Twenty-seven students graduated recently from the University of New Mexico's Foreign Language and Literature department's one-month intensive language program, Startalk. Fourteen students studied Arabic and 13 Chinese. Family and friends watched as the graduates showed off their knowledge of Arabic or Chinese by performing skits, singing songs and presenting student-generated videos.
Startalk emphasizes the three communicative areas of interpersonal, interpretive and presentational skills in both written and oral forms, as well as cultural themes that are integrated into the class material.
Students are immersed in the relevant culture through music, films, games and cooking lessons, which they then exhibit in daily role plays and day-to-day living.
Mohamed Ali, one of the program's lecturers, said, "The course demonstrates to students the interconnectedness of the world and gives them a more global perspective when thinking about and discussing world issues."
The Startalk experience is designed to whet students' appetite and encourage them to press on to advanced levels of proficiency.
Student Andrew Davis, who adopted the name Asad for the month, has every intention of continuing Arabic studies. "I want to become an international financier," he said. "And knowing how to speak English, French and Arabic means I'll be able to pretty much do business anywhere."
Classes were taught by regular UNM faculty and/or teaching assistants and met every morning for three hours. In the afternoons, students connected with community resources to enhance the articulation between the real-world and academic forms of learning.
The UNM Startalk program, which is part of the federal government's National Security Language Initiative, was funded by a $100,000 grant from the National Foreign Language Center, which they have received for the past three summers. The initiative seeks to expand, improve and fund the teaching and learning of strategically important world languages that are not widely taught in the U.S. including Arabic and Chinese, which are considered critical need languages.