Guest Speaker Promotes Language Learning and Much Reading

The following quotes are the reactions and feedback I got on Moodle from my Professional Development students after we had an American from the U.S. embassy come and talk about his life.  Their impressions, I think, are very interesting when they compare Kazakhs and their way of thinking to Americans or vice versa.  Who knew that so much could be drawn out of a one hour talk and question and answer period.  I have a remarkable class of Kazakh students who are also teachers in Astana, Kazakhstan.

Student #1 I wonder why foreigners learn Russian first and better than Kazakh. Although, they live in Kazakhstan not in Russia. By the way, yesterday I watched the program broadcasted by the world channel, where was told about language courses in Kazakhstan, especially at one of the top Universities in Almaty city. So, English, Russian, Kazakh language teachers were talking about their methods of teaching the languages.

As I am an English teacher I was attentively listening to those teachers. I was interested in what methods of teaching and new approaches they use for teaching languages. And I realized that English teaching methods are more interesting and encouraging for both teachers and students. I noticed how an English teacher’s speech was better than others, I mean without any pauses. As per Kazakh teaching methods, they were old, boring and nothing to encourage both our students and the foreigners to learn Kazakh language. The same problem touches all Kazakh teachers in all secondary schools. I wish I were a Kazakh teacher and used my methods of teaching in my classes.
Anyway, I always compare English with Kazakh language and when I say something in Kazakh, in comparison with English my students are surprised to hear Kazakh at the same time with English, because I know that they have never heard those two languages together. So, I believe that the status of my native language will be grown and paid more attention than it has been done now.

Student #2 – The thing that impressed me was the fact that he reads 100 books a year! I totally agree with him about his statement of learning through reading. I read an article where it was written about a man who knew 132 languages. He said that when he wanted to learn a language he just took a book in this language and read it.
I like his idea that learning language is more effective when you are surrounded by the people who talk this language, when you have real communicative situations.
One man said to me that the best way to learn language is to make mistakes, that’s why our people cannot learn Kazakh – we are afraid of making mistakes because many people know the language and they can laugh at us. I liked this idea even though the person who said this is not a teacher or a linguist.

Student #3 – After listening to informative talks of my fellow students and seeing their success and faults, I tried to pay much attention on how our guest spoke, behaved and kept his body. I liked him talking about his life in a chronological order, it makes his message really clear and easy to understand and remember. And at the very beginning he tried to clear everything out saying that he wouldn’t mind if someone asked a question or to explain something while his speech. I think it makes the audience feel comfortable and breaks the barriers between the speaker and the audience.

Secondly, He devotes 2-3 hours every day for reading and reads about 100 books per year! That’s amazing! I need to learn his tactic of reading. While offer to the job of diplomacy he passed the writing part of the exams successfully even without any preparation owing to the fact that he reads a lot. Because “a good reader is a good writer”.

I’ve never heard about a “soap box” before. This is another new expression in my “bag”. And really, education is always a soap box: a teacher always gives a presentation before the whole class, and education develops with the public, as language and other suchlike phenomena as well.

One thing that he talked about and which I’m going to use further when I will start my teaching career is using videos and local news in teaching a foreign language, also forbidding using the mother tongue at the lessons of English. I’m sure these techniques are very effective.

Student #4 – The thing I like about Americans is that they try to make everyone feel comfortable when they are speaking about something. The same situation among our people is totally different. We mostly try to disarm our listeners so that they will ask no questions. It does matter nothing if you speak to UN representative like Hanaa Singer or press attache, they will treat you properly. Sometimes I even forget I am speaking with a person of a higher rank. But if you speak with the same ranked Kazakh man you will always feel the presence of authority and formality in speech. That is one of the many things that I concluded for myself. Or is there anyone, who disagrees with me?!

Student #5 -. I liked the atmosphere we had during the meeting, liked how he presented his work as a pilot and his phrase about “airplane books”. It was really fun to hear him saying “I do not do that much reading. ONLY 2-3 hours a day”, how funny that can sound to many Kazakh people here who finishes (rarely) a book in a year. I think we could learn much from him, though he is not in teaching field or anything educational as were many of our guests. With his model of life, with the way he treats us, he just showed one truth that Kazakh people have (it is only my mind) “even if you have power, remember times when you didn’t, don’t boast or show off, be the person you were before.” which sound not so cool as in Kazakh which is literally can be translated as “Adam know your power, ant – your way.” (this is taken from Kazakh fairy tale)

Student #6 – but the most impressive for me was that he reads 100 books a year. I think it is clear why it got my attention, isn’t it? The first thing that I thought was: “is it really possible?” and I wanted to ask him about the methods that he uses in reading and then unfortunately I forgot my question as my mind went far away of what I was thinking of and remembered it when it was too late actually.

