Virtual NSLI-Y

Virtual NSLI-Y, a program of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, introduces U.S. high school students to languages critical to U.S. national security. Launched in 2019, Virtual NSLI-Y is a 10-week, online,  beginner-level foreign language and culture experience, in line with the ACTFL World Readiness Standards. Virtual NSLI-Y also introduces participants to the people and culture of places where the target language is spoken.

Participants are placed into a virtual class of approximately 10 students with an experienced teacher that meets two times per week for 90 minute sessions.  Virtual NSLI-Y includes cultural learning and fosters intercultural understanding, designed in line with Asia Society’s Four Domains of Global Competence.

Available Languages in Beginner Level Only: Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), Hindi, Korean, Russian, Turkish

Cost: Virtual NSLI-Y is a merit scholarship program. Please refer to the FAQ for details on what the scholarship covers.
Duration: 10 weeks (during the school year)
  • Fall 2021 program: September – December 2021
  • Winter 2022 program: January – March 2022

Language Level Goal: Novice Low

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Watch our short webinar recording to learn more about this program

Program Components

Virtual NSLI-Y programs may include the following elements:

  • Interactive instruction from an experienced language teacher via live videoconference classes and an asynchronous class collaboration space
  • Homework, quizzes, and language assessments
  • Skits, roleplays, video entries, final projects
  • Conversation practice
  • Cultural and language learning opportunities, including featured guests such as:
    • NSLI-Y alumni
    • U.S. government representatives or private sector employees who use language and cultural skills
    • Peers or professionals in countries where the target language is spoken
  • Virtual tours of sites of historic or cultural significance like museums or markets
  • Videos related to cultural learning or grammatical concepts in the target language

Program Schedule:

Virtual NSLI-Y will be offered in Fall 2021 (Sept – Dec) and in Winter 2022 (Jan – March). There will be two separate application cycles. Students may only take part in one Virtual NSLI-Y program.

Classes for the Fall 2021 program will begin the week of September 13 and continue through the week of November 15 for ten weeks of instruction. Pre-program activities will take place in August and September. The application for the Fall 2021 program is has closed.

Classes for the Winter 2022 program will begin the week of January 10 and continue through the week of March 14 for ten weeks of instruction. Pre-program activities will take place in December and January. Application deadline for the Winter 2022 program is October 20, 2021.

In total, the Virtual NSLI-Y program offers a minimum of 30 hours of formal, synchronous instruction. Participants should also expect 3 hours of pre-program preparation before the first session (student orientation, pre-program assignments, and a practice session), up to 3 hours of assignments or homework per week outside of class sessions, and additional optional meetings (for student community-building, cultural opportunities, etc.) outside of regular class times.

Sessions will be 90 minutes each, twice per week. Individual class dates depend on a student’s class schedule (see options below). Attendance requirements will apply.

Virtual NSLI-Y applicants will indicate their preferences for class times in the application. Applicants must rank all schedule options. Those selected for the scholarship will be informed of their status and class placement by early August 2021 for the Fall 2021 program and in November/December 2021 for the Winter 2022 program. Preferences are not guaranteed as class placement will depends on teacher availability and other factors. *Virtual NSLI-Y sessions will not take place on U.S. federal holidays; schedule adjustments to account for this will be communicated to students.*

Schedule Options:
1. Mondays + Wednesdays: 6:30 - 8:00 PM Eastern Time
2. Tuesdays + Thursdays: 7:00 - 8:30 PM Eastern Time
3. Wednesdays: 6:30 - 8:00 PM Eastern Time + Saturdays: 10:30 AM - 12:00 PM Eastern Time
4. Thursdays + Sundays: 7:00 - 8:30 PM Eastern Time

Eligibility and Participant Expectations

• U.S. citizen
• U.S. High school student for 2021-22 academic year, between ages of 15-18 at the start of the school year (Birthday range: September 13, 2002 - September 9, 2006) based in the U.S.
• A beginner/novice-level learner in the selected target language, who:

