MY SNOWBALL OF LANGUAGES

Our being able to speak different languages is becoming more and more indispensable for the time being as it presents boundless opportunities for study, career and job.  More importantly, in my opinion, it expands our way of thinking, allowing us to see things from different angles. For me, language is something more than a set of rules and grammar; it is originality and uniqueness of one nation. In my personal view, speaking someone’s language is like touching to its culture and history. Being guided by this consideration, I always learn language in close connection with its culture. At present time, I know Kazakh, Russian, English, French and Korean.

I grew up in Kostanay which located in the northern part of Kazakhstan, in place where Russian prevailed over Kazakh due to the geographical location and historical background, thus making Russian the dominant language for formal and informal purposes. Generally, Russian migration to our country in the Soviet time and even before has yielded interesting outcomes today. Many people, predominantly in the northern parts, mix Russian and Kazakh while speaking.  Difficulties to speak in a clear mother language led to adding some Russian words and endings to the Kazakh words. Now this Kazakh-Russian code-switching phenomenon is called shala-kazakh. To cite an example, zvonday kerek, meaning I need to call, was created from Russian word zvonit(call) and adopted for Kazakh by adding ending -day.  Another popular word is atashka, meaning grandfather, was formed by Russian ending –shka(from dedushka, babushka) to Kazakh word ata. In my case, it is atashka, who played a pivotal role in my acquisition of the Kazakh language, he spoke with me solely in Kazakh while at school and with my parents I communicated in Russian. However, my conversations with atashka and lessons on Kazakh which I took at school appeared insufficient, thus turning me in a person with different levels of knowledge in my languages.

In fifth grade, when the time to learn foreign languages came, we were given an opportunity to choose between English and German. I chose English. My predilection for learning English started before even going to school. At the age of 5-6, while watching clips, I was mesmerized by the beautiful sound of English. Incomprehension of what singers sang piqued my profound interest in this language. Learning it at school, I was confused by articles a, a/the, because there are none in Kazakh or Russian, but in general it seemed English had the same sentence structure as Russian, which made my learning process easier.

More interesting in my language background is learning German for one year (9-10 grade) at the German cultural center, and French for three years at university. The process of acquiring these languages made me fully involved because I started to draw parallel between these languages and observe many similarities, as, for example, the structure of to be– it is- es ist- il est (in English, German, French respectively); the same ending –tion or cognates met in my readings facilitated the process of learning. Alongside with that, every time I met cognates or similar grammar structures helped me to reinforce my knowledge in three languages. Since then, I believe the language learning process is like a snowball: the more languages you learn, the easier this process becomes.

As I mentioned above about my passion for English, my interest in the next language-Korean was ignited in the same way. Being invigorated by watching Korean movies and listening to music, I began learning Korean almost 5 years ago.

Looking at language experience, I can say that language is not a separate thing; it has firm bonds with culture. After learning three languages, the whole picture of language acquisition appeared in my mind as a rolling snowball.

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