The language issue: Kazakh vs Russian

Nowadays, language is one of the most important issues in Kazakhstan. Kazakh is an official state language, whereas Russian is also official, but its main purpose is to maintain communication between different nationalities of the country. However, today the government is very worried about the slow extinction of Kazakh speakers (74%) due to prevalence of Russian ones (94%). The main alarm is the fact that most people whose origin is Kazakh (63% of total population) do not speak their mother tongue.

If you ever walk down the streets of any city, you will rarely hear Kazakh. Walk in to any classroom at a university or a high school that teaches in official state language? There is a 90% probability that Russian I spoken among the students. But this would most probably occur in the cities located in the center of Kazakhstan. If you travel to the south, even Russians speak a better Kazakh than I do there. If you go opposite direction, cities like Kostanay, Pavlodar or Petropavlsk are totally Russianized (mainly because the major ethnic group living there is Russian).

Elder people nowadays run into any random passerby who is speaking Russian and yell “You are Kazakh, you have to speak your mother language!” So, what the government is doing to increase the number of people who speak Kazakh? It has been a few years since a new project has been launched targeting the population of the north. The main idea is to give scholarship to the students from the south, so that they study at universities located in the north and blend in with locals to teach and propagandize Kazakh language. A few years passed, and guess what the result is? Those students are now fluent in Russian and starting to lose their proficiency of Kazakh. This sounded so ridiculous to me, but at the same time very upsetting.

During the high school, 80% of my classmates, including myself, used to speak Russian even though the school’s main teaching language was Kazakh. I noticed how situation was getting worse when I realized that during the lessons of Kazakh language and literature, I could not choose the right Kazakh words and talked in Russian to the teacher. This was a huge disaster to me and I started to feel embarrassed. From that moment, I decided to fix the situation and get back my proficiency level by reading more books.

By the way, I forgot to mention that before starting the primary school, I did not speak any Kazakh. Only after my “cruel” parents registered me to the Kazakh school, I began talking in my mother tongue. Now I am very thankful to them. The same thing happens with most of the children. However, not all the parents decide to paint themselves into a corner because some of them do not know Kazakh either, so helping their child with homework would become quite a deal. So, parents decide to choose an easy path and deprive their child from learning the language which will be a must in his/her future work place.

The good news is many Russian families send their children to Kazakh kindergartens followed by schools with the same instruction language, because of being aware that it is crucial and beneficial for the child’s future career. I hope Kazakhs, who proudly call themselves “patriots”, will get ashamed of seeing a Russian speaking better Kazakh and take actions towards learning the mother language. (Although, I have already seen some who do not give a damn. Unfortunately, those people are incorrigible.)