High School Students Learn Languages, Experience New Cultures Through STARTALK Program
A recent graduate of Our Lady of Good Counsel High School, Harrison Mann wanted to spend part of his summer vacation learning to speak Mandarin Chinese.
“I wanted to take a course before heading to college so that I’d have a head start,” he said.
When he heard about Howard Community College’s (HCC) STARTALK program, a five-week intensive summer language program for high school students to learn Arabic or Mandarin Chinese in the college’s World Languages academic program, he knew he had to apply.
STARTALK is available to students in grades 9 through 12, including recent high school graduates. In lively, task-based classes, students acquire both practical and situational language skills, and learn about cultural traditions. At the completion of STARTALK, students will have earned four college credits and are prepared to enter the next level of language instruction.
Funded by a grant from the National Security Agency (NSA), the college credit program provides four hours of immersed learning per day, four days a week. The program ran through the month of July on HCC’s campus in Columbia.
Harrison was one of 59 students to participate in this summer’s STARTALK program.
“The program really helped me learn a lot in a short time,” he said.
The STARTALK curriculum for Arabic, “Let’s Go Places,” had professors and teaching assistants from Iraq, Egypt, and an instructor who specialized in Moroccan. They focused on travel to Jordan. The STARTALK curriculum for Mandarin Chinese, “Global Exchange,” focused on food, family, friends, fashion and festivals.
“Every week, the students participate in an event related to these themes,” said Jennie Dumont, an adjunct faculty member in the division of English and World Languages. “We had a sports day, we hosted a food day on campus, then took the students to China Town and Mama Ayesha’s Saudi Arabian restaurant in Washington, D.C.”
The students also attended tours of the Freer Sackler Museum in the nation’s capital related to their program themes of “East Meets West: Global Exchange.”
During the final graduation, held in the Smith Theatre at HCC, students performed fan dances and taije fan, and contemporary Arabic music and dapke dances, which they had practiced all month long.
Harrison said the culture activities and graduation performance were his favorite parts, along with soccer matches on the quad, where students could only speak in Mandarin Chinese.
Fatimah Bah, a rising junior who is homeschooled, also loved the practicing and performing of an Arabic dance for the graduation ceremony.
Fatimah learned about STARTALK while applying for the college’s dual-enrollment program.
“I decided to try it out and I’m so glad I did,” she said. “The teachers are engaging and I learned a lot. I would definitely return.”
This summer was the second time Abi Rubi, a rising senior at Mount Hebron High School, participated in the STARTALK program.
“It’s a really good way to be immersed in the language through fun, cultural activities and even just speaking with your friends,” she said. “I would really recommend this if you want to learn a language.”