  • Has not received formal instruction in the target language from school/home school, camp, tutor, or online programs and will not be enrolled in formal instruction during the Virtual NSLI-Y program
  • Is unable to affirmatively answer the NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do Statements for any level
  • Is not a previous participant of any NSLI-Y program
  • Is not a current or past participant of other U.S. Department of State (virtual or in-country) exchange programs
  • Meets the following requirements for immediate family member employment:
For a period ending one year following the termination of such employment, association, or service:
  • Employees of the U.S. Department of State/U.S. Agency for International Development are ineligible. This provision includes all employees, paid or unpaid (including part-time or temporary employees, consultants, externs, interns, Fellows and personal services contractors).
  • Immediate family members (e.g., dependent children) of employees of the U.S. Department of State/U.S. Agency for International Development are ineligible. This provision includes all employees, paid or unpaid (including part-time or temporary employees, consultants, externs, interns, Fellows and personal services contractors). Self-supporting children who live apart from their parents are qualified to participate.
  • Employees (and their immediate family members) of private and public agencies under contract or grant with the U.S. Department of State who perform services on behalf of U.S. Department of State exchange programs are ineligible.
In the selection process, preference will be given to candidates who:
• Have no or limited overseas travel, or residency
• Have no or limited familiarity with the culture of the relevant target language
• Have not received formal instruction or tutoring in any of the other NSLI-Y languages (Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Indonesian, Korean, Persian, Russian, and Turkish)
• Have not received formal instruction or tutoring in any language

Technical Requirements: Participants must be able to access the following:
• Reliable internet
• Laptop, desktop computer, or tablet (a mobile phone is not a suitable alternative)
• Web camera (built-in or USB)
• Headset (headphones and microphone combination)

*Finalists who do not have access to the above due to financial need may contact to apply for funding assistance.

Participation: Virtual NSLI-Y requires that participants be mature, self-directed learners who can actively participate in the program in a virtual environment with limited supervision from the virtual teacher(s). Attendance at all scheduled activities and completion of assignments are mandatory. If participants have more than three (3) excused absences, their scholarship may be canceled. The program’s focus is on exposure to language and cultural learning; grades will be used to provide students with feedback and track progress.

Students who require accommodations for disability or chronic illness are encouraged to apply. Applicants may share information about necessary accommodations in their application; this information will not be considered in the selection process. Finalists will be provided with a disability policy and instructions on how to request reasonable accommodations.

Pre-Program Requirements: Prior to the start of virtual class sessions, participants are expected to complete:
• Student orientation
• Address and contact information updates (for shipping and program contact purposes)
• Accommodations requests, if needed
• Pre-program survey
• Practice session to meet teacher/classmates
• Brief assignments or readings as specified by the teacher prior to the program’s start

On-Program Requirements:
• Other surveys, as requested
• Attendance: Students may be considered for dismissal if they miss 3 or more classes. Students must review material that they missed when absent and complete all assignments on schedule.
• Homework assignments and projects
• Additional student group meetings for community-building outside of class hours, cultural opportunities, and U.S. Department of State presentations

Post-Program Expectations:
• Post-program survey
• Closing Ceremony

Application and Timeline

Program Terms and Conditions

In 2021-22, there are two Virtual NSLI-Y programs, Fall 2021 and Winter 2022 with different application cycles.

Fall 2021
Application open: April 2021
• Application deadline: June 10, 2021
• Notification of Status and Placement: Early-Mid August 2021
• Pre-program requirements: late August - early September 2021
• Program dates: week of September 13 and continue through the week of November 15
Post-program requirements: late November – mid December 2021

Winter 2022
• Application open: September 20, 2021
Application deadline: October 20, 2021
Notification of Status and Placement: November/December 2021
Pre-program requirements: December 2021 – early January 2022
Program dates: week of January 10, 2022 and continue through the week of March 14, 2022 (First possible class is January 10, 2022 & last possible class is March 20, 2022).  
Post-program requirements: late March – mid April 2022


What is covered by a Virtual NSLI-Y scholarship?

• Program materials/textbooks (if used by instructor)
• 10-weeks/30 hours of instruction with an experienced language instructor through videoconferencing tools
• Cultural learning (for example, interaction with international peers, guest speakers, etc.)
• Access to a digital platform for assignments/projects/etc.
• Certificate of program completion (if participant fulfills all program requirements)

Not included:
• Internet access or hardware (email to request financial assistance to procure necessary items)
• Travel of any kind 

How do you define novice/beginner in the language?

