Skype connects generations across the world

The LinguaLink of Generations project uses Skype to connect Russian retirees with language students from around the world. By using Skype video calling, the project successfully lets students learn the language as well as find out more about its culture. The idea originated from a competition for socially significant projects and is the brainchild of students and graduates from the National Research University Higher School of Economics in Russia.

Recognizing that many senior citizens in Moscow feel out of touch and isolated, the students decided to help them combat that loneliness.

“Initially we wanted to make sure our retirees felt they could still be relevant and adapt socially in a world of technology,” says Project PR Manager Svetlana Pavshintseva. But soon organizers realized that international students could benefit greatly from practicing their language skills and learning the history and culture of Russia from locals.

“We have a group of retirees who are engaged in the project through a non-profit organization in Moscow, the project ‘50 plus’. And an NGO coordination and resource center of pensioners in the Republic of Bashkortostan, whose name translates to ‘My years are my wealth’.”

Skype video calling is already a tried and trusted method that many Russians use for long distance calls and the program focuses mainly on real-time conversation between retirees and students. Svetlana explains how natural it is for both parties to use:

“Skype is an international way of communication; it’s a really convenient format for both calls and correspondence. Everyone in our organization knows and trusts it.”

Kirill Golubev, Project Head of LinguaLink of Generations, described the process in detail:

“To start with, we offer everyone the option to talk on group calls with help from our project team members. This removes any confusion or awkwardness between both sides and ascertains how well the student and teacher match each other. We tend to do group calls during the first stage only, so our project team can help people reach an understanding and solve technical problems if needed.”

The program is a combination of formal and informal teaching methods; the retirees, some of whom are former teachers, structure lessons for students. But it’s not a requirement that the retirees be educators—many are simply Russians who love the idea of reaching out to international students to share their culture and offer suggestions for better word choices and phrases.

Recently during one of the test Skype sessions, a student from Denmark shared her confusion over the Russian word for language, “язык” (“yazyk”), which can be also be translated as “tongue”. When she first saw a recipe for cooking “язык” she was very surprised and wondered: how in the world was it possible to cook a language?

Later, in another Skype conversation, she learned that the word “ручка” also has different meanings: a part of the body (arm), a pen, or a door handle. She could only conclude “I still have a lot to understand in this challenging language!”

LinguaLink of Generations launched in October 2016 and provides a venue for over 200 participants.

Спасибо (Thank you) LinguaLink of Generations for using Skype to give students the chance to learn new language skills and so many senior citizens the ability to feel less isolated.