The majority of the world population speaks and learns more than one language. In the United States, that is not the case and something Dr. Li-Jen Kuo wants to change. Her goal is to create opportunities for young children in this country to see the world from different perspectives.
With the support of a National Security Agency (NSA) program called STARTALK, Dr. Kuo and her team offer a four-week summer program that introduces Chinese and Korean languages and cultures to elementary school children. The mission of the federal grant is to increase the number of Americans learning, speaking and teaching critical-need foreign languages.
In the program, students learn the Chinese and Korean cultures and languages through student-centered and project-based activities including geographic history, science, performing arts and crafts.
One of those activities involved building robots with Legos. Students worked in teams, communicating only in Chinese or Korean, to learn programming and how to control the movement of the robots.
“It was very stimulating and exciting for the students. The science projects gave students an opportunity to engage in meaningful and purposeful communication in the new language,” explained Dr. Kuo. “We’re targeting non-heritage learners, which means the kids in our program are from families that do not speak Chinese or Korean and they are learning the language here for the first time.”
Dr. Kuo and her team address the challenges faced by these learners by integrating instructional technology to engage young learners. The goal is to have them become independent and collaborative learners.
“Our team has developed several technology-enhanced projects that allow children to learn a new language in fun and engaging ways. We have been invited by the National Foreign Language Center to present these innovative projects.”
This year, for the first time, Dr. Kuo and her team brought in middle school students as volunteers. These students participated in the program two years ago.
“When I first did the program, I thought it was a great opportunity to learn a second language. And now, doing this as a volunteer, I think it’s good these students are learning a second language at such a young age. It’s fun helping them learn it,” said Kaila Council.
“They’re also learning a few different things than we did, so I’m learning with them in some ways,” added Sankalp Gautam.
This story by Ashley Green originally appeared in Transform Lives.
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