All posts by mariyaab

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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English mania: the Trojan horse or ungrounded worry?

Having been worried about omnipresence of English, Mahatma Gandhi once said: “To give millions a knowledge of English is to enslave them”. However, not only Gandhi had concerns about the pervasive influence of English. Since many spheres (education, research, business, etc.) are rapidly expanding their scope beyond the geographical, social and racial boundaries, the question whether English could become a ‘gatekeeper’, especially in the field of education, fuels hot debates among researchers and educators.

Along with Gandhi, Phillipson (1992) in his book argued that English is a form of linguistic imperialism, saying that “the dominance of English is asserted and maintained by the establishment and continuous reconstruction of structural and cultural inequalities between English and other languages” (p. 47). Cooke (1988) underpins his idea, metaphorically referring English to the Trojan horse. It could be understood in two different ways. First, the comparison with historical event: the Trojan soldiers initially welcomed huge wooden horse, but, then it turned out to be an utter defeat. In modern version, it could imply a Trojan virus, where hidden programs can destroy all the data. Drawing parallel with English, it could mean the same: English may be welcomed initially in a country but then cause concern as it dominates the native language(s) and cultures. To cite an example, the elite stratum of Pakistan not only sends their children exclusively to English medium schools, but tries to speak English at home. Moreover, Mustafa (2012) in her article underscores that educated Pakistani people “have glorified the English language to the extent that all logic has been put aside”.

However, it is vital to mention, that there are many dissenters to Phillipson’s (1992) and Cooke’s (1988) views.  For example, Widdowson (1998) has cogently argued that “there is a fundamental contradiction in the idea that the language of itself exerts hegemonic control: namely that if this were the case, you would never be able to challenge such control” (p. 398). House (2003) also questions the assumption that English as a lingua franca (ELF) is a hindrance or even a threat to multilingualism by presenting two notions- ‘language for communication’ and ‘language for identification’. To put it in simple words, she claims that ELF should be considered as a ‘language for communication’ as it has the instrumental value, meaning people who do not share L1 could use English for communication. However, “in using ELF, speakers are unlikely to conceive of it as a ‘language for identification’: it is local languages, and particularly an individual L1(s), which are likely to be main determinants of identity” (House, 2003, p. 560).

Kazakhstan, where trilingual policy is currently being implemented, pays substantial attention to English. More and more Kazakhstani youngsters take fancy to learn English. More and more schools teach English from the first grade. Hence, should we be concerned that English one day will become Trojan horse in Kazakhstan?  Could it take the position of the official language in Kazakhstan?  Do you agree that English is becoming a ‘killer language’?

References:

Cooke, D.  (1988). ‘Ties that constrict: English as a Trojan horse’, In A. Cumming, A. Gagne & J. Dawson (eds), Awarenesses: Proceeding of the 1987 TESL Ontario Conference, Toronto, TESL Ontario, 56-62.

House, J. (2003). English as a lingua franca: A threat to multilingualism? Journal of Sociolinguistics, 7 (4), 556-578.

Mustafa, Z. (2012). Pakistan ruined by language myth. Retrieved from: http://www.theguardian.com/education/2012/jan/10/pakistan-language-crisis

Phillipson, R. (1992). Linguistic Imperialism. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Widdowson, Henry G. (1998). “EIL: squaring the Circles. A Reply.” World Englishes 17(3), 397-401.

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.

STOP CYBER BULLYING!!!

I dedicate this post to seventeen-year-old schoolgirl from Aktobe, a victim of anti-social group “Aktobe’s hens” in Vkontakte (social network), who committed suicide in October, 2014, because of receiving disparaging comments (sexual harassment) to her photo.

 

Today none of the students can feel secured against becoming a victim of cyber bullying: 20 percent of American middle-school students admitted to seriously thinking about attempting suicide as a result of bullying online (Hinduja & Patchin, 2010). If some times ago, victims of bullying might have been able to at least find some relief at home or somewhere else, technology’s ubiquitous influence made bullying possible to be a 24/7 torment. The worst thing is many parents and teachers might be unaware that their children are being harassed via electronic communication.

Cyber bullying could be concisely characterized as “sending or posting harmful or cruel text or images using the Internet or other digital communication devices” (Willard, 2004; p. 1). Willard (2004) also mentions different types of cyber bullying: flaming, harassment, cyber stalking, denigration, masquerade, outing, trickery, and exclusion. The reason why cyber bullying is spreading so fast could lie in the fact that youngsters often feel that cyberspace is anonymous, and they can therefore write whatever they want. It unties students’ hands to erupt a torrent of abuse on other students without being revealed.  Writing demeaning comments or posting different gossip, some students may not even realize that their behaviors, even if they intend only to joke, could heavily hurt other students.  A number of researchers (Bauman, 2011; Dooley, Pyzalski, & Cross, 2009; Kowalski & Limber, 2007) assert that cyber bullying could result in heightened anxiety in school, where the victim may live in chronic fear of being humiliated or embarrassed. Along with that, it can seriously impact on students’ health. According to Wiredkids.Inc. (n.d.), online bullying can lead to self-destructive behaviors such as alcohol and drug abuse.  As a doomsday scenario children can even commit suicide.

