STARTALK: Resources for Chinese Language Learners and Teachers

By Guiling (Gloria) Hu, PhD and Shuhan C. Wang, PhD

“It was a fun, yet educational way to learn the language and culture. Truly the highlight of my summer! The teachers were understanding and energetic.”--STARTALK student participant

“This training program is the best to help teachers achieve and improve their goals.”--STARTALK teacher participant

STARTALK is a multi-million dollar, multi-year national project under the National Security Language Initiative (NSLI 2006). The initiative seeks to expand and improve the learning and teaching of strategically important world languages that are not yet widely available in the U.S. STARTALK’s mission is to increase the number of Americans learning and teaching these critical need foreign languages by providing students and teachers in K-16 settings with creative and engaging summer experiences that strive to exemplify best practices in the language field.

The National Foreign Language Center at the University of Maryland has been the administrative agency for STARTALK since its inception in 2007. Over the past five years, STARTALK has quickly expanded its cohort of languages from two to ten. Likewise, the number of STARTALK programs grew from 34 in 2007 to 156 in 2011. The number of students enrolled in STARTALK programs increased from 874 to 7,672, and the number of teachers who participated in teacher development increased from 448 to 1,583. Among the STARTALK programs, Chinese has consistently been the most popular language for both student and teacher programs.

In addition to offering summer programs, STARTALK also focuses on the establishment of a solid knowledge base and best practices of Standards-based language learning and teaching, curriculum, instructional strategies, materials, assessment, and program evaluation. As a result, STARTALK is recognized as a national treasure for the field of world languages. What can Chinese learners, teachers, and program directors discover from STARTALK?

For Learners of Chinese in K-16 Settings, including Heritage Language Learners

STARTALK programs are affordable--many waive tuition fees and offer stipends for students upon successful completion of the program. Free lunch in the form of authentic Chinese food is often provided.

STARTALK programs are widely available. In almost all the states, including less-populated regions such as Kansas, Kentucky, and Wyoming, you may find a STARTALK program that meets your need and interest. For example, the University of Kansas STARTALK program offers learning Chinese via interactive distance learning. Arizona State University, Bangor Chinese School (in Maine), and the University of Hawaii offer residential programs.

STARTALK programs are for learners of different ages and proficiency levels. There are classes for novice, intermediate, or advanced levels, which are also available for elementary, middle school, high school and college students.

STARTALK programs offer a wide variety of experiences. Chicago Public Schools collaborates with the University of Chicago to give urban students a taste of university experience in its efforts to encourage students to explore the possibility of attending college beyond high school. Other programs bring the students to natural environments such as the ocean (Cape Henlopen School District in Delaware), the mountains (Furman University in South Carolina), and wild life’s natural habitats (Global Village Academy’s in Colorado).

For Pre-Service and Practicing Teachers of Chinese, including Heritage Language Schools

Many STARTALK teacher programs do not charge tuition fees and others provide scholarships to ease the financial burden of participants.

There is an option of program type and location. You may choose to participate in a residential or non-residential program from various locations. Components of some programs are offered online to help further reduce the stress of having to leave home for too long during the summer.

STARTALK teacher programs address topics that meet the different needs of teacher participants. Workshop topics include standards-based teaching (Bangor Chinese School in Maine), assessment (Center for Applied Linguistics in D.C.), technology (Northern Virginia Community College), teaching methodology (Brigham Young University in Utah), immersion methodologies (Concordia Language Villages in Minnesota), and teacher leadership (Center for Applied Second Language Studies in Oregon), to name only a few examples.

STARTALK teacher programs provide an emphasis on the integration of theory and practice. A unique feature of the Mandarin Institute teacher program is the practicum opportunity for teacher participants to teach real students in the classroom.

Many STARTALK teacher programs will help you earn university credits. In some programs, credits earned can be used to fulfill teacher licensure requirements.

For All: Our Online Resources

To facilitate world language teaching and language program administration, STARTALK has established a resource clearinghouse for language teachers and program directors. They include the following collections:

STARTALK Online Curriculum Development Guide includes relevant pedagogical concepts and provides step by step guidance for developing a meaningful curriculum.

Student Curriculum Templates help in the development of theme-based curricula that integrate the national standards and best practices of foreign language learning.

Unit and Lesson Template Guide is a tool for teachers to bridge the curriculum to the unit and lesson plans on a daily basis.

Plan for Teacher Development Template provides a needs assessment for program directors to determine which STARTALK Resources are most relevant to prepare the instructors for their student programs.

Collection of Classroom Videos provides real-life examples of teachers incorporating STARTALK endorsed principles.

Collection of Online Multimedia Teacher Workshops covers a wide range of skills, knowledge, and techniques that all world language teachers need that is accompanied by a menu to identify workshops that are most relevant to their professional development needs.

Bibliographic Lists of Language Specific Materials provide information about what other STARTALK programs have used such as language specific and pedagogical articles, text and reference books, cultural and language-learning websites, authentic materials and media, professional, community and heritage organizations, as well as resources deemed useful by STARTALK staff.

Field Trip Paper and Guide, based on 2008, 2009 and 2010 STARTALK field trip data, propose a Standard-based framework for conducting field trips and a field trip planning template.

Sample Materials Developed by STARTALK Programs include curricula, syllabi, units, lesson plans and assessment tools that are organized according to language and grade level.

Our Invitation to You

STARTALK has created much impact on Chinese language teaching and learning. Many students reported that they will continue studying Chinese after their STARTALK experience. Students from the OneWorldNow! (Seattle) STARTALK program for example, joined study abroad programs to study Chinese in China, and one student even decided to obtain her undergraduate education from a Chinese university. 99% of the teacher participants reported increased confidence in teaching. STARTALK also provides opportunities for teachers to build networks with and receive ongoing support from their trainers, Chinese language specialists, and fellow teachers. As one teacher put it, “networking has been the most enduring effect of STARTALK programs in this area.”

STARTALK programs will be available again in the summer of 2012. We hope you and your students will join us and help to make it even bigger and better. Check our website to find a program or resource that suits your needs and interests! 2012 Programs will be available online by March, 2012. You are also welcome to contact us at

Guiling (Gloria) Hu is a Chinese Language Specialist at STARTALK. She received her PhD in applied linguistics from the Georgia State University and MA in applied linguistics from the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. Her research interests include second language teacher education, second language listening processing, language attitude and ideology, and cross‐linguistic study of prosody. Gloria also has extensive teaching experience that includes Chinese classes for heritage learners in New Zealand, college level, public school and international students in the U.S.; English classes for college students in China; and undergraduate and graduate level linguistics courses in the U.S.

Shuhan C. Wang is deputy director for the National Foreign Language Center (NFLC) at the University of Maryland. She is also co-principal investigator of the STARTALK Project. She received her PhD in educational linguistics from the University of Pennsylvania. Prior to coming to NFLC, Dr. Wang was Executive Director for Chinese Language Initiatives at Asia Society (2006 – 2009). She is leading an international team to develop Flying with Chinese, a series of textbooks for K-6 learners of Chinese. For more than 25 years, she has been actively involved in field-building for Chinese language in the United States. Her work is published in books and peer reviewed journals internationally.