Posts tagged Work and Travel

American Guest Speaker who knows the Kazakh Language

The hour passed far too quickly with my ten teachers who are my students as they listened to our guest speaker who is an American teacher at our university in Astana.  He knows how to speak in Kazakh and he used it to make strong points. How rare to our listening ears because most expats will choose to learn and speak Russian.

The first issue was raised about how to motivate those students who are not highly motivated to learn and thus have low test scores in English.  Chad suggested that any good thing done by a younger student, the teacher can put a bean in a cup and by the end of the week, whoever has the most beans wins a prize.  Something they can see, it is tangible and they are encouraged to do good work, a kind of competition. This works well for primary grades.

Chad also uses YouTube clips that show real conversation using the same questions over and over again from different people with different accents. Kind of like journalist (I thought of Jay Leno and “man on the street” journalism), catching people with questions, such as “how are you?” or “where are you from?” and then watch and listen to how each person responds to the same question.  There may be 20 or 30 people who respond, but if students get the hang of easy questions and answers, they can move on to the next level. Chad told the teachers they can download these YouTube clips on to a flash drive and later use in the classroom if there is no Internet access.

We talked about how immersion is the best way to learn a language, especially with Study Abroad or Work and Travel programs.  Chad and his wife when they first arrived to Kazakhstan in 1998, they lived with a host family in Semipalatinsk. They didn’t know any Kazakh and their Kazakh family didn’t know much English.  In order to survive, they HAD to learn Kazakh.

Not much chance of immersion here in Kazakhstan where university students outside of the “English only” classroom usually speak Russian to each other.  Chad said these students need to do pair work so they are forced to talk to each other in English, they are accountable to each other.  Chad recommends to his own students to pick a night during the weekend or at lunchtime for an hour where his students find friends and all they do is talk in English, force themselves to only speak in English.  He holds them to account for these activities.

One seasoned teacher for 10 years who hails from the south of Kazakhstan mentioned that she gets her students to be creative in their answers.  She does not want the stock, textbook answers but something that is extraordinary and way off the page.  She’ll tell her students, “Imagine you go to New York, what would you see and experience?  Imagine going into a time machine.” This forces her students to expand their vocabulary and to express themselves in vivid terms.

Children are naturals at being imaginative.  Chad’s son had to remind his dad that it was easy for kids to think creatively, somehow by adulthood we have that beaten out of us.  As teachers, we need to capitalize on this strength with young people. This Kazakh teacher from the south has her students get out of their seats to do pair work.  In fact, she then walks around the classroom to listen in on their conversations to make sure they are speaking in English.  Chad uses another technique where the other person after doing pair work reports to the rest of the class what they heard their partner say in English.

One student admitted that she used to be afraid to talk to a foreigner in Kokshetau, even though she was a teacher of English.  This is because she had memorized so much of the correct formulations of grammar but never had a chance to practically use it with a native speaker. She has no problem to talk to anyone, because she is confident now but before she knew all the rules, she had never put it into application.  People need to practice, students need to apply what they learn in the grammar lessons by speaking to each other in English.

Chad advised, “Better to know a little and use a lot rather than know a lot and use little if you are going to communicate.” [Hey, I do that in spades with my taxi drivers and other people I encounter in Astana, communication is important and not knowing all the correct grammatical constructions. Somehow I get by, meanwhile, my husband just shakes his head in disbelief. Either because he despairs that I’m butchering the language or he knows how to say it correctly but marvels that I get my point across.]

Someone said that if you don’t know Kazakh very well, other Kazakhs are very critical of you as a Kazakh and put you down as a “Shala Kazakh,” meaning “ Kazakh in name only.”  Chad said that Kazakhs should not shame other Kazakhs.  As a foreigner, he got nothing but encouragement for learning Kazakh because it impresses them that Americans want to learn Kazakh.

It is not their fault if Kazakhs don’t know the Kazakh language because they were taught under the Soviet system that awarded those who learned Russian and NOT Kazakh.  He noticed that people in Semipalatinsk, if they do know a little bit of Kazak, they will not use it.  Whereas here in Astana, people feel more free to use what they know, even if they don’t know it very well.

