North Central’s STARTALK Program

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Chinese is a critical language today. Over one billion people speak it, second only to English in total speakers worldwide.

To serve that need, North Central College is in its fifth year of offering a summer STARTALK program.

The federal grant-funded program serves two roles: to get students new to the language interested in pursuing it, and to train future Chinese teachers.

“STARTALK particularly emphasizes student targeted language-based [learning]. In classroom we’re supposed to speak over 95% Chinese, and not just speak but to make students understand and use the language as well,” said Jinai Sun, assistant professor of Chinese at North Central College.

Proof of the program’s success can be found in Hannah Burns. Her first exposure to Mandarin was through the STARTALK program when she was a junior in high school.

Now she’s a senior Chinese major at North Central, preparing to student teach at Waubonsie this fall.

“At the beginning of my junior year of high school I probably would have laughed if you told me ‘you’re going to study Chinese, you’re going to live in China one day.’ So that’s been really cool the way that STARTALK has opened up my world to a whole new country, opportunities, and people,” said Burns.

High school students in the program spend one week studying Chinese online and one week in the classroom, where they can then get lessons from teacher trainees in the STARTALK program.

And they’re exposed to Chinese culture: calligraphy, arts, and music too.

“Students use the languages they learned in the morning and combine language, content, and culture together. It combines the study with their interest in Chinese,” said Sun.

And teachers in training learn a different way to teach a language.

“It was a great opportunity to learn about how to use authentic materials like newspapers or charts that are written by Chinese people for Chinese people instead of textbooks where it’s like a fake conversation,” said Burns.

Combining culture and content to create lifelong interest in the Chinese language.

North Central’s STARTALK program is one of just 28 in the nation.

Naperville News 17’s Blane Erwin reports.