French department uses online language-tutoring program to immerse students in French culture

The Lantern
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Ohio State’s French-language department uses the online language tutoring program Conversations Unbound to encourage students to immerse themselves in French cultures. Credit: Shree Luitel | Lantern Reporter

An online program through Ohio State’s French-language department offers an opportunity for  students to immerse themselves in French culture while learning the language.

Conversations Unbound is a nonprofit organization that employs forcibly displaced native speakers as online tutors in Arabic, Spanish, French and German, according to its website . The tutors may have been displaced for a variety of reasons, such as persecution in their home countries or a lack of job opportunities to support their family.

The program aims to help students meet general education requirements as online communication methods have become more widely used due to the pandemic, Kelly Campbell, an associated faculty member in French, said.

“The COVID-19 pandemic made us realize how much more effort we need to put in being connected with the rest of the world,” Campbell said.

According to its website , Conversations Unbound was founded in 2015 as a response to increasing numbers of forcibly displaced people, projections of future displacement and heightened levels of societal resentment toward displaced communities.

The program aims to shift traditional power dynamics where students and tutors can learn from each other by engaging in culturally meaningful dialogue, according to its website .

Since its inception, Conversations Unbound has worked with over 874 students and has facilitated 3,114 hours of lessons, according to its website .

Students are assigned tutors from all over the world, which Campbell said provides students with exposure to different accents and cultures, and tutors are well prepared with topics to focus on during  each session.

“Tutors are always well aware of the topic beforehand so that they can carry on the conversation,” Campbell said.

Students are expected to complete three sessions over the course of the semester to receive credit.

Zineb Laaouidi, a first-year in biology who wanted to learn conversational French, said she experienced struggles with tutors regarding understanding each other, payment method and the structure of the sessions.

“My experience with Conversations Unbound was really awkward and it stemmed from trying to make small talk in French, having a difficult time understanding what she was saying and having her understand what I was saying,” Laaouidi said.

Margaret Murphy, a first-year in art, said the program was challenging for her, but she enjoyed it and learned a lot.

“My tutor was very patient and it was enjoyable speaking with him,” Murphy said. “We got to talk about some great subjects and it was rewarding when I could understand what he was saying.”

Murphy said she learned a lot about her tutor’s culture, but, like Laaouidi, she felt a disconnect as both their circumstances were so different that it was difficult to comprehend living in that situation.

“Our cultures were very different, but he did an excellent job explaining his culture and how he and his family live,” Murphy said. “There was some disconnect, and I could never understand what it is like to live in his situation because I am not.”

Murphy said the experience taught her a lot about herself and how to connect with others on a deeper level.

“Talking with [my tutor], I realize that I take a lot for granted and that despite our different experiences, we can still understand each other and get along with each other,” Murphy said.

Students enrolled in a class registered with Conversations Unbound can participate in the program for free through their class. Students outside of the language courses can sign up on the program’s w ebsite . Sixty-minute sessions are $15 and 30-minute sessions are $7.50.

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