(to be continued)

Comments (2) »

Columbine flowers and “Sensitivity” by C.S. Lewis

Zhamilya and NazgulThis photo is of two former Kazakh students of mine who just arrived in New York to do a Work and Travel assignment this summer.  They are cousins and are inseparable. I enjoyed talking to them before their departure about their plans to study in New York once they finish their summer jobs. Last semester when I had my students write about their grandparents, these two were particularly vulnerable to tears because they had just lost their dear grandfather.  I think my initial assignment to all students to tell me about their grandparents has great merit.  It gives this young, fresh talent a chance to convey their strong feelings of respect and love for their elders in ENGLISH!!!  I was happy to get to know Nazgul and Zhamilya better through finding out more about their wonderful grandparents.  Of course, their grandma doesn’t want to see them leave and be gone for so long in the U.S.  Yet, they are so full of life and excitement.  Wonderful to be around that kind of energy  and that is why I LOVE teaching!!!

These photos of columbine flowers are dedicated to these two students and their success in the U.S. Also, these flowers are close to our supposed new flat which is half the price of what we are paying now for a 3 room Soviet style apartment.  This new one has better air because it is higher up in the mountains, a 45 minute walk from my university (instead of 20 min) and is VERY Soviet style with only 2 rooms.  So, seeing these different columbine flowers perked me up because I will miss many things about the old place we lived in nearly two years. yellow columbinepurple columbinepink yellow columbine

I’ve probably quoted this passage from The Great Divorce written by C.S. Lewis, but it bears repeating:

“Did we pretend to be ‘hurt’ in our sensitive and tender feelings (fine natures like ours are so vulnerable) when envy, ungratified vanity, or thwarted self-will was our real problem? Such tactics often succeed.  The other parties give in.  They give in not because they don’t know what is really wrong with us, but because they have long known it only too well, and that sleeping dog can be roused, that skeleton brought out of its cupboard, only at the cost of imperilling their whole relationship with us.  It needs surgery which they know we will never face.  And so we win; by cheating.  But the unfairness is very deeply felt.  Indeed what is commonly called ‘sensitiveness’ is the most powerful engine of domestic tyranny, sometimes a lifelong tyranny.  How we should deal with it in others I am not sure; but we should be merciless to its first appearance in ourselves.”

I have to purge myself of the anger I feel toward a few of my fellow Kazakh teachers who do not know how much airfare costs for me to go home to the U.S. to be with MY family.  Such costs should be considered as part of my salary (as it was done in Ukraine where they paid for our flat and airfare) because apartment and travel costs alone eat up whatever salary I receive teaching my dear Kazakh students.

Meanwhile, an older Kazakh administrator told me the other day that she only spent $1,200 to get to New York on a round trip. (perhaps that was years ago on a different airlines)  Little does she consider that I travel during peak season to the Midwest when rates go up to $1,700 or $2,000 for a roundtrip so I can be with my own family.  Also, she probably already had her apartment given to her when she was a former communist party leader and so she doesn’t have to pay $1,000 a month for rent as I do.

Yet this same older teacher and administrator is the one who is “sensitive” about students knowing so much more than she does about computers while she is getting more behind as each semester passes.  She does not feel the unction to practice on her computer to improve her skills.  At the same time she probably resents the fact that I keep banging on the same drum about all Kazakh and Kazakhstani teachers need to be using their computer skills in the classroom for the benefit of their students. Perhaps they feel “hurt” when I so much as suggest that they should use e-mail to get students’ homework instead of getting paper hard copies from them only during class time.  Sometimes I really question why I sacrifice so much to teach in Kazakhstan but then when I run into former students like Nazgul and Zhamilya who are eager to learn, the sacrifice does not feel so heavy.

Leave a comment »

Photos of Two Events on Campus

teachersKen and teacherspeytonstudents 

The photos are two entirely different events scheduled simultaneously on the same campus with two unlike groups of people, teachers and students.  My dear husband Ken shared in the Teacher-Research Workshop, to almost 40 Kazakhstani teachers, his experience as an economics teacher getting students to write short papers without plagiarism.  Simultaneously I went over to the big hall to hear all the rules 250 Kazakhstani students need to know before they go to the U.S. on a Work and Travel program in about a week.  Both sessions were dealing with rules not meant to be broken!


The following are reactions by a few of the teachers to yesterday’s blog about the “Virtual Classroom.”


How did the ten quotes from your teacher colleagues about IT [Instructional Technology] make you feel? – use three adjectives


Wistful, somewhat old, pessimistic


Everyone understands that virtual classroom is contributive, practical and a bit challenging as it involves IT in itself.


practical, up-to-date, challenging


not new, actual, exciting to put into practice

Leave a comment »