Главная  | О журнале  | Авторы  | Новости  | Конкурсы  | Научные мероприятия  | Вопросы / Ответы

To the issue of teaching kazakh

К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2009

Автор: Свиридов Е. Г.

For people language fulfills one basic function – communication. For a state it also serves as a means of office work and becomes another symbol of the state, along with flag, coats of arms and hymn. The official language of Kazakhstan is Kazakh, and the situation seems rather preposterous, living in Kazakhstan and having Kazakh language as official we speak about, and work on transfer of office work into Kazakh. The problem has roots both in history and in modern times, when educational policy failed to satisfy needs of teaching Kazakh to non-titular ethic groups.

Let’s start with a short review of history of the Kazakh language, and more specifically, factors which led to current state of affairs. The first period which had certain influence was the colonial period. The period started in 1731, the year when Abulkhair Khan, the head of one of the three Kazakh tribal unions (zhuzes), accepted the terms of joining Russia. It lasted till the end of the third quarter of the 19th century, when the 150- year-long process of annexation was completed and most of the colonial administrative apparatus was put into place.

This period is characterized by diglossia. Diglossia is a situation where, in a given society, there are two (often closely-related) languages, one of high prestige, which is generally used by the government and in formal texts, and one of low prestige, which is usually the spoken vernacular (native language of a country or a locality) tongue. The high-prestige language tends to be the more formalized, and its forms and vocabulary often 'filter down' into the vernacular, though often in a changed form.

The relative stability lasted for only about 25 years, during which Russians were building a line of military forts and cities all along the border of the steppe. Towards the end of the first period, the increase of military presence changed the balance of power between Russians and Kazakhs. This change allowed the czarist administration to continue expansion, acting against the interests of the indigenous population by imposing official restrictions on the use of lands by Kazakhs and persecuting any attempts of Kazakhs not to comply [1].

During the second half of the first period, incipient diglossia moved from the potential into a consciously actualized state. This situation happened primarily because of the increase in interference of czarism into in-ternal affairs of Kazakhs, resulting in Russian assuming some functions previously fulfilled by Kazakh in the sphere of administrative communication. In addition, the colonial authorities became more suspicious of Tatar translators, who pursued their own purposes in the steppe, proselytizing for Islam, which was now perceived as alienating Kazakhs from Russia. The concerned czarist administration started to make some efforts in nurturing a class of native nobility, devoted to the colonial system and acculturated in-to Russian values.

As a consequence, Russian was being increasingly used not only for documentation, but also for oral political debate, since both Russian and designated Kazakh participants could speak the language. Bilingualism still remained at the individual level, although now there were more bilingual indigenous interpreters. Towards the end of the first period, diglossia, al-though restricted, became more widely spread with Russian being increasingly used in the sphere of official communication.

You can see that Russian officials were not interested in development of Kazakh as an official language in the colony as it could give a certain feeling of independence, and thus, prevent effective colonization. Actions were made to create a stratum of bilingual nobility to rule the territory executing imperial decrees. And such state of affairs couldn’t help but influence the natural development of Kazakh language from being a means of communication into a language of state, possessing all necessary terms to satisfy the goal of governing.

Next came the soviet period (1917-1991). Even before the revolution, Bolsheviks stated the equality in the form of two program principles: the principle of full equality and self-determination of nations (including the right to secede) and the principle of full freedom and equality of languages (including abolition of the required state language), both were further included into the “Declaration and Treaty on the Formation of the U.S.S.R.” (December 30, 1922) and the subsequent U.S.S.R. Constitutions (1924, 1936, and 1977).

But in reality we could see policy of so called Rusification, summoned to create a supra-national identity. Reason was to retain and, later, unify multiethnic society. To achieve this, it was decided to make Russian a dominant language in the society. The situation became the same as it was during the colonial period. In early 1950-th Kazakh was removed from school and university curriculum. It remained only as a means of interpersonal communication, mainly in rural areas, where traditional Kazakh lifestyle was still strong, despite the attempts of the government. Russian was language of science, government, it was dominant in culture. As a result teaching methods was not developed, scientific terms were not introduced. And language remained at the level it was in the beginning of the 20th century [4].

Thus, when Kazakhstan gained independence it was natural to claim Kazakh the official language, it gained the status de jure, but de facto it was far from it. There were several obstacles, and one of them is that only 7% of urban population could speak Kazakh. Russian at that time really was a language of science and government. During the soviet period, a whole generation of officials, belonging to Kazakh ethnic group, was brought up. And they were working with documents using Russian.

Recognition of the fact in the middle of 1990-th motivated government to concrete actions. For example in 1994 state terminological committee was formed which translated terms from Russian into Kazakh, new textbooks and dictionaries were published. But the abundance of newly introduced terms, numerous editions of dictionaries, changes in the structure of the language in such a short period made classic (official) Kazakh élite, not very understandable for majority of Kazakhs. It is difficult to use for office work, in writing, in public life, and Russian is still an intermediary in communication.

