Critical Thinking vs Languages

What is more important for Kazakhstani students nowadays: mastering the three languages or developing critical thinking? The more I hear popularizing the former, the more confident I become in the latter. In the era of information availability the skill to differentiate facts from opinions, not accepting things without challenging them and “arriv[ing] at the truth” after careful examining the information (Wood, 2002) is more valuable than learning several languages and “arrive at” being multilingual.

From 1956, when critical thinking started attracting educators’ attention, many scholarly works on what CT is and the role of developing CT in education have emerged. Bloom (1956); Ennis (1987); Kennedy, 1991; Kuhn (1999); Mayer, R. E. (1983); Wood, R. (2002);  Paul, 1993; Nickerson, 1987 are only a short list of those who espouse CT as the school policies’ main focus (as cited in Mansoor  & Samaneh, 2014).  Despite, the model of education as global marketing workforce supplier in some countries underestimates the role of CT in mother tongue. Moreover, instead of developing students’ higher order thinking in L1, it “perpetuates”   the power of an international language “without associating it with learning skills”, so that a foreign language becomes a “stratifier” (Tupas, 2014, p. 119). Tollefson warns, “Those who can afford it go to schools with a high quality of English language teaching and learning; those who cannot afford it also go to English-medium schools (because of the belief that English is the way out of poverty) but end up being taught English deemed undesirable by society” (as cited in Tupas,2014, p. 119). The truth is that the quality of teaching languages is not equally available for everyone, and the necessity for various languages differs from area to area. The individual’s actual need for a language can be satisfied by asking questions oneself and others and gauging possibilities and aspirations, in other words, by being a critical thinker. That is why CT in education should be priority.

Regarding Kazakhstan, if we exemplify our blog experience (both Leadership in Ed. and Multilingual Ed.) as a minute model of Kazakhsatani education, the preliminary calculation of current topics shows that concerns around languages appear in the blog fifth as much as on critical thinking. Counting that a critical thinker can find ways to learn languages (and not only) independently, isn’t critical thinking more significant than a symbolic importance several languages?

Tupas, R, (2014). Inequalities of multilingualism: Challenges to mother tongue-based multilingual education. Language and Education, 29 (2), 112-124.

5 thoughts on “Critical Thinking vs Languages

  1. dear, aigulizat,
    The more I read your posts, and the more I listen to you while your presentations, the more confident I become how lovely and beautiful someone may explicate their thoughts. I am very passionate about your way of thinking and your logical inferences.
    Being a graduate from school with quadrilingual education, I can advocate for your stance according to the importance of critical thinking abilities. As many of my friends did not master all the languages we were taught, however, they could succeed in many other areas of their interest. The system of teaching our children in three languages is just like caretaking of them as it is obvious that the more languages they know, the more possibilities they will have, however, to master them or not it’s their choice, and they easily could continue to learn courses of their interest. Because not all domains require knowing several languages, in some cases, especially in Kazakhstani context due to developed industrial labour it is even may be OK if you are “dumb.” But being unable to critically analyze information especially in this century may slow down not only their personal development but rather their chance to live a better life. What’re your thoughts about implementing critical thinking as an independent subject or do you think teachers should teach it during mainstream subjects?


  2. Thanks, Aigul. (4.5/5) Your post shares a relevant observation about the need to ask the right questions and focus our energies on the right topics. This is itself a critical thinking skill, because we often think about the questions that we care most about, or that seem urgent because of our emotional attachments to them. More importantly, we should question our questions! This carries over to reading literature and commenting on the amount of energy and attention paid to a question. One of the most useful critical comments for researchers to make is “Hey guys, you’re spending too much time talking about the wrong thing! Here is where we should spend our energies…”

    The only thing lacking in this post is clear citations. You included some links to online sources, and an APA reference to one text, but several of your in-text citations remain uncited. How is the reader supposed to know which texts they refer to?


  3. @aigulazhigaliyeva, you are absolutely right that critical thinking is extremely important nowadays. But I think you are too quick to separate it from language teaching.

    First, let me note that CT did not exist in the Soviet educational tradition, nor does it exist in the modern Kazakhstani one. But everyone seems to agree that we desperately need it, so we have to teach it at school. Since most teachers don’t really understand what it is, it would be naive to hope that the whole curriculum can be altered in such a way that an element of CT is present in every lesson of every subject. To answer @uaxi ‘s question, if I may, we have to have a dedicated subject. The question is, who is going to teach it? I guess, not PE teachers )).

    The most likely candidates are language teachers: Russian teachers, Kazakh teachers, and English teachers. As CT has not been part of our culture, but it has been of the Western one, English teachers are the most logical choice for this job. So why not combine EFL and CT and let the English teachers once again carry the flame of enlightenment?


  4. The point here is not to separate CT from language teaching, rather the opposite. The main argument of the post is that the trilingualism is overpopularized. Without the justification of the real need by studies and careful analisis of the current language situation, it sounds more like propaganda, the attention to which weakens, if not neglects, the promotion of CT. The OECD report (2014) on education policy in KZ recommended improving students’ “critical thinking or inquiry skills”. (p. 176). As no other researches have emerged in favour of the three languages to be embedded in schooling in our country, CT should be the priorty then.
    Anyway, your comments @uaxi, @davidphilip and @chsherbakov triggered the idea for the next post of mine. Let me take more time for a deeper look at the issue, and we will discuss how “the flame of enlightenment” can be implemented in Kazakhstan in the next section under the same heading.
    OECD (2014), Reviews of National Policies for Education: Secondary Education in Kazakhstan, OECD Publishing.


Leave a Reply

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

You are commenting using your 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