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Kean University Program Builds Critical Hindi and Urdu Language Skills

STARTALK program funded by a U.S. National Security Agency grant


UNION, N.J. – More than two dozen young scholars studied at the Kean University School for Global Education and Innovation over the summer as part of the STARTALK language initiative program, funded by a U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) grant. The program, in its eighth year, is designed to boost proficiency in critical world languages. The students –  in middle school, high school and college –  took courses taught entirely in Hindi and Urdu while they studied a global issue.

“The purpose of this program is to increase the number of speakers, readers and writers of Hindi and Urdu as part of a government initiative to develop the capacity to assist with national security, diplomacy and international economic issues,” said Janis Jensen, director of the program.

Most of the students enrolled in the program have an understanding of Hindi and Urdu from home, but they have varying degrees of proficiency. In the initiative, the students develop their language literacy while also learning about an important global issue, and teachers learn to incorporate new methodologies to enhance language learning.

The three-week course focused on the topic of environmental challenges and public health in India, Pakistan, and the United States. Throughout the program, students engage in daily Skype sessions with partner school students in India and Pakistan.

“They use Hindi and Urdu to do research on the environment and related health problems, to develop positions that consider multiple perspectives, and then to draw conclusions leading to collaborative actions to address those issues," said Jensen.

Upon completion of the program, the students take a standardized test that could earn them college credits. Tanvi Patel, a high school student from Edison who came to the U.S. from India last year, sees multiple benefits from the STARTALK initiative.

“In the program, we compared India and the U.S.’s air and water pollution, along with overpopulation, and determined that India doesn’t have the specific schemes and policies that we have here,” said Patel. “The ability to write and learn in Hindi also helps my chances with colleges, and I made new friends.”

Students who complete the summer program have the opportunity to enroll in the STARTALK / Kean Extended Online Hindi/Urdu Learning Program or in Kean University Hindi or Urdu courses and can serve as student teaching assistants in the 2018 program.

Mahad Rana, an Eisenhower Middle School student from Wykoff, said that the program was meaningful to him because of the layers of learning it offers. “It was cool to incorporate Urdu with learning,” he said.

Due to the success of the STARTALK program, Kean University has been invited to apply for another NSA grant. So far, the program has received more than a million dollars in grant money, with typical annual funding in the range of $90,000 to $120,000.

For more information on Kean’s STARTALK program, contact Janis Jensen, director of STARTALK Initiatives, at; 908.737.0552



Students in middle school, high school and college attended the Kean University School of Global Education’s STARTALK program, funded by a National Security Agency grant, to learn critical Hindi and Urdu language skills while exploring a global issue.

Founded in 1855, Kean University has become one of the largest metropolitan institutions of higher education in the region, with a richly diverse student, faculty and staff population. Kean continues to play a key role in the training of teachers and is a hub of educational, technological and cultural enrichment serving nearly 15,000 students. The University’s five undergraduate colleges offer more than 50 undergraduate degrees over a full range of academic subjects. The Nathan Weiss Graduate College offers four doctoral degree programs and more than 60 options for graduate study leading to master’s degrees, professional diplomas or certifications. With campuses in Union and Toms River, New Jersey, and Wenzhou, China, Kean University furthers its mission by providing an affordable and accessible world-class education. Visit


Margaret McCorry

Director of Media Relations

Kean University

(908) 737-0583