How to preserve minority languages? Exploring Kazakhstani case…

In the following post I would like to consider the ways of preserving and developing minor languages and cultures in Kazakhstan. Particularly, I speculate on to what extent these ways are beneficial for minorities and the country itself.

As there are around 130 nationalities in Kazakhstan, it tries to create auspicious conditions in order to promote interethnic harmony and mutual development. To this end, Kazakhstani officials organized minority schools, Sunday schools, and cultural centers as the main vehicles for fostering minority languages and cultures.  Regarding mainstream schools, there are around 119 schools with minority languages as a medium of instruction (Smagulova, 2008). For example, half of them are designed for Uzbeks and located in the southern part of Kazakhstan. All subjects are taught in Uzbek except Kazakh and Russian. Even though Uzbek pupils learn the two official languages, usually it turns out to be insufficient. It is necessary to point out that there are no colleges or universities in Kazakhstan which provide education in minority languages. Therefore, studying in minority school could heavily impede entering the university. I tend to think that such schools are detrimental to minorities and the country itself. First and foremost, after leaving the school, students are more unlikely to adapt themselves to further life. On the one hand, minority people can have difficulties in communication, finding a job, etc. On the other hand, this can lead to their migration which can adversely affect the country.

When it comes to Sunday schools and cultural centers, they are more likely to be beneficial. They welcome all people regardless of nationality and age. These organizations present great opportunities for minority groups. For instance, minority children can study in mainstream school with the Russian or Kazakh language as a medium of instruction and go to cultural centers to learn their indigenous languages. It is of particular importance to mention, that these cultural centers teach not only a language, they also provide a number of courses which aim to introduce their culture itself. To cite an example, when I was studying for a bachelor degree, I had been attending a Korean cultural center, where I learned the Korean language, took dance courses, national music courses, cuisine courses, and Taekwondo courses. By doing so, I had a great chance to enhance my knowledge about Korea, its culture and traditions. More importantly, we organized different events and holidays playing Korean and Kazakh games, singing Korean and Kazakh songs, etc. This is what I call “mutual interethnic development”.

Undoubtedly, preserving, sustaining and valuing minor language and cultures are of great importance for Kazakhstan. However, how they are being preserved and developed is a different question. By and large, I am more positive to have cultural centers and Sunday schools in the country as they can promote minor languages and cultures without leaving negative imprint on the people and county itself.

References:

Smagulova, J. (2008). Language policies of kazakhization and their influence on language attitudes and use. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism,11(3), 440-475.

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