The students at New Life Christian School in Frederick, MD participate in a program called Startalk. The program is hosted locally by the Asian American Center of Frederick and funded by the U.S. government. The program’s mission is to help students learn critical foreign languages while participating in useful and relevant lessons that will give the language acquisition process more meaning through practical use.
Startalk is a federally funded program started by the Department of Defense in 2006 to help get Americans speaking critical world languages such as Chinese, Arabic, Hindi and others. There are 177 programs across the country, Maliszewskyj said, including eight in Maryland.
This is the Asian American Center’s second year hosting a program in Frederick. It will last two weeks and started Wednesday.
There are 63 children in this year’s program, which was open to students from grades three to six.
The “STEM” lesson on Friday involved testing the buoyancy of various objects in different liquids.
The lesson gave them a chance to practice the Chinese words for less and more, as in, “this boat holds more marbles.”
It was also a way to learn nouns including boat, oil, dish soap and syrup — the materials used in the experiment.
Jenny Youman, a lead teacher in the program, was drawn to Startalk because the lessons are taught almost entirely in Chinese.
“There is a strong emphasis on using the target language,” she said.
Youman said she was impressed by how quickly her young students pick up the Chinese language and how much the returning students retained from last year’s program.
Although Chinese can be difficult for some students, she said she enjoyed their enthusiasm and the challenge of teaching them.
The students are also exposed to Chinese culture through dance, calligraphy and tai chi.
“It’s an opportunity for them to see the world a little closer up,” Youman said.
The program also allows young adults with good Chinese skills to practice as teaching assistants.
Lucas Dague, 22, picked up some Chinese in the Startalk program, then studied for a year in Beijing on a scholarship.
He wants to become a nurse, but he said he enjoys teaching because he can help kids get ready to tackle global issues such as health and pollution.
“I think it’s really important to inspire the younger generation to pick up a language,” he said.
Millie Ransohoff, 9, is taking the program for a second time. She said her favorite part was drawing and learning Chinese dances.
She also liked the satisfaction of mastering new Chinese words.
“It’s fun to see how you can start to understand,” she said.