The goal of OLC-CLO is to expose secondary and first-year CÉGEP students to the fields of  linguistics, computational linguistics, and language technology before they begin their university studies. The competition consists of pencil-and-paper puzzles that assume no prior knowledge of linguistics, requiring only problem-solving and logical thinking abilities.

The first linguistics competitions similar to OLCLO were held in Moscow in the 1960s, and in the 1980s and 1990s local competitions began in Bulgaria, St. Petersburg, and Oregon. The first International Linguistics Olympiad (IOL) was held in 2003 in Borovets, Bulgaria. In 2007, the first North American Computational Linguistics Olympiad (NACLO) was held in the United States, and the next year NACLO was held in Canada also.

Since 2011, Canada has sent an English-speaking team, selected by NACLO, to the IOL. In 2017, for the first time, a Francophone Canadian team also participated in the IOL, having been selected by the first OLCLO contest, which ran in French only. In 2018, both Canadian teams will be selected by OLCLO, which will run in English and French, and NACLO will not run in Canada.