The pre-school trilingual education in Kazakhstan

Within the framework of trilingual policy in Kazakhstan a number of kindergartens provide a pilot mother-tongue based trilingual education. Children are taught the two additional languages Kazakh or Russian and English at the age of four. However, it is still doubtful whether children whose mother tongue is Russian would acquire the state language – Kazakh successfully.

Some scholars suggests that the most effective ages to start learning languages are 5 and 6, they claim that the first language (L1) should be fully developed before adding other languages. According to a pilot program in Kazakhstan, children will start hearing and learning two languages other than their native one in kindergartens from the age of 4. As cited in UNESCO (2010) report on mother tongue based education, ‘the “threshold level hypothesis”, which posits that only when children have reached a threshold of competence in their first language can they successfully learn a second language without losing competence in both languages. Further, only when a child has crossed a second threshold of competence in both languages will the child‘s bilingualism positively affect intellectual development, a state which they called additive bilingualism” (Skutnabb-Tangas and Toukomaa, 1976, p.13). However, some scholars argue that it should be done earlier. Montessori, for example, emphasizes that “Only a child under three can construct the mechanism of language, and he can speak any number of languages if they are in his/her environment at birth (as cited in Anderson, 1974, p.77). According to another Japanese scholar Ibuka (2012), it is more difficult to perceive models of foreign languages later when a child has already built a model of his or her native language in the brain (after 3 years old).

The above mentioned demonstrates that the pre-school trilingual program can be effective. However, in my own experience I acquired Kazakh and Russian as my native languages and keep balance in these two languages since they were the languages of my home (Kazakh) and the kindergarten (Russian) which I attended form the age of two. Then English was the additional language when I was 7 years old. Today I am able to communicate freely in three languages. So I think that bilingual education (Kazakh and Russian in the same load) should be first considered in kindergartens since children in Kazakhstan start being enrolled to kindergartens when they are 2. By the age of 6-7 when the competence in two languages will be achieved English can be added. So when children enter schools they will be able to freely communicate in two languages; hopfully Kazakh language will be acqired as a native one. This will positively affect their cognitive and language skills. Later on, since the trilingual program continues in primary and secondary schools, the competence in three languages will be further developed and will not be a burden for learning other subjects.



Anderson, T. (1974). Bilingual education and early childhood. (pp. 77-78). American association of teachers of Spanish and Portuguese.

Ibuka, M. (2012). (Ed.) Posle treh uje pozdno. Moscow. M: Alpina non-fiction.


UNESCO, (2010). Enhancing learning of children from diverse language backgrounds: Mother tongue-based bilingual or multilingual education in early childhood and early primary school years. University of Victoria.


One thought on “The pre-school trilingual education in Kazakhstan

  1. Dina, I agree with you that providing education in children’s first language, while at the same time providing them with support to learn a second language of wider communication, has several advantages. Many research studies in the world show that the longer the child has mother tongue as the main medium of education, the better the child learns the subjects and the better becomes in additional languages as well (for example, in UK, Philippine, India). The experience of implementing mother-tongue based education in these countries reveals that it is especially beneficial in early childhood programs, preschool, and the early grades (up to grade 6), when children are learning to read and gaining new concepts. Finally, becoming literate and fluent in first language is important for overall language and cognitive development, as well as academic achievement. Hence, mother-tongue based education programs enable children to build a strong educational foundation in the language they know best, their mother which further becomes a good bridge to other languages.

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