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.

Materials and Professional Development

  • STARTALK Performance Assessment Training Program
    Since 2008, CAL has been one of the selected organizations providing summer STARTALK workshops for educators. CAL’s workshop for STARTALK educators focuses on language assessment, particularly assessment for Less Commonly Taught Languages. The program emphasizes the importance of assessment literacy and helps participants plan for assessment while considering the stakeholders involved, their goals, and their resources. This program reaches language instructors across the country through its combination of online modules and a face to face workshop in Washington, DC.  
    View and download free PDF resources from this program
  • Assessment for Language Instructors: The Basics
    CAL received additional funding from STARTALK in 2009 to develop a self-moderated multimedia workshop on assessment for less commonly taught languages.
    Learn more about this project and access the multimedia workshop.
  • Career Pathways for Heritage Language Learners: Developing Vision & Building Capacity
    The 2-year, $200,000 project called “Career Pathways for Heritage Language Learners: Developing Vision & Building Capacity,” will offer engaging career-focused resources for learners of 5 critical-need languages: Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Persian, and Russian. The resources will feature a series of video interviews with federal workers and a series of podcasts on essential topics related to language learning and pursuing a government career, supported by user guides and interactive web content. Through this project, CAL will provide language programs and students, particularly heritage language learners, with resources that highlight future federal government career opportunities and ways to build on students’ own language and cultural assets in order to reach their goals. Career Pathways for Heritage Language Learners: Developing Vision & Building Capacity is funded by the National Security Agency from July 2021-2023.
    Learn more about this project.

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.

STARTALK is a national project funded by the National Security Agency. STARTALK’s mission is to increase the number of U.S. citizens learning, speaking, and teaching critical-need languages, with programs nationwide for students (K-16) and teachers.
Visit the STARTALK website. 

Learn more about the National Foreign Language Center.