June 17, 2008 – Faculty members in the Chinese language program in the University of Virginia's Department of East Asian Language, Literature and Cultures have coordinated the first Virginia STARTALK Chinese Teacher Academy to take place this summer. Supported by funding from the federal STARTALK program, the newest component of the National Security Language Initiative, U.Va.'s academy is an effort to meet the urgent rising demand for professionally trained Chinese language teachers across Virginia, the southeastern states and the nation.
Established by President George W. Bush in January 2006, the National Security Language Initiative aims to increase the number of Americans learning critical need languages such as Arabic, Hindi, Russian, Farsi and Chinese.
According to Miao-Fen Tseng, a faculty member in the East Asian Languages, Literatures and Cultures department, the academy will train 15 teachers in a four-week program. And while teachers from all over the country will participate in the program, its original focus was on regional Chinese education development.
"Virginia is a state that is far behind other states in terms of Chinese education," Tseng said. "With the University's high academic ranking, we feel we need to take a leading role in bringing Chinese to this state and the region."
The Virginia STARTALK Chinese Teacher Academy is connected to the Virginia STARTALK Chinese Academy, proposed by Virginia's Department of Education. Trainees in the teachers' academy program will serve as part-time teachers in the VSCA, significantly increasing the student-teacher ratio. Both academies will take place on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond in June and July. These new Chinese programs will be integrated into the governor's Foreign Language Academies, which for 20 years have conducted summer language immersion programs in French, German, Spanish, Japanese, Latin and Russian.
Ruth Ferree, an assistant professor in U.Va.'s Curry School of Education, said the expansion of Chinese programs reflects a trend in language education.
"The evidence is pretty strong that Chinese is going to be a place to go with language education," Ferree said. She will train the teacher's academy participants about the process of language acquisition. She also teaches foreign language education classes at U.Va.'s Curry School of Education, which is in the process of establishing a Chinese teacher certification program.
An increase in demand for Chinese teachers relates to the College Board's establishment of an Advanced Placement Chinese examination in 2007, Ferree said. Tseng was a part of the committee that designed the examination. She stated that while the creation of an advanced high school course in Chinese will increase the number of students taking Chinese, it also highlights the critically low number of qualified teachers, which the VSCTA hopes to help correct.
Hsin-hsin Liang, director of the Chinese language program at U.Va., and Ran Zhao, faculty member in the Department of East Asian Language, Literature and Cultures, will also help organize the teachers' academy.