A free immersive program at UCF this summer to teach Russian speech and culture is part of a U.S. program designed to prepare students to be proficient in a “critical need” language.

UCF’s STARTALK program, under the direction of Alla Kourova, an assistant professor of Russian, will be offered weekdays July 11-29 for 60 people in the community, but priority will be given to high school and UCF students 16 and older. Classes from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. will provide the opportunity to talk and practice the language in real-life situations, including during lunch from Russian café Lacomka.

Participants will have extra-curricular activities including field trips to American-Russian business companies, and cultural venues such as museums and religious centers.

“The benefits of foreign-language education are greater than a surface level analysis will yield,” Kourova said. “Language skills build a better future for…students in a way that many other avenues of education may not.”

The program focuses on giving students the level of skills that would be needed for a successful business trip to Russia.

“This will help students explore the use of the Russian language in the professional environment, learn about contemporary business opportunities in Russia, and understand the norms that are prevalent in Russian business culture today,” Kourova said.

Participants will be divided into beginners and students who know how to read and speak on the beginning level of Russian.

Exposure to other cultures is especially meaningful to underprivileged students who may not have had the opportunity to go abroad.

“Learning a language provides a cultural education,” Kourova said. “A student from a poor neighborhood more than likely has not traveled extensively and would not be exposed to other cultures; so learning Russian language for free in the summer program, breaks that barrier in a cost-efficient manner. This can change the mentalities of individuals in poor neighborhoods, and it is likely that many social issues would be remedied, as the expanded cultural scope provided by learning a language will allow for greater compassion for different peoples.”

This is the second summer of UCF’s STARTALK program, which is backed by the National Security Language Initiative. The U.S. government has listed Russian as a “critical need” language in today’s world.

New for this year will be the use of digital stories created by previous STARTALK participants and students in the study-abroad program to Russia. This year, 20 UCF students will go on the program to Russia to study language and culture.

Applications for the free program are being accepted through June 11. An orientation meeting will be June 30 at a location to be determined. For more information and to apply, contact Kourova at STARTALK@ucf.edu or 407-823-2472, ext. 2472.