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Language-learners call retired French people to practise chatting

The scheme has proved a big hit since launching during the pandemic, with linguistic partners often forming close bonds

ShareAmi has about 800 partners who speak on a regular basis via video call platforms or over the phone Pic: fizkes / Shutterstock

A service connecting young people looking to practise their French with lonely elderly residents in France is going from strength to strength, two years after it was launched during the Covid pandemic.

ShareAmi started in May 2020 after Covid confined people to their homes. This left many pensioners feeling isolated, while at the same time a number of French language courses were cancelled. 

Read more: Alarm as number of isolated and lonely over-60s in France doubles

From 30 participants to well over a thousand

It has proved extremely popular and today ShareAmi, which has been developed by the association Oldyssey, boasts around 800 linguistic partners who speak on a regular basis.

In addition, around 120 volunteers work to set up the partnerships and facilitate conversations.

Anne-Lou Villeminot, head of development at ShareAmi, said they did not expect the project to be so popular. 

“We planned to start slowly, maybe with 30 or so partners but we ended up having thousands of people sign up.”

Not for beginners

You can register as a French learner (reserved for people aged 18 to 35), as a volunteer, or as a senior (55 and over) at shareami.org. The idea is to have regular conversations for at least three months but Ms Villeminot said that around 70-80% of partners stay in contact for longer. 

The service is geared towards advanced learners looking for extra conversation practice, rather than beginners.

More than 7,000 learners have so far signed up but there are currently not enough seniors to match demand, so expect delays of several months before a partner is found. 

Conversations can take place via online video call platforms or over the phone. The senior may be assisted by staff from third-party organisations, such as the Red Cross.

Close bonds

Ms Villeminot said there have been great examples of partners forming close bonds, with some now speaking for two years. 

“We have a French learner from Colombia who came to France to meet their partner, and another case where a senior was hospitalised and received a card and some flowers from their partner. 

“Our objective is that there is not one person who helps while the other is being helped. It is for both people to help each other.”

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