Summer Language Option – StarTalk

Believe it or not, it is time to start thinking about the summer! Soon, school will be out and your child’s foreign language learning may take a backseat to the pool, the beach or the playground. You might be right about that one.

That said, bilingual summer programs offer kids the chance to keep up their studies and stop the foreign language drop-off that can quickly happen from June through August.

Now you’re faced with a decision. Which summer program should you choose? We will be rolling out a comprehensive summer camp guide soon (with discounts only for our readers). We’ll highlight a few great programs over the next few weeks to give you the inside scoop of what programs are out there to make the summertime a fun language learning experience!

First up is STARtalk…

STARTalk is a State Department program that provides summertime language lessons. Okay, STARTalk actually goes well past simple summer foreign language learning. Interested? If you’re looking to fill your child’s summer days with language immersion, check out what this program has to offer!

Words in Spanish

Why Choose a Summer Language Program?

You may have already heard the education buzzword (or rather, the phrase) “the summer slide.” This refers to the learning loss that many children suffer during the summer (i.e. non-school) months. Recent research shows that elementary students often lose what amounts to one month of learning over the summer. Low-income children feel the pinch of the “summer slide” more than other kids. Roughly two-thirds of the achievement gap seen between low and higher incomes ninth graders comes from the learning loss that happens over the summer months.

If your child is losing the English skills that they built up over the school year, chances are that their second language abilities are also trailing off. A summer program reinforces what your child has already learned, helps to build new skills, and keeps the immersion process going throughout the entire year.

What Is STARTalk?

In 2006, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) launched STARTalk as a way to increase the number of critical language speakers in the U.S. So now you’re asking, “What’s a critical language?” These are the languages that it seems like students seldom learn. Even though there’s a high demand for critical languages (especially in government and international business positions), the supply of people who show fluency in them is low. In other words, there is literally a “critical” need for people who speak these languages.

STARTalk is helping to fill the critical language gap by helping students (in kindergarten and up) and teachers to learn through bilingual summer programs. The ODNI gave the National Security Agency (NSA) oversight of this program. The program is now run (through NSA designation) by the National Foreign Language Center (NFLC) at the University of Maryland.

What are STARTalk’s Objectives?

This program has three main objectives. Obviously, the top one is to increase the number of students who choose to take a critical language. Along with this, STARTalk is helping to interest and train more educators in teaching the critical languages and to increase the amount of effective critical language teaching materials available.

Together, these three objectives work towards increasing the overall number of Americans who speak critical languages. The more critical language speakers there are, the more U.S. citizens we have to fill positions that contribute to national security and world economics.

What Languages Does STARTalk Offer?

The critical language list isn’t permanent. As the world changes and global needs differ, it’s possible that new languages will be added to the list (the NSEP maintains a list).

Currently, STARTalk offers programs in:

  • Arabic
  • Dari
  • Korean
  • Portuguese
  • Swahili
  • Urdu
  • Chinese
  • Hindi
  • Persian
  • Russian
  • Turkish

What Types of Programs Does STARTalk Have?

There are an array of options here. Some programs are for teachers only, aiming to help educators teach more effectively during the school year.

So your child won’t be participating in a professional development teacher program. Well what then does STARTalk have to offer kids?

Even though the University of Maryland oversees these programs, you can find STARTalk across the country. Specific programs vary by area, but include day camps, overnight camps, immersion experiences and cultural learning options.

And where are these offered? Again, that depends on where you live and/or which program you choose. Summer classes and camps are mainly found in schools. This includes elementary, middle and high schools as well as colleges.

Which critical language do you want your child to learn? Share your story in the comments section below, and tell us why you want your child to become bilingual.

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