• A student who is unable to reply affirmatively to any of the NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do Statements for the target language. 
• Students who have received formal tutoring or instruction in the target language are not eligible. 

Can I still apply for NSLI-Y summer or academic year if I participate in Virtual NSLI-Y?

• Yes. Virtual NSLI-Y students who meet all NSLI-Y eligibility requirements are encouraged to apply for NSLI-Y summer or academic year programs. Your participation in Virtual NSLI-Y program will be considered in the application process for these programs. 
• NSLI-Y alumni of the summer and academic year programs are not eligible for Virtual NSLI-Y.   

Are Virtual NSLI-Y students eligible to sign up for the NSLI-Y or ECA alumni associations?

• No, however, participants in the virtual program are welcome to engage with the NSLI-Y community through NSLI-Y social media and to present about the virtual program at school/in your community. Email to receive presentation resources.

Can Virtual NSLI-Y students submit stories to NSLI-Y Interactive?

• Yes, please do! Go to NSLI-Y Interactive.

How do session times work if participants/teachers are all in different time zones?

All sessions are scheduled according to the U.S. Eastern time zone. Based on this, translate class times according to your location. See ‘Program Components’ for possible class schedules.

Can I apply to Virtual NSLI-Y if I am a U.S. citizen who is attending high school outside of the U.S.?

• No. Virtual NSLI-Y is only open to U.S. citizens attending a high school in the United States.   

Can I apply to Virtual NSLI-Y if I am a citizen of another country and not the U.S., but I am attending high school in the U.S.?

• No; applicants must be U.S. citizens.

What if Virtual NSLI-Y sessions fall on a federal or religious holiday?

• Virtual NSLI-Y activities will not take place on U.S. federal holidays. If your class has one or more sessions scheduled that fall on a U.S. federal holiday, program administrators or your teacher will be in touch with you about scheduling adjustments to normal class days/times. If your class has one or more sessions that fall on a religious holiday, sessions will not be cancelled. Students observing that holiday should notify their teacher in advance of the necessary excused absence and will be expected to make up work according to teacher instructions.

What if I must miss a session for a doctor’s appointment, college interview, project meeting, etc.?

• Virtual NSLI-Y students are allowed up to three (3) excused absences.To be considered an excused absence, the student must communicate with their instructor at least 24 hours in advance of the session. Students who miss a session because of sudden illness or due to an emergency should communicate with their instructor at their earliest possible convenience.


Why Virtual? NSLI-Y was created to promote and facilitate critical language learning among U.S. high school students through immersive study abroad academic programs. Not every student will be able to study language abroad on NSLI-Y or similar immersive programs, but this virtual format provides another opportunity for U.S. students to experience the academic, cognitive, and cultural benefits of studying critical languages even if they are not offered in their school curriculum. There has been a significant amount of research done on the benefits of studying a language. Read the research on language study benefits. Language learning can also serve as a foundation “to build bridges of understanding” and become more competitive in the 21st century globalized labor market. Read more here about international exchange.

Good to Know: An American Academy of Arts & Sciences report, “America’s Languages: Investing in Language Education for the 21st Century”, stresses the value and importance of increased “access to language education for all U.S. citizens, irrespective of geography, ethnicity, or socioeconomic background”. Some of the challenges that schools face in meeting this goal (lack of language teachers, little additional resource capacity, large grant focus on STEM curriculum, etc.) can be addressed with virtual, synchronous instruction. Besides “virtual”, there are many different terms to describe online learning environments and methodologies. Read more about of the vocabulary of digital learning spaces and designs.

Resources on virtual learning:
U.S. Department of Education – National Education Technology Plan
U.S. Department of Education – Future Ready Schools
U.S. Department of State – Collaboratory: Virtual Exchange Programs
U.S. Department of State – Stevens Initiative

Questions? Please contact

Explore multimedia stories about NSLI-Y experiences on NSLI-Y Interactive.

Please keep in mind that some program details are subject to change.

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Questions? Need more info? Contact us at 866.790.2086 or

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