Dispatch from Kazakhstan – A three language policy

Published on 22nd June, 2010 in Author Blog by Lindsay Clandfield

525155966_46482972b8My last trip before the summer was a week-long tour of Kazakhstan universities. It was my second time in the country and I was especially excited to visit the capital Astana, which I had included as the main topic of a lesson in Global Elementary (A created capital, in unit 2 if anyone is interested).

Fifteen years ago there had been hardly anything there but a small settlement on the steppe. In 1997 the President decided that the capital would move from Almaty to Astana and it would become a beacon of modernity. In my last dispatch I shared some video moments of the city so you can see for yourselves. The reasons for the move are not entirely clear – people told me that it was to put the capital more in the centre of the country, others said it was to move it away from the neighbours but I am still unsure.

Anyway, it seems like it was one those things that if the President says so then it just has to happen. And here’s where English language instruction comes in. Three years ago, the President decided that Kazakhstan would embark on a three language policy: Kazakh, Russian and English. Now the majority of Kazakhs speak both Russian and English, and often codeswitch between the two. But not necessarily English.

All this seems set to change. Everywhere I was in the country I could see advertisements and official signs in all three languages. The English teachers I met said it was going to be long road but they seemed quite confident about it. I also spoke to teacher trainers, who told me that CLIL projects (Content Language and Integrated Learning) were already underway at schools across the country. A new university was also opening that would have instruction almost exclusively in English. It reminded me of similar things I have seen across Europe. As David Graddol says in his landmark book English Next, English has become mission imperative in many countries, and is becoming a component of basic education. Kazakhstan is joining what Graddol calls ‘The World English Project’ which, if it succeeds, could generate over 2 billion new English speakers.

Photo credit: Alastair Rae. Creative Commons Licence