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Teach English in BainaobAo Zhen - Bayannao'er Shi — Bayan Nur
The Republic of Kazakhstan is the successor state to the Kazakh Khanate (1465-1848). Between these two periods was the incorporation into the Russian Empire and continuation under the successive USSR. The purpose of my writing isn't to look at the history between the Russian and Kazakh states but to analyze the legacy its left behind and the challenges of two languages. I arrived in Kazakhstan with hopes of improving my Russian. I had started learning Russian as a hobby during work hours to pass slow days. When I got tired of doing that I decided I wanted to travel. I knew little of Kazakhstan at the time but I was eager to see the world. Kazakhstan (as with every other post-Soviet state) is a Russophone country with Russian being the language of government, education and inter-ethnic communication (being the lingua franca). Russian, as language learners know, is one of the largest languages in the world (sitting at a comfortable #7 in number of native speakers). It is generally considered a difficult language to learn with a complex case system and its distance away from other major European languages. However the choice to learn or not isn't present in Kazakhstan. Most (approximately 99%) of Kazakhstani citizens are able to speak in Russian and they have done so from an early age. To call Russian a second language here would be factually dishonest, Russian is Kazakhstan's second native language. However Kazakhstan means “land of Kazakhs” and as with other post-Soviet states there has been a growing sentiment towards nationalism. If Russian is the second native language than we must look at the first; Kazakh. Kazakh is a Turkic language unrelated to the European languages (English and Russian among them), it has almost complete mutual intelligibility with Kyrgyz (being comparable to English and Scots) and has varying amounts of mutual intelligibility with other Turkic languages. Today it holds a large amount of Russian loan words as well as the Cyrillic alphabet, however prior to this was the use of the Arabic abjad with a brief intermission of the Latin alphabet, with Arabic, Persian and Mongolian influences in vocabulary. Today there is a divided opinion on the use of Russian in the country and there have been many efforts to “Khazakhify” Kazakhstan. As a learner this provided me with an interesting situation. Being in a country as remote as Kazakhstan, English can only get one so far. Being unexposed to the Kazakh language I was forced to utilize my Russian to communicate. Kazakh people have an unusual appearance of Asiatic and European features, being more Asiatic in general. By chance I am of mixed Asian appearance and although not the face of a typical Kazakh, not noticeably foreign either. I was commonly assumed to be Kazakh and I was treated upon first impressions as such. Unfortunately this meant I was greeted in Kazakh and had to reply in Russian. Although Russian was successful in getting me around it quickly became something I decided to use sparingly. This was my first of three trips to Kazakhstan and this was in the village. I used Russian to navigate myself until I met with my hosts at the language center I was to assist at, and found it useful to play translation games with students. Reciting Russian words for students and having them translate gave both myself and the students the ability to learn. Overall Russian has been useful for general purposes in Kazakhstan. However, problems did arise. In the classroom I learned soon enough some students had preferences to use Kazakh. And within the context of competitive games the Kazakhs who were not as accustomed to using Russian were at a general disadvantage (these were younger learners). Another difficulty came when we needed to translate a difficult concept, commonly we used Google Translate to accomplish this. However, some students had preferences that English-Kazakh translations would be utilized as opposed to Russian-Kazakh and I was forced to explain the unreliability of Kazakh translations using Google (this may have been improved at a later date but was as of 2018 still a work in progress). I therefore had to be more careful with my use of Russian. Due to a permanent romantic venture I engaged in and a general liking of the country I took it upon myself to learn Kazakh. I did this mostly out of respect of my partner and her country. Unfortunately my experience learning Kazakh was not successful. The isolated nature of Kazakhstan in general meant few people were learning the language. This meant there was few people trying to teach Kazakh and furthermore, few resources for those that want to learn. I was able to get a Kazakh dictionary online as well as a workbook from my partner. For months I studied Kazakh however my results were disappointing when I returned to country. The language I was producing was different than that of what Kazakhs were speaking. I had learned more words and grammar in Kazakh than in Russian by that point however when the time came when a Ukrainian man spoke to me in Russian out there, my Russian returned and was much more understandable and usable than my Kazakh had been. Although I respect the country I've decided I would continue in Russian. My enthusiasm was higher for Russian than in Kazakh, and when I left the village and entered the city, Russian was more commonly preferred than Kazakh. For all practical purposes I continued with Russian. The conversation continues among Kazakhs on the place of Russian and Kazakh languages in society. There are many nationalists who are trying to see that Kazakhstan will prosper under its own influence. A child who uses Russian too much may be scolded but to survive in Kazakhstan one still needs Russian. I do plan to continue my Kazakh language learning in the future, but for now it's one language at a time.