, author, teacher and editor. After a stint spent managing the LinguisTech project at the Language Technologies Research Centre (LTRC, now Cilex), she joined the team at the Parks Canada Innovation Lab to set up 2 language projects: Téléfun, a language partners program, and the Parks Canada Bilingual Lexicon. Mélanie has used online language resources like the Language Portal of Canada extensively since she started her career in the language field. She also drafted articles as a Portal contributor while working at the LTRC.

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