According to the 1999 census in East Kazakhstan 55.4% of population new Kazakh. The numbers are approximately the same for central and northern regions of Kazakhstan, where Russian ethnic component is traditionally strong. (North Kazakhstan – 36.4%, Pavlodarskaya oblast – 46.4%, Kostanayskaya oblast 39.3%, Karagandinskaya oblast – 46.4%, Akmolinskaya oblast 43.6%)

Investigation made by the Center of Sociological Monitoring and Prognostication of SSU after Shakarim showed that in the beginning of 21-st century Kazakh was already spread among Russians and other ethnic groups. Though the sphere of its use was not mentioned and we should also consider the fact that that investigation was made in Semey region, where Kazakh was initially more widespread.

Russian speaking people were and are well aware of the fact that they should know Kazakh. Let’s consider the results of sociolinguistic public opinion poll made by research center “Dana” in 2002. In East Kazakhstan number of respondents who didn’t study Kazakh prevailed over the number of those who did.

During the analysis of ethnoliguistic situation, several social groups were specified according to the presence or absence of tendency to study Kazakh.

1) First group, those people who knew Kazakh very well - 13% of respondents.

2) Second group, those people who took steps to study Kazakh – only 8% of respondents.

3) Third group, those who were willing to study – 9%. Among them 3% of people claimed that the main obstacle is absence of qualified teachers.

4) Fourth group, those who stated that there is no need to study Kazakh – 7% of respondents.

This poll was made in Ust-Kamenogorsk. Others, who are not in the groups, abstained from the answer. Now let’s consider social distribution of population according to the knowledge of the language.

• Kazakhs aged 44-49, educated specialists - knew Kazakh.

• Russians aged 8-29, students, teachers, intellectuals – studied Kazakh.

• Russians aged 30-39, technical and engineering employees – had intentions to study the language.

• Willing to study but had no opportunities – mainly Ukranians aged 18-29.

• Russians aged 40-49, salespeople, willing to study but did not due to absence of qualified teachers.

• Russians aged 60 and older, retirees, saw no need to study Kazakh.

This is the situation as it was in the beginning of 21st century. Unwilling-ness of middle and older age groups to study language may be explained by the fact that these people have already taken certain place in society, mastered a profession mainly in the period when knowledge of language was not a priority. In majority of cases, due to age and position they ceased to be mobile. And it takes time to master any language, therefore young generation brought up in post soviet time, is more mobile and interested in study of Kazakh [6].

Main institutions where Kazakh is taught are schools and universities. It is significant that in 1990-th number of Kazakh school was growing, while in 2000-th combined schools were opened. In East Kazakhstan 57 combined schools were opened in 2002. It indicates on shift of education from primarily national into combined Eurasian. We are aware of the fact that if we want our graduates to be able to stand the competition, especially on inter-national level, they are to be proficient in several languages, Russian and English primarily. But we shouldn’t forget that living in Kazakhstan we are to know official language – Kazakh.

Now let’s sum up the problems existing in teaching and learning Kazakh, and try to find possible solutions.

First and the foremost, the problem stated by many, is the absence of qualified teachers, mainly in schools. The fact is that in early years after Kazakhstan gained independence, Kazakh was restored in school and University curriculum and great necessity in teachers arose. But, the problem is that during Soviet times they didn’t train teachers of Kazakh, and alongside with necessity a shortage arose. But teaching process was still to be con-ducted, children and students taught. That is why many people who had no pedagogical education, but knew the language were accepted to teach. This extreme measure was appropriate at that time but the tendency is to be eliminated.

The question is where we can get so many qualified teachers in a short period of time. Of course there is a specialty in universities where teachers of Kazakh are educated. But, taking into account requirements for enrollment, only graduates from Kazakh schools have possibility to study. And that seems reasonable, if one wants to teach, his or her level of knowledge should be considerably high. But the fact is that amount of graduates from the specialty in universities can’t satisfy the growing need in teachers.

A way out exists. It is to teach Russians to be teachers of Kazakh. Of course Kazakh is taught during the first year in University. But, unfortunately attitude to study is very poor. Students are unwilling to learn and teachers are unwilling to teach such students. It’s a shame, but not all young people are motivated to learn.

Yet another specialty present in many non-technical universities is specialty called “Foreign language: to foreign languages”. Graduates are given bachelor degree and right to work as teacher of two foreign languages. During first year of study, only one foreign language is taught, alongside with other subjects. It is called “basic language”, English or German. In the very beginning of second year students choose second language. English major can choose German, French, Spanish, Korean and Turkish. German major can also choose English.

