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International Students Can Learn Russian from Russian Seniors

A project led by a group of HSE students and alumni called The Language of Generations has won a competition held by the Vladimir Potanin Foundation that is designed to recognize projects with social significance. The idea behind the project is to introduce foreign students of Russian to senior citizens from Russia. As a result, students will gain additional language practice, and older people will have the opportunity for additional communication.

‘All of us have aging parents and we know first-hand how they sometimes lack attention and opportunities for communication’, says Svetlana Pavshintseva, one of the project’s founders and a second-year student in the Public Administration Master’s programme at HSE. ‘The Language of Generations is a project that should solve the feeling of not being needed that some older Russians experience. To carry out the project, we will create a communication platform where older Russians will be able to communicate with foreign students who are studying Russian. At first, we plan for communication between students and older Russians to take place over Skype. Thanks to our project, older people will have the opportunity to share experiences and knowledge with the younger generation, to feel needed and wanted; in turn, foreign students will be able to practice communicating with native speakers without leaving their country to learn more about Russia’.

'The idea behind ​​the project came from CNA Speaking Exchange, a Brazilian educational project where students communicate through an online service with older Americans in nursing homes in Chicago', says Kirill Golubev, the project's other co-founder and a graduate of the Master's programme in Information Technology and Intellectual Property Law (HSE Faculty of Law). 'We thought, why not implement a similar idea in Russia? But we decided to focus not on nursing homes but rather on non-profit organizations that work with seniors. This decision was largely due to our partnership with a public resource centre in the Republic of Bashkortostan called “My Years - My Wealth”. In the future, we plan to involve NGOs in Moscow and other Russian regions in the project’.

According to Golubev, the project team’s main focus now is to actively involve young foreigners in the project, since there is an agreement in place with the Bashkir resource centre with 100 seniors already having expressed their willingness to communicate with students. While the communication will only take place in Russian for the time being, the founders of the project do not exclude elderly Russians who know English from taking part.

The project has a website, where a video service will soon offer a choice of topics for conversation and a button to communicate with the organizers. ‘We also plan to hold a live presentation for seniors and offer several demonstrational videos. In the future, we want to make control of the communication between foreign students and Russian seniors completely remote. In general, I have a dream that after some time we will launch an online Russian language school where retired former Russian teachers will offer lessons. For older people, this is an additional opportunity to earn money, and for foreigners a chance to study the language with native speakers’, said Golubev.

At the Vladimir Potanin Foundation competition, The Language of Generations won a grant to support its implementation. Earlier it was announced that the project reached the final stage of an Innovation in Education competition, which is held annually by the HSE Institute of Education; the final competition will be held in September.

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