Development of multilingual competence through cultural immersion in the language classroom
Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №7 - 2015
Author: Smagina Anna, Kazakh American Free University, Kazakhstan
we enter a classroom in Kazakhstan
we hear students speaking at least two languages: Russian and Kazakh. What is
interesting is that they speak both languages at once. Some Kazakh words are
used as substitutes for some Russian words and vice versa. This comes naturally
with being raised in bilingual background as, going back to Soviet times,
Kazakh families used both the Kazakh and Russian languages to communicate
outside and inside a family circle, at work and community relatively.
of Kazakh schools was poor during the Soviet period and only after the Soviet
Union collapsed in 1991 the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic
of Kazakhstan decided to restore the Kazakh culture and re-establish schools
with the Uzbek, Uighur, Tajik, and, of course, Kazakh languages. The government
still opens new Kazakh schools. Thus, current situation is as follows. A year
ago secondary schools had classes taught in six different languages: Kazakh,
Russian, Uzbek, Uighur, Tajik and the English language. There are almost eight
thousand comprehensive secondary schools nowadays, among them 3817 are Kazakh
schools, 1400 are Russian schools, 60 are Uzbek, 13 are Uighur, 3 are Tajik,
and 8 are English schools. Moreover, there are 2193 schools with two or more
of languages at schools is not random. People of different nationalities live
here as a big family; they get familiar with the languages of other
nationalities, they even learn those languages. Absattarov and Sadykov (1999)
in their research showed that each respondent had claimed to have neighbours
with no less than five different nationalities. 81,3 % had friends of other
nationalities and more than 50% had relatives of other nationalities (the
amount of respondents is 1392 from Kazakhstan) . Therefore, each
region needed to have diverse schools so that everyone could have had an equal
opportunity to study.
strategy of educational policies in Kazakhstan is to create generations
who can speak 3 languages: Kazakh, Russian and English. Kazakh and Russian
families tend to get their children to Kazakh schools so that they would repeat
the same situation with Kazakh families back to the Soviet period: Russian at
home, Kazakh at school.
It is not
only logical but has scientific ground in it. Language is a mirror of the
culture. Thus, cultural immersion in the classroom should increase cultural
awareness among students with different nationalities as well as language
acquisition in the language classroom.
of multilingual education started in 2004. The idea was given by Nursultan
Nazarbaev, the President of Kazakhstan. Later it was developed and finally
approved in 2007 as a special cultural project, Trinity of Languages. The
project was proposed in the Address of President of the Republic of Kazakhstan
N. Nazarbayev to the people of Kazakhstan, “New Kazakhstan in the new world”,
and entailed the acquisition of the Kazakh language as the state language,
Russian as the language of interethnic communication, and English as the
language for successful integration to global economy . The creation of
equal conditions for acquisition of the above-mentioned languages does not mean
equal sphere of their usage and status. The emphasis is on teaching component
of the cultural project, on multilingual education. The education is based on
two essential constituents: establishment of multilingual secondary schools and
training for personnel to teach in these schools.
have already started with Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools. The plan is to have
20 of those around Kazakhstan
and 700 of state comprehensive schools in regions .
universities launched multilingual programs of education to train qualified
teachers able to teach in three languages . This new approach to education
requires new methods of teaching along with teaching materials and organization
of the learning process.
has several definitions: it is the usage of several languages within the
community (first of all, country); it is the usage of several languages
according to the specific communicative situation. One way or another, it is
the basis for multicultural personality. Multilingual person is a person who is
able to use different languages depending on the situation. However, learning
foreign languages does not mean being multilingual. Multilingual education only
takes place when other subjects are taught in foreign languages, for example,
History in English .
of multilingual education is to result in training a multilingual personality,
thus, includes the content and principles of education, new techniques using
multilingual phrasebooks, dictionaries and course books with similarities and
differences of the native and target languages .
of education should provide equality of the content to teach both target
languages, starting from universal language phenomena to the specific ones.
purpose of foreign language teaching is to train multicultural and
multilanguage personality with information, communicative and intellectual
needs, abilities and competencies, which allow a person to successfully
function under the conditions of international communication within
professional sphere as the object of foreign cognition, communication and art.
Thus, being multilingual and multicultural means not only to be able to
communicate using different languages within different cultures but also
represent your own culture and language.
personality is an active speaker of several languages, who also presents:
personality, which is a complex of psychophysiological qualities allowing
individuals to speak several languages at once;
communicative personality, which is a set of abilities to behave verbally and
use several languages and means of communication with different people;
vocabulary personality, a set of worldview directions and experiences,
reflected in lexical systems of several languages .
The aim of
multicultural and multilanguage education is to build a personality which has
an ability to function actively in multinational and multicultural environment,
developed sense of understanding and respect towards other cultures, to live in
peace with other nationalities and be tolerant to different races and religions.
Therefore, it is our responsibility to develop those qualities in a student.
middle of multicultural communication there is a person with multilingual
competence, based on the native and target (non-native) languages and cultures.
personality, according to N. Nazarbayev (1996), from ethnocultural point of
view, is an individual oriented to other cultures through his or her own .
