When sitting on the bench in the Atrium I talked to a professor visiting a NU GSE seminar. It has happened that this stranger also deals with second language acquisition. Being interested in my major which is Multilingual Education, the professor kept asking me what were the benefits of proficiency in several languages. I replied in a positive way trying to convey all advantages of multilingualism, however, the interlocutor was sceptic on the real reasons of this new trend in education.
Suddenly he asked me if I knew Koreans and Japanese. ” Yes , I do. They are “Asian tigers” and leaders in high-tech”- I aswered in a confident way. “It is true but you are far from understanding the mentality of these two nations”- said the professor. After that my level of self-esteem decreased below the level of the Dead sea.
“The Koreans and the Japanese are mostly monolingual and by doing so they preserve own cultural and linguistic heritage”-told me the professor. “But English is the language of global economy, science and diplomacy” – I tried to argue. “No, it is only the state that forces the citizens to master equally Kazakh, Russian and English. The authorities take into consideration only the few aspects without touching phychological and mental issues. For instance, how can an individual think efficiently in three languages? Does it mean that we should have three mini-brains in one? The language and culture are interconnected, thus, being trilingual requires being “tricultural“. How to set up the boundaries between own national roots and languages spoken?”- kept on debating the professor.
Finally, he asserted that “the majority of the youth wants to be multilingual; due to the diversity they become cosmopolitants and deliberately or no, lose own national identity and underestimate the richness of the Kazakh language”.
After the dialogue my mind was full of controversial opinions. Even at 1:25 am, after 12 hours passed, I still think of today happenstance conversation. Will English as a lingua franca impede our emerging revitalisation of Kazakh? The Kazakh Language like a phoenix raises after being neglected in the Soviet time. Thus, trying to chase English we should also support Kazakh and do not leave it behind.
I cannot say that I fully agree or disagree with that professor’s attitudes but I believe that is a specific issue. No one can control our neurolinguistic processes taking place in a brain. But I assume that everyone should be cautious when dealing with this issue, especially in Kazakhstani multicultural settings.