These ramifications really set us thinking how dangerous cyber bullying could be. Therefore, parents should pay meticulous attention to their children’ behavior, especially online. Parents can restrict time children spend in cyberspace, thus protecting children from possible harassment. Schools also should make some steps to prevent and reveal cyber bullying. In order to make children clearly understand that bullying via electronic gizmos is tantamount to face-to-face bullying, schools can provide information to students how seriously it can affect someone’s health and sap someone’s self-esteem.  If schools include special lessons on cyber bullying in curriculum, the problem could become less severe.  Schools can also organize lections for parents which can acquaint them with how to reveal children’ being harassed. As there is a tendency now on social networks when young people gather in closed communities (like “Astana hens”, “Astana cocks”, there are such communities almost in every city) with the aim to harass other people, the Government officials should take serious steps to eradicate such movements. To be more precise, the government should introduce serious punishment for people who harass other people online and, especially, organize such closed communities.

All in all, children today may face more serious problem than school bullying. Cyber bullying.  Youngsters can display their scorn to other people without being exposed. In this post I proffered some steps that schools can take in order to cope with this problem. So, what do you think about this issue? How can we kill cyber bulling?

References:

Bauman, S. (2011). Cyberbullying: What counselors need to know. Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association.

Dooley, J. J., Pyzalski, J., & Cross, D. (2009). Cyberbullying versus face-to-face bullying: A theoretical and conceptual review. Journal of Psychology, 217(4), 182–188. doi:10.1027/0044-3409.217.4.182

Hinduja, S. & Patchin, J.W. (2010). Bullying, cyber bullying and suicide. Archives of Suicide Research, 14 (3), 206-221.

Kowalski, R. M., & Limber, S. P. (2007). Electronic bullying among middle school students. Journal of Adolescent Health 41, S22–S30. Retrieved from http://www.sccoe.org/depts/csh/docs/Mar2011/Elec.Bullying.Middle.School.pdf

Willard, N. (2004). An Educator’s Guide to Cyberbullying and Cyberthreats. Retrieved from http://cyberbully.org/docs/cbcteducator.pdf.

To study or to take a pill?

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The end of the first semester. Paper submission. I remember those crazy weeks… The time when your only home is library, when your best friends are books, when you are like Duracell Bunny, is impossible to forget. Joking apart, one can notice the same picture in many universities around the world. In order to pass examination or write excellent paper students spend days and nights cramming for tonnes of lectures, books, or looking for appropriate materials. The workload is so heavy that they resort to coffee, drinks like Red Bull or more recent tendency – so-called smart drugs.

If you watched the movie Limitless, you might be amazed thinking how dramatically one small cognitive-enhancing drug changed main character into the most intelligent person. Now this is no longer a fantasy. To combat their fatigue, to boost their academic performance, to improve their memory students found one decision – modafinil (name of a pill). As far as I know, this is not a case for Kazakhstan, however, in the USA and the UK this problem fuels hot discussions among researchers and educators.  Modafinil’s original prescription is for people with narcolepsy, people who are always asleep. Dr. Barbara J. Sahakian, a professor of clinical neuropsychology at the University of Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine in Cambridge, estimated that 90 percent of modafinil’s use is off-label, meaning that a doctor has prescribed it for other than its official purpose (Sparks, 2012, p. 16). It is quite clear that modafinil’s indications for use, i.e. “a sensation of natural wakefulness for hours at a time, without the jittery buzz and disrupted sleep” (Taylor, 2013), are perfectly suitable for the students who want to be those Duracell Bunnies. It is necessary to mention also that these brain-boosters are easily available on the internet.  Such easy online selling is more likely to flourish ‘smart drug’ tendency among youngsters. Despite youth finds these pills helpful, they should remember that pills have only temporary effect. More important, as every coin has its flip side, ‘marvel pill’ is certainly to have its own. Alas, there is a finite research on the side-effects of smart drugs. Probably, illegal online selling, students’ fear or reluctance to confess or something else impedes research in this direction.

By and large, this question remains more than serious nowadays. In their race for ‘A’ grades, ‘pass’ in the examination, some students use smart drugs to sustain their active condition. As there is no concrete evidence what damage smart pills could bring, researchers and educators continue speculating on this issue. At the end of this post I propose you to enjoy a panel discussion on the topic “Are the drugs the answer to learning languages?

And what do you think about it? Is it normal for students to take cognitive-enhancers during study? Would you try one before exam? Would you take a pill to perfectly know languages?

References:

Sparks, Sarah. (2012, October, 16-17). “Smart pills” promising, problematic. Education Week. Retrieved from   http://www.edweek.org/ew/toc/2012/10/24/index.html

Taylor, Ph. (2013). It’s exam time! Can smart drugs make you smarter at this testing time? [Web log]. Retrieved from    http://www.cmfblog.org.uk/2013/05/15/its-exam-time-can-smart-drugs-make-you-smarter-at-this-testing-time/