HOW IT WORKS:
Ouareau Creates a safe environment, Forges friendships,
and Provides tools for language learning
Ouareau's language program is uniquely suited to our powerful girl community, encouraging campers to build their language skills as part of their everyday life. Our staff work on a cycle where two days are spent speaking entirely in French, and the next two days are spent speaking entirely in English.
On Sundays, all instructions are given in both languages, to allow campers the chance to make links between their vocabularies. Bunk groups have a mix of French and English speakers, and the small group environment allows campers to form friendships and work together to develop their second language.
① A SAFE ENVIRONMENT
TO MAKE MISTAKES
Making mistakes like a boss
We all know that for a girl to try something new, they can't be afraid to make mistakes, especially in front of others! When a camper feels safe to make mistakes, they're more willing to try something new; when they try, they build experience, and that experience turns into learning. This is especially true when it comes to language.
Having an accent, missing pieces of your vocabulary, or not knowing the right tense of a verb to use should all be badges of honour! It means, "I'm brave enough to try," and bravery is celebrated at Ouareau, whether it's with a high five, a smile, or simply the moment when you realize that someone else is trying as hard as you did. What's great at Ouareau is that one day you're trying your best in your second language, and the next you can be the expert, and help someone else out when they're trying theirs.
We're all in this together
Building trust isn't easy, but we acknowledge our shared goals from the start. At our Opening Campfires, we talk about how we are all in the same boat when it comes to language learning – even our bilingual campers! Whether they learned their second language at camp, or had the good fortune to grow up in a bilingual environment, bilingual campers believe in the power of supporting their peers in their language development, not just acting as Google Translate.
Our staff aren't all perfectly bilingual either — we hire them this way on purpose! Having role models that are equally "in progress" when it comes to their second language are a wonderful inspiration for girls to feel comfortable in demonstrating their second language skills.
② MOTIVATION TO TRY
Harnessing the power of friendships
While campers are encouraged to speak the Language of the Day in order to create an immersion environment, don't be concerned that "English Day" will only mean "my daughter will speak English all day!" This is where the magic of the program really happens: in the power of friendship. An Anglophone camper will spend her French days picking up new vocabulary and concepts, and then on English days will immediately put those to use when she's helping her Francophone friend understand what's going on!
Approximately 35% of our campers are fully bilingual, and can always step in to help a fellow camper with translations if they're really stuck. Unless there is an emergency, or a situation where emotional or physical safety is being threatened, our staff are expected not to translate for the campers.
Through the necessity of problem solving or translating for their newfound friends, campers are self-motivated to work on their second language. Ouareau girls come from all over the world to learn their second (or third!) language, but they stay because of the whole camp experience — the language learning becomes secondary to the love of camp as an environment where you get to try new activities, meet new friends, and return year after year to live the language with your peers.
Our goal, and what our campers experience, is an enjoyment of learning that is propelled by intrinsic motivation, and not by external pressures. It's really learning for the sake of growing!
What our campers are saying...
"You develop a relationship with [the other girls], so you WANT to learn their language, and they also want to learn yours... At camp, everyone is there to help you learn, the environment is fantastic here... Everyone wants to help you, everyone wants to explain what's happening."
— Zoé T, camper for 9 years
"[My bunk mates] won't just translate a word for me, they'll actually explain to me what it means."
— Marie J, camper for 9 years
"After [my] years at camp, I speak English and I have a lot of friends."
— Sophie P, camper for 7 years
③ TOOLS TO SUPPORT
⟼Learning by doing⟻
Why does our language program work? Because campers learn by doing – the new vocabulary terms will stick because they physically have a paddle in hand, or they see something they need across the dining room table: "Passez-moi le lait, s'il-vous-plaît?" The experience of living the language, combined with the immediate practical application, is a successful formula when it comes to not only learning but retaining a new language.
Campers are evaluated on the basis of their ability to understand and speak their second language. If their language skills are still only at a basic level, they are assigned to a daily language class as one of their activity periods. Our Understanding classes aim to get campers to comprehend the instructions and day-to-day conversations that happen at camp. Once they are capable of doing so, they go on to Speaking classes, which teach campers how to answer general questions, express their needs, and converse with others. If they are considered proficient enough to start communicating with their peers, they may or may not take our optional Extended classes, which are project-based. All language classes are aimed to empower campers to function and develop relationships in a bilingual environment, by emphasizing practical and immediately applicable content.
⇥Language in the Dining Room⇤
We eat our meals family-style, around large tables with approximately ten campers and two staff members or CITs. The seating around the table alternates by mother tongue, so an Anglophone is seated between two Francophone campers, encouraging conversation between languages. The dining room is the main location where campers are asked to speak the Language of the Day to the best of their ability (asking for help from their neighbours beside them!), and we also make use of downtime between courses to play games or sing songs in the Language of the Day.
Each camper receives a two-colour bracelet upon arrival at camp, one side yellow and the other side green. We've found these to be extremely helpful as a reminder to all of us of what the Language of the Day is – because some campers will spend their swim class always speaking in their mother tongue, or their language class always speaking in their second language, it can sometimes be a challenge to keep track! Our staff came up with this suggestion to keep everyone on the same page: on French days, we wear the bracelet with the green side facing out, and on English days with the yellow side facing out, so you only need to look at your wrist to remember what language to speak!