STARTALK grant awarded to UAB will provide Chinese language education for secondary school students

The nearly $90,000 grant will help the Department of World Languages and Literatures open doors for students to develop proficiency in Chinese, a critical-need language for national security.

WLL Image StreamThe nearly $90,000 grant will help the Department of World Languages and Literatures open doors for students to develop proficiency in Chinese, a critical-need language for national security. Nearly $90,000 awarded by federal grant program STARTALK to the University of Alabama at Birmingham will help support and promote Chinese language education.

STARTALK grants, provided by the United States’ National Security Agency, fund innovative programs to increase the number of citizens learning and teaching less-commonly taught languages and inspire them to explore language careers. Critical-need languages currently include Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Persian and Russian.

The grant program aims to increase the number of students and teachers in critical languages, along with an increase in materials and curricula. The goal is to enhance workforce development in the federal government through the study of critical languages to meet national security needs. Future critical language needs are also anticipated in collaboration with other federal agencies, such as the Department of Defense.

The STARTALK Chinese Program at UAB will allow the UAB College of Arts and SciencesDepartment of World Languages and Literatures to provide a yearlong Chinese language program to secondary school students completely free of charge.

In terms of Chinese language teaching and learning, Alabama is currently underrepresented, says UAB instructor of Chinese Ling Ma.

“This is due to the absence of Chinese language instruction in local public schools, which limits students’ access to the language,” Ma said. “The free program aims to address this gap by attracting more students to enroll and providing them with an opportunity to experience the language. This program will open doors for students to develop their proficiency in Chinese.”

Through the grant, new training programs and workshops will be developed so teachers can keep up with the latest language-teaching methodologies and technologies. It will also create a new curriculum that aligns with World-Readiness Standards for Learning Languages, and incorporate the latest research, best practices and innovative approaches to language instruction. This new curriculum will then serve as a model or reference for other institutions and educators.

By participating in the program, younger students can explore the vibrant atmosphere of UAB and engage with faculty members and students from the Department of World Languages and Literatures. Gaining insight into the university’s academic offerings, resources and campus life will broaden their horizons, she says, and encourage them to consider pursuing higher education in the future — hopefully at UAB.

“By bringing students onto the UAB campus, we want to inspire them to pursue their academic goals and instill in them a sense of belonging within the university community,” Ma said. “We hope that this experience will not only ignite their interest in language learning but also create a lasting connection with UAB, encouraging them to explore further educational opportunities beyond secondary school.”

Ma works to promote language instruction in K-12 settings. An active member of the Chinese Course Development Committee, she helped design online Chinese language curriculum for Alabama courses as part of the ACCESS Learning program, a collection of free online courses supported by the Alabama State Department of Education.