He also mentions the qualities for multicultural personality to possess:
linguistic consciousness (knowledge of the native, state and foreign languages,
which develops worldview and basis for further professional development);
worldview (developed coherent map of interactions between such terms as world,
culture and socium);
historical consciousness (knowledge of myths, symbols, images which influence
multicultural personality as well);
geographical consciousness (developing multicultural personality through
country-specific studies and ethnographic aspects);
artistic consciousness (introduction into cultural diversity of the whole world
through pieces of art in different spheres).
this definition is not complete. According to the works of A. Jurinsky,
multilingual personality entails the acceptance of the uniqueness of other
culture by the former, the personality is ready for tolerant cross-cultural
generally accepted that there are three levels of multilingual personality:
high, medium and low. The high level is characterized by the high level of
empathy and tolerance, ability to resolve conflicts. The medium level implies
partial development of the above-mentioned characteristics; the personality
tends to display proneness to conflict in some cross-cultural situations. The
low level of multilingual personality entails poorly developed empathy and
tolerance, selfishness and proneness to conflicts.
As one can
see the essential criteria for multilingual personality are such
characteristics as empathy and tolerance, thus, he or she has a potential to
have cross-cultural dialogue. Knowledge of the languages by individuals is
required for cross-cultural communication. Moreover, those characteristics
mentioned appear only if the interlocutors have fully developed worldview with
all its components (world, society, culture, history, geography) associated
with the relative notions acquired while learning languages. In other words, it
is not only the transferring of the linguistic knowledge but acquisition of
language conception of the world.
teaching foreign languages it is of primary importance to develop
lingvocultural competence that is recognition of the language as depository of
the culture, the interconnection between the language and the history of the
people, acquisition of speech etiquette and cross-cultural communication.
new languages starts in the language classroom. As it has been already
mentioned new education programs require new methods and new organization.
Language classrooms are a great place to develop those qualities needed for
successful results of multilingual education. The most essential part here is
developing a multilingual competence. The term entails a system of linguistic
knowledge, ability to detect differences and similarities between different
languages, understanding the functions of the language, developed cognitive
competence improves understanding the methods and the process of language
acquisition and develops the ability to communicate and act in unfamiliar
In order to
design a concrete action plan for developing the above-mentioned competence in
EFL classroom it is of interest to study current situation at universities.
research conducted by the author of the article showed that more than 75%
(76.6%, 260 students total) of the respondents use at least three languages in
their everyday communication, among them 51% are Kazakh, the rest are Russian
and other nationalities. 87% agreed that it is necessary to speak several
languages and will need them in future. What is important is that 70% of them
want to learn languages at university.
recommendations for teaching foreign languages students mentioned more practice
with native speakers and cultural studies as there is a lot of specific vocabulary
coming from a foreign culture. 61% of the respondents admitted to be familiar
with the term “multilanguage education” and found it useful and desirable.
one to the conclusion that the survey reveals the challenge of bringing
cultural immersion to the language classroom in order to provide proper
language acquisition as well as develop multilingual competence.
are at least two constituents one can apply within multilanguage education for
the purpose of developing multilingual competence of the multilingual
personality of all levels. One the one hand, there is new organization of the
learning process in EFL classroom, and teaching techniques, on the other hand.
Current education system implies two branches according to the teaching
language: Russian and Kazakh. The English language, correspondingly, is taught
in separate groups, Russian and Kazakh. Mixed groups of students from Russian
and Kazakh branches will provide acquaintance with a different culture through
learning one target language. As a multilingual personality has three levels,
language proficiency has three levels as well. According to the Common European
Framework of Reference for languages, first levels of language proficiency (A1,
A2) entail the ability to communicate on everyday topics (family, work, hobby,
etc.). Therefore, in EFL classroom students will share personal as well as
cultural information in mixed groups providing cultural immersion. Studying a
new culture (English) together, Kazakh and Russian students will found
themselves closer so students have the responsibility to be a representative of
their cultures in class.
is responsible for organizing effective exercises to provide an incentive so
that the interest to share cultural knowledge emerges. Starting from the very
first classes the teacher should conduct team building activities, with the
following group work of all kind.
teaching methods and resources allow educators to adjust current education
processes to add the activities required to build multilingual competence to
regular ones in the course books. Group work, projects, role play, critical
thinking, conflict resolution, all these activities tend to have a positive
effect on developing qualities and abilities necessary to become a
without saying, as it has been mentioned before, courses with mixed groups of
students must be developed from the general to specific, from the similar to
different, from the simplest to difficult. It is the most essential part at the
beginning of the course A1 to show students what they have in common in their
cultures with the help of team building. The specific schedules must be
developed to provide group work for the most of activities in the course; the
teacher must not forget to mix students for every new group work. Further,
according to the level of proficiency and academic year, the course includes
projects as extracurricular activity, and so on and so forth.
As a high
level of multilanguage personality implies the high level of empathy and
tolerance, ability to resolve conflicts, the teacher in the language classroom
develops activities directed to critical thinking and conflict resolution. The
present-day situation in the world gives no choice but to learn how to be
tolerant and not to get into a conflict. Students with a high level of
proficiency are suggested to study news and read newspapers, in projects,
suggest the ways out.
considering the results of the author’s survey and suggested changes, one can
make a conclusion that the development of multilingual competence may be
achieved with the help of educators as well as students. The survey showed that
three forth of the respondents of both nationalities use the three languages
outside of classroom. It means that with mixed groups and team building
activities students tend to communicate with each other during breaks, so there
is a possibility of stimulus to study other languages except English outside of
the class (Russian and Kazakh).
All the suggested
measures require further experimental research; however, it is obvious that
such a brand new approach to education is likely to develop a high sense of
tolerance and empathy, ability to stay out of conflicts along with academic
skills required for multiple language acquisition.
of the proposed changes in EFL teaching is to design multilingual competence as
an ability to learn a foreign language independently meaning feeling for
language and desire to acquire foreign languages with the cultures they
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Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №7 - 2015