1,2, 3 … and identity loss ?

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.

10 thoughts on “1,2, 3 … and identity loss ?

  1. What an excellent story! Thanks so much for sharing. What strikes me as most interesting is the very personal nature of this debate. While you are trying to look at the topic from a logical, detached vantage point, the professor seems to convey an urgency and even emotional fervor when arguing for the necessity of maintaining one’s cultural identity in the increasingly cosmopolitan, homogeneous world. It is that emotional, cultural and personal nature of the language debate that makes it so complicated and delicate to “solve”.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you very much for sharing this interesting story! May be you’ve read, but our Kazakhstani author Raikhan Borlykbayeva also wrote an article on this issue about loss of Kazakh language in trilingual education. Link is below: http://www.academia.edu/5259717/Multilingualism_in_Kazakhstan_Introduction
    I agree that trilingual education can be a big risk for Kazakh language and culture, despite the benefits of trilingualism. In this process, of course as you said, we have to pay more attention to flourish and broaden the usage of Kazakh language, but not loss or damage it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There is a lot of discourse on introducing trilingual education in Kazakhstan. Some of them are optimistic, while others are negative and biased. The professor’s points of view I described are far from being balanced and objective. Also I should stress that my vision of the Kazakh language destiny within Kazakh-Russian-English triad differs from the professor’s position. I have written this story to emphasize that the policy-makers, practitioners and researchers should take into consideration different attitudes toward this change in education to anticipate possible conflicts on such a sensitive subject as language policy is.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I think we should blame our mentality- mentality of being perfect in learning languages and cultures of other ethnicities. Remember? Kazakhs were the only people who spoke Russian fluently after Russians in the Soviet era, athought there were 14 other ethnicities in the Soviet union. We did not only learn Russian well, also started to behave like Russian people neglecting our customs and traditions.Currently, the future of Kazakh language is very difficult to forecast owing to the existing internal language policy of the country. Yet I am sure to say that no matter what language you speak but your heart should beat for your motherland and serve it till the end of your breath.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Yessenova, thanks for posting such a great story! as well as all those conclusions we can draw after reading it. I’ll focus on the need of multilingual education in our country.

    Sure, learning and speaking some languages is usually provided by really complicated operations in human’s brain and, probably, can lead to information overload. Then, there is a question: “Do all kids/students/adults in Kazakhstan really need to be multilingual?”. Maybe several years ago I would say “No”, but now I am sure that spreading the skill of speaking several languages on national level is more benefitial to Kazakhstani citizens rather than useless in the frame of the current society.

    At first, the more good (NB: the term GOOD is open for discussion) Kazakh AND Russian speakers we have, the less cultural and/or linguistic misunderstandings occur. Secondly, it is agreed that learning a language should be supported by learning its culture. The latter fact also leads to reducing the number of intercultural conflicts and, logically, the unity of Kazakhstani population. Finally, the increased number of multilinguals will lead to the situation when Kazakh language will develop linguistically (the way the language itself is formed) and methodologically (the way the language is taught).

    Undoubtedly, setting up the aim of educating multilingual citizens has to be supported by carefully worked out plan. Generating the main plan is the task of policy makers, who (of course) are supposed to work in cooperation with researchers and practitioners (as yessenova noted).

    All in all, whether it is a good time for multilingualism in our country is a really interesting topic and it is really great to see it being discussed by researchers (like Borlykbayeva, who was mentioned by almazhay93) and us (prosperous educators = policy makers).

    P.s. As for the mentality (which was mentioned by assanova), I really doubt that the fact that there were a lot more Russian speakers during the Soviet period in Kazakhstan comparing with other Soviet countries was caused only by our “mentality of being perfect in learning languages and cultures of other ethnicities”. I think there were some other factors like proportion of native Kazakh and non-Kazakh population. I might have not got your idea. Look forward to clarification.


  5. Aisara, I can imagine your impressions after such kind of conversation. Sure, the language aspect in Kazakhstan is one of the main problems. I think that our genes even constructed in the way we can combine three and more languages at the same time as professor, who was visiting NUGSE seminar, said: “…It is only the state that forces the citizens to master equally Kazakh, Russian and English”.
    I also can`t say good it or bad, but undoubtedly, human being is a complex object that can react and live different way. It depends on individuals.
    Thanks for such interesting story^_^


    1. How the human brain deals with code-switching between languages is a question related to neurolinguistics, a field that sometimes is far beyond of my understanding. However, I prefer to analyse the trilingualism in Kazakhstan via the angle of sociolinguistics. In this case, these three languages aside from serving different functions (Kazakh as a state, Russian as a language of intercultural communication, and English as a lingua franca) have one overaching aim. To unite culturally and linguistically diverse population of Kazakhstan. Statutory promotion Kazakh-Russian-English proficiency designed to


      1. Statutory promotion of Kazakh-Russian-English is designed for social cohesion, for fostering Kazakhstani patriotism, for stopping the clashes of Kazakhisation and Russification ideologies.


  6. It is very fascinating story, Aisara. I agree with all the comments. It is hard to say exactly whether one should be multilingual or develop one native language. In our case, with our Soviet past and and new trilingual language policy it is even more complex. Anyways, I have seen one ted talk of Erlan Sagadiyev discussing it. Here is the link – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kgH8Qs0QvAM I

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Asha, that’s a good video to watch. The idea of separating teaching culture and education itself makes sense to me. Additionally, the man gives rather clear and meaningful reasons of the need for multilingual education in the frame of globalization and states the “roles” of three languages.

      What I really liked about his speech is that he raises the question of the identity loss, but doesn’t give the immediate answer how to anticipate it. As for me, that’s what educators have to think about as teaching culture, which might happen as some elements of other subjects or extra curricular events (I’m sure there are other ways to bring cultural education).

      Asha, thanks for sharing.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s