College of Education works to expand learning of critical need foreign languages

Faculty and students from Florida State University’s Foreign and Second Language Education program are working to expand and improve the teaching and learning of strategically important world languages not widely taught in the United States today.

Wenxia Wang, assistant professor of Foreign and Second Language Education, received $89,994 in funding from the National Security Agency (NSA) to organize a STARTALK program at Florida State. A component of the National Security Language Initiative, STARTALK’s goal is to increase the number of Americans learning, speaking and teaching critical need foreign languages, which include Arabic, Chinese, Dari, Hindi, Korean, Persian, Portuguese, Russian, Swahili, Turkish and Urdu.


“The FSU STARTALK program aims to help improve the instructional skills of new teachers and teacher candidates who are or who will be teaching the languages that the federal government recognizes as critical to college and elementary school students,” Wang said.

FSU’s program, which began June 1 and concludes July 24, is free for all teacher candidates in the Foreign and Second Language Education program who plan to speak or teach one or more of the listed languages.

FSU STARTALK is designed to support two distinct sets of teachers of critical languages: approximately 20 teacher candidates in FSU’s School of Teacher Education and eight early-career language teachers who have experience teaching their languages at eitherthecollege or elementary level. For the teacher candidates, the program bridges the theory from the candidates’ coursework and their practice; for the eight mentor teachers, the proposed program deepens their understanding of effective world language teaching practices and nurtures their abilities as teacher-leaders.

FSU STARTALK participants work with children at Leon County elementary schools.

“Our doctoral students and faculty are able to research the teaching and learning of these languages, while FSU students prepare to be at the forefront as the need for proficiency in these languages grows worldwide,” said Rebecca Galeano, assistant professor of Foreign and Second Language Education.

The program consists of workshops, discussions, seminars, supervised co-teaching and microteaching. It uses research-endorsed practice to design effective lesson plans and create contextualized language-learning opportunities while understanding the similarities and differences of school cultures between the United States and teachers’ home countries.

Upon completion of the STARTALK program, mentor teachers and teacher candidates receive a scholarship to cover their travel and program costs.

FSU STARTALK is not only training future teachers —the program is also reaching out to Leon County elementary school students by teaching critical need languages at local summer camps.

“This program has a communitywide impact,” Galeano said. “It truly embodies the international initiatives valued by our college and the university.”

Students and faculty from FSU’s Foreign and Second Language Education program are teaching Korean, Chinese, Turkish, Arabic and Portuguese to groups of students through summer camps held at DeSoto Trail Elementary School and Conley Elementary School in Tallahassee.

“I never really believed in total immersion as a way to learn a language but through STARTALK and the major focus on comprehensible input and providing realistic materials for learners while gradually building up, I realized it actually does work,” said Jose Carrasco, doctoral student in Foreign and Second Language Education.

“The children are getting the chance to learn a critical language and are getting cultural exposure as well,” he said. “The program has challenged me to rethink my past methodology and teaching technique and is truly preparing me to succeed as a language teacher.”