Linguistics receives StarTalk grant to teach Chinese to school children

~ By Lisa Maria Boyles, communications specialist for the College of Arts and Humanities

A StarTalk grant will allow the Linguistics Department to teach Chinese to 40 area school students this summer through a summer camp.

The Department of Linguistics at Fresno State applied for and received a $46,500 StarTalk grant, a program funded by the National Security Agency and administered by the National Foreign Language Center at the University of Maryland. StarTalk aims to increase the number of U.S. citizens learning, speaking and teaching critical need languages, according to the website.

“Critical languages are languages that are critical to our national security. They include, but are not limited to, Arabic, Chinese and Korean,” said Li Mann, a lecturer in the Linguistics Department, who will be the director of the StarTalk program at Fresno State.

Fifth- through eighth-grade students will be able to attend “The Oriental Express” half-day program from June 11 through June 29 on the Fresno State campus. Students will learn Mandarin Chinese and culture by “visiting” different places in China. The program will focus on non-heritage, beginning level students.

“The StarTalk program will offer a positive impact on the community in exposing kids to foreign language learning at an earlier age than it is usually offered,” said Dr. Brian Agbayani, chair of the Linguistics Department. “Typically in public schools, foreign language instruction begins, at the earliest, in middle school. By exposing kids in the elementary school years to learning Chinese, it will hopefully plant a seed of interest in their minds for further exploration of the language and perhaps learning other foreign languages in high school and college.”

Students who participate in the StarTalk program will be able to participate in fun and engaging language and cultural activities such as dance and kung fu all in an immersion setting.

The students will take a one-day field trip toward the end of the camp to the Asian Art Museum and Chinatown in San Francisco.

Mann said four Chinese teachers will work with the StarTalk program:

“One of them is a current graduate student in Linguistics. We will also have a kung fu teacher and a performing arts instructor, a graduate student from Fresno State’s Music Department, working with us. Finally, Dr. Ellen Lipp, one of our linguistics faculty, will be our on-site consultant providing us with valuable input and feedback for the program.”

Agbayani said the StarTalk program will help raise the visibility of the Linguistic Department’s work at Fresno State.

“We have a great Chinese minor within our department with dedicated faculty,” Agbayani said. “Several of our students in the Chinese minor each year participate in Study Abroad programs in China, and we are building bridges with universities in China and Taiwan to foster international exchange between our faculty/students and theirs. This makes for a great international experience for our students and theirs, and I think it will foster stimulating academic exchange and peaceful relations between communities on a global scale.”

The deadline to register is Friday, May 11. There is a $30 administrative fee for each participant. Email questions to or call Mann at 559.725.1747.

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The College of Arts and Humanities provides a diverse student population with the communication skills, humanistic values and cultural awareness that form the foundation of scholarship. The college offers intellectual and artistic programs that engage students and faculty and the community in collaboration, dialog and discovery. These programs help preserve, illuminate and nourish the arts and humanities for the campus and for the wider community.

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