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College and High School Students Learn Arabic Through STARTALK

Students learn Arabic during the STARTALK Arabic Summer Language Program at VMI. The program is open to rising high school juniors through college students and is a federal grant program funded by the NSA.—VMI Photo by Kelly Nye.

High school students and cadets have spent a month during summer 2021 learning Arabic through the STARTALK Arabic Language Program, a unique program offered at VMI.

“This program allows high school and college students in our local community to learn about Arabic language and culture in an intensive but supportive environment,” explained Maj. Jason Schroepfer, Ph.D., co-director and assistant professor in the Department of Modern Languages and Cultures. “They are able to learn the equivalent of one year of Arabic in a month courtesy of STARTALK.”

“Since the program attracts mostly high school students, it has a huge impact on jump-starting them into the college learning experience,” added Maj. Hicham Assaoui, Ph.D., co-director and assistant professor. “It is a chance for them to earn college credit and be better prepared for college.”

The program included many cultural experiences for participants and allowed students to practice the language in an immersive and engaging environment.

“My biggest joy is sharing my language and culture with our students and then watching what they can do with it,” Assaoui said. “I have also enjoyed doing our weekly cultural activities like Arabic music, cooking class, and Henna art with our students.

“I’ve really enjoyed learning about Moroccan culture through the weekly culture events,” Schroepfer added. For example, “STARTALK simulates a study abroad scenario in Morocco, and thus students learn about popular youth activities, local customs, and festivals, to name a few topics. They learn to navigate these events in both written Arabic and Moroccan dialect.”

STARTALK is a federal grant program funded by the NSA. The National Foreign Language Center at the University of Maryland administers STARTALK. These grants support programs for students and teachers in critical languages at locations around the country.

  • Eric Moore VMI Communications & Marketing