STARTALK was created in 2006 to provide learning opportunities in the critical languages for students (K-16) and professional development for teachers of the critical languages, mainly through programs offered during the summer. The NFLC was awarded a contract to implement STARTALK through 2013, with a goal of having programs in all 50 states. Currently, programs are being implemented in Arabic, Chinese, Dari, Hindi, Persian, Russian, Swahili, Turkish, and Urdu. STARTALK participation has grown to over 5,000 students and over 1,500 teachers as it continues its mission of offering creative and engaging summer experiences that strive to exemplify best practices in language education and in language teacher development. From its beginning, STARTALK has formed an extensive community of practice that seeks continuous improvement in such criteria as outcomes-driven program design, standards-based curriculum planning, learner-centered approaches, excellence in selection and development of materials, and meaningful assessment of outcomes.

Since the inception of the STARTALK program, CAL staff have contributed to the STARTALK mission to expand and improve the teaching of these languages. Our work includes assisting in the evaluation of the summer program experience, developing a database of instructional programs for heritage language speakers, providing guidance on the assessments to be used across languages and programs, and offering professional development to STARTALK teachers and program staff.


Since 2006, CAL has worked with the National Foreign Language Center to evaluate the STARTALK initiative, providing valuable information to individual programs and to STARTALK Central/NFLC on the program monitoring process; program administration; and teacher trainees’ and students’ backgrounds, attitudes, and likes and dislikes about the program. Evaluation findings are used to improve communication, refine common program forms and processes, and provide insight into successes and struggles across STARTALK programs.

While most of the evaluation instruments used to collect participant feedback are computer-based, CAL is also working to develop an in-person interview protocol to be used with K-5 students that mirrors the data collected from older students via online survey. The project aims to efficiently collect feedback from younger students in a friendly and age-appropriate manner.


Since 2009, CAL has worked to increase STARTALK’s ability to assess the progress that students make in summer language programs. Partnering with the Center for Advanced Study of Language, CAL has conducted research on various modes of language assessment and their efficacy in measuring student progress in STARTALK programs. CAL also provides technical assistance to STARTALK on the development of Novice level assessment tasks. By building on CAL’s earlier work with STARTALK and understanding of STARTALK goals, parameters, and challenges, this task will support assessment across STARTALK programs.

Professional Development

Since 2008, CAL has been one of many organizations providing a summer STARTALK workshop for educators. CAL’s workshop for teachers and program administrators provides professional development in assessment. This program fosters assessment literacy in STARTALK educators and helps STARTALK and other language programs to incorporate effective and appropriate proficiency assessment into their curricula.

Heritage Language Programs Database

Since 2009, CAL has worked to increase STARTALK’s heritage language resources by developing a database of instructional programs for heritage language speakers. The Heritage Language Programs Database is free, searchable, and publicly accessible. The database contributes to our knowledge of heritage languages programs and creates a network for practitioners to share ideas and resources. Browse the Heritage Language Programs Database.

Visit the STARTALK website. 

Learn more about the National Foreign Language Center.