Level of teaching is high, at 4th year students have internship in both languages. Major language internship is in schools, second language is schools or university. This fact shows that graduates are proficient to teach their second language, at least at levels A1 and A2. And that is much, taking into account that they had studied the language for years only. Before that students were not trained in the language.

Now, why can’t we introduce Kazakh into the curriculum? A fact is that very few graduates find a job where they can apply their second language if it was Spanish or Korean. We are to consider reality of our country and that Kazakh is highly required in society. And universities have possibilities to teach students. Department of Kazakh philology or Department of Practical course of Kazakh language can provide teachers and material required for successful education. Thus in 3 years we’ll get a cohort of teachers proficient in language and methods of teaching, and able to be educators in schools, at various language courses and even at the same department they have graduated from.

What’s more interesting is that such thing existed already. In East Kazakhstan State University students were taught Kazakh as a second language for a succession of years, up until 2004. And the only reason it was cancelled lies in definition of the specialty. It is called “Foreign language: two foreign languages” and Kazakh, as it was stated, is not a foreign language. That is more than an ill-considered step, because the language was required, students were taught. Even after it was cancelled some students wanted to study Kazakh as their second, but were not allowed.

It is up to you to decide on the reasons of the people, who cancelled Kazakh from the curriculum of the specialty. But it seems like an ill term play. Of course Kazakh is not a foreign language for our country, it is an official language of state and native for more than half of population. But that doesn’t change anything concerning its teaching and studying for Russian speaking population. Because people still have to learn it, to memorize vocabulary, acquire grammar structures; get used to sentence structures different from the native language. So, the process of learning Kazakh is the same as the process of learning, for example, Spanish. The only thing that makes it easier is the fact that we, basically, live in the language environment, where everyone learning Kazakh can practice it with his or her friends, co-workers etc.

For a beginner the best teacher is not a native-speaker, but a person who had learned the language him\herself. It is particularly good when a teacher and a student have the same native language. Such teacher went through the same stages students are to, and is able to foresee and eliminate difficulties beforehand. What seems obvious for a native speaker is not for learners, and teacher who has already mastered the language is able to ex-plain better. Having the same native language with students is a good thing for explanation of complex material and can help to eliminate interference of native language into the learning, pinpoint positive transference.

Another advantage for non-Kazakh teacher is motivational factor. When students see in front of them a teacher who is not a native speaker they see a person who has mastered a language they are studying, they see that it is possible. The latter is very important because at some stage learners are frustrated, feeling as if they can’t but fail.

Second problem is lack of adequate learners’ material: textbooks, audio and visual material etc. Many times quality of modern textbooks has been discussed and very often it was considered poor. But if we agree that Kazakh is like foreign for people learning it, then why can’t we adapt methods used in teaching foreign language? Many contemporary textbooks are effectively used to teach English as a foreign language, or German. Methods used in the textbooks can be easily adapted for teaching Kazakh. And again, graduates from department of foreign languages will have an advantage because this department is reputed to have very strong school of methods of teaching foreign languages.

And last, but not least, is motivation, which plays extremely important role while learning. And it is especially important to motivate middle-aged to learn Kazakh. Youth nowadays are well aware of the fact that they need to know the language to be successful in life, but those who have found their vocation already, very often see no need to learn Kazakh. And repressive measures are not the best solution because they can easily lead to unrest in society and provoke conflicts. Measures are to be encouraging.

Study of the past gives an explanation of the current situation in our country. But we shouldn’t stop just at the point of explanation, we are to find solutions. The latest decree of government and president Nazarbayev is tri-unity of languages: Kazakh, Russian and English. That is why goal of making all people of Kazakhstan proficient in these languages becomes primary. Solution given here is not the only possible, it may not be the best but it can be easily realized. And as someone said “It is better to light one small candle, that to curse the darkness”. So let us light our small candles together to chase the darkness away.


1. Kuzhabejova A. Past, Present and Future of Language Policy in Kazakhstan. University of North Dakota 2000.

2. Matthew Weller «General principles of motivation» Los Angeles Business Journal, 2005

3. Алексеев К. Казахский язык – пасынок в законе// Gazeta.kz, 2007

4. Аманжолов С. Уважать родной язык. Опубликовано Вечерняя Алма-Ата 1993.

5. Государственная программа от 7 февраля 2001 г "Государственная программа функционирования и развития языков на 2001 - 2010 годы".

6. Гужвенко Ю.Н. Языковая политика в Восточно-Казахстанской области. РГГУ 2007.

7. Закон Республики Казахстан от 11 июля 1997 года «О языках в Республике Казахстан».

8. Поговорим о русской школе. Интернет-газета ZonaKZ 2009.

9. Сулейменов М. «Казахский бы выучил» Казахстанская правда 2004.

10. Усманова С. За родную речь болеть душой// Казахстанская правда, 2008.

К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2009

 © 2022 - Вестник КАСУ