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Future Language Scientists Compete in High School Olympiad

Members of Maryland's language science community are always looking for new ways to engage high school students, to introduce them to a world of language research that rarely makes an appearance in their high school curriculum. This year featured something a little different: on January 29th, we hosted students competing in the first round of the North American Computational Linguistics Olympiad (NACLO) competition at UMD. This was our first year hosting, and we’re already looking forward to next year.

NACLO is a fun three-hour competition in which students solve puzzles about patterns in languages ranging from Hawaiian to Swahili to Estonian and explore how computers might process human language. Although the problems are challenging, participants do not need previous experience with linguistics or computer science, and can solve these problems using logic and critical thinking skills alone.

This year’s competition drew 48 students to UMD (of more than 2000 total participants in the US and Canada), making UMD one of the largest host sites. The students were 6th-12th graders from schools all across Maryland, Washington DC, and Virginia. While they were here, many of them also attended information sessions where we discussed language-related career and educational opportunities and encouraged them to pursue their interest in linguistics beyond the competition.

Students who perform in the top 10% across the country are eligible to compete in the Invitational Round on March 12th. The top students from the invitational round get the opportunity to represent the US in the International Linguistics Olympiad in Bulgaria this July, competing with students from almost 30 countries.

The NACLO effort at UMD was spearheaded by Tom Roberts and Julia Buffinton, with support from the LSC Outreach Committee. Learn more about our outreach activities or get involved!

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