Student #7 I got to know that also he was a bookworm. He reads books during about three hours every day. It is such a pleasure to read what you want, not what you have to. I like communicate with such clever people.

Student #8 – As I understood, he was a pilot, and also he likes flying. But many years ago he changed his profession. I was inspired by his stories. I want to understand how he could take a giant step forward and change his profession. As I understood, the US Government gives a chance to change a job. However, you should pass exams. Everyone can work for the government, if he or she is a well-educated person. But I can’t imagine this situation in Kazakhstan. For example, if I work as a pilot or a driver, I won’t work for the government. If you want to be a politician in Kazakhstan, you need special education such as International Policy, International Relations, Local Policy, Economics, Management, MBA or you should have good relations with very important persons.

I know that if you work as a politician, you must be a public speaker. After his speaking, I understood that everyone has a chance to change his job, and also his life. May be in the nearest future, my group mates will be great teachers or great researchers.

5 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    J. Otto Pohl said,

    Most foreigners learn Russian rather than Kazakh for a couple of reasons. The first is that until recently the majority of the population of Kazakhstan spoke Russian rather than Kazkah. This was true even of native Kazakhs. Only about 40% spoke Kazakh better than Russian while 60% spoke Russian better than Kazakh. Factor in that over half the population of Kazakhstan was non-Kazakh and thus by definition spoke Russian better than Kazakh and it is easy to see that Russian was and probably is still is more widely spoken than Kazakh in Kazakhstan. This trend was even more pronounced in cities especially Almaty where Russian completely overwhelmed Kazakh.

    The second reason is Russian is a widely spoken global language with a well established literature that can be studied at almost all universities in the US, Europe, Canada, and Australia. Over 200 million people speak Russian as their primary language. At best eight million people can speak Kazakh. So finding a place to learn Kazakh which can only be used in Kazakhstan and even there is not as useful as Russian is much more difficult.

    One might as well ask why foreigners going to Arizona in the past learned English instead of Navajo. True it is the mother tongue of the native population, but that did not make it more useful than the more widely spoken colonial language. Perhaps the Kazakhs who think the Kazakh language should replace Russian should be studying Navajo and other Amerind languages rather than English if they want to go to America.

  2. 2

    kazaknomad said,

    Thanks Otto for this response. I’ll direct my teacher/student who was wondering aloud why foreign people don’t want to learn Kazakh as much as they want to learn Russian. It would be like wanting to study Norwegian because my ancestors used that language and it would be helpful for traveling back to Norway to speak to my relatives. However, most all of them know English and so there would be no point in learning that language though that is their national language. The difference for Kazakhstan AND Kyrgyzstan and other “stan” countries is that they had Russian foisted on them and now to come out of that period they need English to get ahead while simultaneously trying to reconstruct what was lost during the “occupation” years of Russian colonialism. Much pressure is placed on the Kazakh students to know all THREE languages, by law, which in theory can be done but they also need to know how to write in English. That can be a problem from my perspective as a westerner

  3. 3

    All the matter is in necessity. When I studied in the institute I participated in the Republican Trilingual Olympiad in Astana, I won the second place. And later when I went back to Aktobe, I was invited by national Kazakh tv channel for the interview. So they asked me why people in Kazakhstan do not Kazakh only. My answer was neccesity. There is no necessity to learn Kazakh, people know that they will survive with Russian in our country. If there is no necessity to learn a language, nobody will learn it. There is necessity to know English, so many people have extra English classes and go abroad to study it.

  4. 4

    […] The other day I posted my Professional development students’ reactions and feedback about an American embassy person’s talk.  Some interesting insights into the Kazakh mentality was revealed in the students’ […]

  5. 5

    Wizard of KZ said,

    if you go to my blog: Busy Saturday: Lost Chances or Gained, I think some things will come out, too. I had a talk with my students, whose Kazakh is really weak and she is angry with it. She told me a situation happening at the schools of big cities after which I came to a conclusion, that we were wrong long time. We said you have to provide a situation in the country when no one will survive without Kazakh, but how can you leave people without any chances to survive if you don’t even take pains and teach them Kazakh? Then provide with surrounding where they can actually learn Kazakh and then demand something.


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