September 14, 2022

UCF’s STARTALK Intensive Russian Language Program is getting a major upgrade next year.  

The new program, “How Words Shape People: Understanding Business Russian Through Proverbs,” will run from January 2023 through May 2024. It is open to high school seniors and college freshmen from across the nation, and includes both virtual and in-person segments, all free of charge. Upon graduation from the program, students will have an intermediate level of proficiency in Russian, gain a strong understanding of Russian business culture and receive an official program certificate. 

STARTALK, meaning “start talking,” is a federal grant program funded by the National Security Agency to increase the number of U.S. citizens learning less commonly taught languages. It also aims to inspire students to pursue language careers, contributing to language workforce development for the federal government.  

Established in 2006 in response to the President’s National Security Language Initiative (NSLI), STARTALK provides funding and support for institutions to conduct K-16 language education and teacher development programs of critical-need languages that meet national security and defense priorities. 

Through these programs, STARTALK seeks to achieve four goals:  

  • Increase the number of students enrolled in the study of critical languages.  
  • Increase the number of highly effective critical-language teachers in the U.S.  
  • Increase the number of highly effective materials and curricula available to teachers and students of critical-need languages.
  • Enhance workforce development in the federal government to meet national security needs through the study of critical languages. 

Next year’s expanded STARTALK program at UCF is possible thanks to a $352,549 grant secured by Alla Kourova, associate professor of Russian. According to Kourova, UCF was selected to receive the grant out of more than 100 universities that applied.  

“It is a large, very competitive grant because the NSA focuses on critical languages, and Russian is a critical language for American students,” Kourova says. “This means it is important for people who work, especially in the government intelligence community and military agencies, to know Russian.”  

For the last seven years, the STARTALK program was offered only in the summer. But with this expanded program, students will advance to intermediate proficiency in Russian. 

“This is the first year where we still have the STARTALK title but concentrate on teaching Russian at the intermediate level according to the grant requirement proposal,” Kourova says. “They want students to focus more on the intermediate level. So that means they want students to come and study at the beginner level and then continue studying, allowing them to graduate from the program with an intermediate or high level of proficiency in the language.”  

The program will include three segments taught by experienced Russian language instructors who were part of the UCF STARTALK Russian program for the last six years. The first segment lasts from January through May 2023 and will consist of 90-minute online lessons once a week. The second segment of the program is a Russian language summer camp held in residence at UCF from June 12 through June 30. Housing, meals and local field trips will be provided for this immersive segment. The final segment of the program will feature 60-minute online lessons once a week lasting from September 2023 through April 2024.  

At the end of the program, students will take an exam to receive an official program certificate, providing an advantageous addition to their resumes, especially when applying for jobs in the federal government. 

“I’ve been working here for 15 years, and students who have graduated from this program have great careers,” Kourova says. “My former students came to meet with students in the previous summer program and told them about how knowing Russian has benefitted them. All of them have benefits and higher salaries because they know Russian.” 

Kourova and her team are developing a new textbook of material for “How Words Shape People: Understanding Business Russian Through Proverbs.” Each of the 12 units will begin with a proverb used in the Russian business world and follow a progressive story. First, students will learn how to interact when arriving at an airport in Russia, then how to check into a hotel. From there, they will then learn how to perform business meetings and negotiations as well as how to write resumes and business cards in Russian.  

While students will learn how to speak, write and understand Russian, the program’s curriculum emphasizes cultural fluency. To illustrate the importance of this, Kourova cites her favorite quote by writer Rita Mae Brown: 

“Language is the road map of a culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going.” 

Online registration is available until Dec. 5, 2022. Students are encouraged to contact Alla Kourova with any questions about the program. More information also can be found at 

Learn more about the new UCF STARTALK Russian Language program in this video.