For the first time, The University of Texas at Arlington is hosting an intensive Russian language program, open to all high school and college students. The month-long immersion course, called STARTALK, is funded by the National Security Agency.
The STARTALK program is aimed at increasing the number of U.S. citizens learning, speaking and teaching critical-need foreign languages, such as Russian, Chinese and Arabic.
“The NSA grant allows for this course to be completely free,” said Iya Price, senior lecturer in the Department of Modern Languages and program director for STARTALK. “A lot of students have a language requirement as part of their degrees. This program is an opportunity for them to have their beginning-level language credits taken care of for free in a shorter time frame and in an immersive environment.”
The daily schedule includes cultural experiences such as cooking, creating traditional art, playing games and going on field trips. Students focus on language skills like speaking, listening, writing and reading.
“Some students are nervous at first because it’s challenging, but now I see them having fun,” said Lonny Harrison, associate professor of Russian and lead instructor for the STARTALK program. “It’s an intensive course that moves faster than a regular semester class. The students are taught with oral, contextual situations so they can rapidly learn how to speak Russian and understand the culture.
“We want UTA to be known as the place to go in the southwest United States for Russian studies. Global studies is a major strategic initiative for the University, and this course with this grant is oriented to fulfill that.”
The program is open to high school and college students. No previous language experience is necessary. All program activities—including tuition, extra-curricular activities, learning materials and lunches—are free of charge for the students.
Megan Rodriguez, a UTA sophomore, said her favorite part of the program is that it is completely in Russian.
“It’s super interesting to hear the language all day and at full speed,” she said. “You learn so much, and it really helps with critical-thinking skills.”
Upon completion of STARTALK, students wishing to continue their studies at UTA will be eligible to earn up to eight credit hours through a university placement proficiency test.
Professors and students alike are excited by the different possibilities a course like this can create for the future.
“Students who hope to study abroad will have a leg up on vocabulary because of the STARTALK program,” UTA freshman Elizabeth Akuma said. “It’s also a golden opportunity for people who love languages, and it’s an attractive skill to add to a resume.”