What do you get when you combine older Americans who want someone to talk to and young Brazilians who want to learn English? The “Speaking Exchange” program, an innovative program developed by the Brazilian-based language school, CNA.
One of the best ways to learn a new language is to have conversations with native speakers. But many of the CNA’s teenage students don’t have the means to travel outside their country and dialogue with Americans face-to-face. “What our students really want is to speak English fluently,” says Vanessa Valenca, Pedagogical Coordinator for CNA in a video on the company’s website. “And we’re always asking ourselves ‘How can we make it more real—more human?’”
At the same time, the elder loneliness epidemic has reached a new peak—with an estimated 43 percent of older Americans admitting to persistent feelings of loneliness, according to a recent University of California, San Francisco study.
From these two very different dilemmas emerged a single solution: the “Speaking Exchange” program, which uses a special computer app to connect elderly Americans living in retirement communities with Brazilians eager to have a conversation with native English speakers. The discussions are recorded, then uploaded to a private YouTube channel to be evaluated by CNA instructors.
In one video, a female student speaks to an older woman, Esther, about her siblings, saying that her brother “has” 23 years. Esther smiles and politely informs her of the more accurate phrasing, “He is 23 years old.”
In another video, 88-year-old Henry holds up a black and white photograph of a smiling young couple, an image of him and his wife from many years ago.
“You were good-looking, when you were young,” says Djones, his teenage conversational partner. “And you’re still good-looking.”
Sometimes the conversations are guided, via on-screen prompts and questions. But once the discussion gets going, the two participants are free to let the dialogue flow.
“Speaking Exchange” is still in the preliminary testing phases, but the website encourages retirement communities to sign up now so they can be allowed to participate, once the program is officially implemented.
Big benefits from a simple chat
Though seemingly simple, these conversations between young and old hold the potential to be extremely beneficial for both participants.
For the retirees, it’s a chance to not only share a lifetime’s worth of experience to someone who is eager to listen, it also helps them retain a sense of efficacy and worth by passing on their knowledge. These are two of the key ways proven to reduce feelings of loneliness in the elderly.
And for the young students, being able to engage with fluent speakers who are patient with their teaching and eager to converse is invaluable.
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By Anne-Marie Botek, AgingCare.com Editor