On a sunny summer day, you could hear conversations echo in the hallway of the language building at the University of North Texas. You couldn't understand what those conversations were about... unless you spoke Russian.
"I'm an opera singer, so I enjoy singing in different languages," said Natasha Bekker, whose father's side of the family speaks Russian. "I mean in two weeks we're able to be conversational to some degree, which is amazing."
The class is being offered through the STARTALK program, which is funded by a grant from the National Security Agency, or NSA.
"Our two countries, they have a very difficult time," said program director Tatiana Filosofova, who applied for the grant from the NSA. "Because they realize how important it is to teach foreign languages that are critical for national security of this country."
Languages like Russian, Chinese, and Arabic. You need only look at the news headlines to see why.
"I don't think it's a surprise and it's really cool actually," said Bekker's husband, Salvador Bermudez, who is also taking the Russian class. "The world is becoming a smaller place and the big countries, it becomes a necessity to know."
"To take the time and to learn someone's language is like, that breaks down a huge barrier," said David Oostenbrug, a former student who now teaches the STARTALK class. "I've never been in the middle of Dallas and some Russian speaking person who didn't know English was like, 'Help!', and I'm like, 'Here for you!'," Oostenbrug joked, pointing out he could help if that ever happened.
Bermudez already speaks five languages. By the end of the month, he'll know six. "So thanks, NSA," he said laughing.
Last year UNT offered STARTALK classes in Russian and Chinese. Next month, the University of Texas at Arlington will offer STARTALK Russian classes. They are free. If you are interested in signing up, click here.