STARTALK offers tuition-free language learning courses for students and professional development opportunities for teachers in critical need languages and free resources for teachers of all languages. All courses and resources are developed around the six STARTALK principles that embody characteristics of highly effective language teaching and learning and ensure that learners are engaged in meaningful, real-world learning experiences that prepare them to use the target language beyond the classroom.
The STARTALK program was initiated by the federal government in response to the events of 9/11, when it became apparent that the country needed more of its citizens proficient in world languages, especially those languages necessary to meet political, economic, and security interests. The STARTALK program was created to provide language learning opportunities to students (kindergarten through college age) and professional development opportunities to teachers, and develop resources for the teaching and learning of critical languages, such as Arabic, Chinese, Dari, Hindi, Korean, Persian, Russian, Turkish, Urdu, and Spanish for teacher programs.
STARTALK is a grant program that is administered and guided by the National Foreign Language Center at the University of Maryland but implemented by local educational organizations (schools, college and universities, nonprofit organizations, and local heritage schools). It is mainly a summer program focusing on
- language learning experiences that would generate in students an interest in continuing to study their STARTALK languages after the summer,
- professional development opportunities for teachers to provide language instruction that would engage and interest students, and
- the development of much-needed resources to support students and students in these programs.
The program has developed and refreshed guidelines for effective teaching and learning known as the STARTALK Principles that guide classroom instruction and teacher training. The Teacher Effectiveness for Language Learning (TELL) Framework is also used to guide the professional development and transformation of teachers. Curriculum templates based on principles of backward design are used by all STARTALK programs to plan effective instruction to meet and document stated course objectives. The STARTALK website hosts a multitude of resources surrounding the principles and the TELL framework, and these resources are available to the public.
Throughout the years since its inception, STARTALK programs have continued to improve and are subject to three specific quality assurance checks: the application review and award process, the curriculum approval stage, and a program site visit.
The STARTALK program has had a profound impact on the world language community, especially for less commonly taught languages. Longitudinal surveys indicate that over 80% of students have continued to learn their STARTALK language and a number of working in professions that require use of the language. In similar surveys, the vast majority of teachers report transformation as a result of implementing the STARTALK principles into their academic year classrooms.
The STARTALK program is further supported by the recent USED award of a Language Resource Center to the NFLC, Professional Educators Advancing Research in Language Learning (PEARLL). The LRC is leveraging the many lessons learned from STARTALK programs and resources developed to support teachers. In return, STARTALK is benefitting from an LRC at the NFLC with more focus on teacher development and activities to support world language teachers.