The Status of English and Russian in Uzbekistan

Komila Tangirova

Abstract

Uzbekistan is a multinational country with the Uzbek language as the only official state language. The Russian language performs the function of a lingua franca for all the ethnical minorities and has been widely used in the country as a second mother tongue. However, since the declaration of independence the importance of the English language has been increasing in all aspects of Uzbek people’s life. Having the status of foreign language Russian and English are quite different in terms of spread and development. Nevertheless, each of them has had and continues to have an important role in society. This paper focuses on the educational and social aspects of status and roles of the English and Russian language in Uzbekistan and illustrates the attitude of people living in this country towards these two languages. The work also analyses how educational reforms connected to both languages have impacted on language situation in the country.

Keywords: English, Russian, lingua franca, educational reform, presidential decree

 

Introduction

Since the Republic of Uzbekistan was declared independent in 1991, the roles of languages used in the country started to change, shifting in dominance and significance in all spheres of Uzbek people’s life. The Uzbek language acquired its position as the only official state language, while Russian was given the status of foreign language and lost its power as “Uzbek’s second mother tongue” (Hasanova, 2010), however, preserving its importance on a communicational level and the function of lingua franca for ethnic minorities. English, in its turn, has been continuously increasing in importance and acquiring the status of the most preferred foreign language to be learned (Hasanova, 2007b).

The Role of the English Language

The spread of English in Uzbekistan greatly differs from that of Russian, back at the beginning of XXth century, being marked mostly as a desirable rather than suppressive process (Hasanova 2007 a, c). Uzbek people realize that English is significant in all regards when it comes to pursuing international education, attaining a good career and keeping up with the rapid pace of world changes. They greatly favour the English language, seeing it as the key to successful and prosperous life. Language specialist Rod Bolitho marks such strong interest in the language by two factors: the intention of studying and working abroad and idealisation of The UK and US. These two reasons, in his opinion, are the strongest motivations for the Uzbek to learn it. Hasanova (2007b) attributes the continuously increasing interest in the country in learning English to the international significance of the language.

Even though Hasanova (2007a) mentioned the scarcity of sources informing the language situation in the country, there are language specialists who have discussed this topic, sharing their empiric observations and experiences. West (2013) characterises English in Uzbekistan as a subject language, mostly acquired through educational training.  Bolitho predicts that English can totally supplant Russian in several decades. Duff and Dickens (2005) in their work drew attention to English teaching and the language level in rural areas in opposition to urban parts of the country. Snow, Kamhi-Stein and Brinton (2006) looked into teacher preparation experiences in the country, illustrating a unique English-medium program preparing English language teachers –IELTE (Institute of English Language Teacher Education).

The English language owns the status of foreign language in Uzbekistan (West & Sheykhametova, 2016). However, the government wants to see the language become a second language, fluently used by society, especially the younger generation. This intention of the government can easily be observed in the decree of the president (see appendix), where the role of English is highly emphasized and both education and media are called for reformation and upgrading to serve the pervasiveness of English in the country. A number of language specialists (Dearden, 2014; West, 2013) highlight the importance of the presidential decree in the increase of attention to the English language in educational establishments, which is occurring in all stages of education.

 

Projects and Government Reforms

Several large-scale projects in cooperation with British Council have been launched to achieve the purpose set by the government, including PRISETT focused on training pre-service teachers and EnSPIRe-U aimed at reforming English teaching in Higher Educational Institutions with non-linguistic majors. (West & Sheykhametova, 2016). The two projects have largely addressed the educational problems described by Duff and Dickens (2005) as well as Hasanova and Shadieva (2008). Both in-service and pre-service teacher training has become the focus of the Ministry of Education in mitigating the historically formed limited approach to language teaching and communicative development. (Hasanova, 2007a)

Since the enforcement of the decree all English language teachers have obtained a privilege of receiving a 15% (urban areas) or 30% (rural areas) bonus on top of their monthly salary, if they have reached a level of C1 in CEFR and prove this with an IELTS certificate or a certificate of language proficiency at the National Testing Centre, which was assigned to design tests to check English teacher’s language proficiency. The aim of this is primarily encouraging teachers to upgrade their language levels, which, in essence, is the principal obligation of a language teacher. Nevertheless, this policy has shown its positive impact on the quality of educational staff and has become the main criterion of employment in the country, not only in education but in other spheres as well.  This approach helped the Uzbek to understand what level must be acquired to meet the requirements of modern standards.

Continuous language training is another important consideration in the Decree. According to it, instead of starting to learn a language from the 5th form (Hasanova, 2007a) children must now start learning English from the 1st form of the primary school, at the age of 6-7. The Decree indicated how the language must be taught in the first year and how it should continue further. It must be noted that English has been taught even at pre-school institutions, being the only foreign language taught at this age and level (Hasanova, 2007c). Therefore, much attention has been paid to the development of appropriate programmes and textbooks in order to meet the modern world criteria and standards of teaching English to young learners.  Media started to broadcast TV shows, programmes and films in English with Uzbek subtitles to serve as additional source for the people of all ages to learn the language and hasten the growth of English in society. The streets are filled with English text, including commercial advertisements, shop names, instructions, etc.

 

New Approaches

As has been mentioned above, the main concentration has become to change the language learning from the traditional Soviet approach of grammar-translation, which was a usual method of teaching English for many years, into a communicative method, practised worldwide. The Ministry of Education with the support of The British Council and Macmillan (Hasanova 2007a, 2007c) have been creating textbooks for all stages of education incorporating state-of-art methods and techniques. Different specially-organized material designing teams are regularly trained in order to provide educational institutions with up-to-date teaching materials in addition to worldly acclaimed best-seller textbooks.

In view of educational reforms and high demand for English together with International practices in different spheres, the idea of introduction of education with English of medium of instruction started to seem feasible to the government. At present, educational establishments with English as a medium of instruction have become the most preferred institutions to study at. To meet the demand for the desire of people to be educated in English, the number of such institutions has been increasing from year to year.

These reforms have undoubtedly been aimed at integration with the Western World and acquiring information access as well as ability to keep up with the pace of changes taking place in the world. Looking back, now it becomes clear that the Uzbek government started the process of bringing the National Language closer to English “to enter the world community” (Shoumarov & Iriskulov, 2005) and communicate effectively and effortlessly on an international level (Hasanova, 2010) when it decided to convert the Uzbek alphabet from Cyrillic to Latin in 1993 (the law on Latin script adoption).

 

The Role of the Russian language

Russian, in its turn, in spite of losing its dominance still remains significant in education, government and commerce (Snow, Kamhi-Stein & Brinton, 2006). Russian language is included in the curriculum of primary, secondary and higher education and is a compulsory subject unlike the case with other foreign languages where there can be a choice. English, German or French is taught as a foreign language, as a result of which the entrance exams of many HEIs contain any of these three languages. Russian is not included in the exam as a foreign language; it is placed alongside the Uzbek language as mother tongue for those who aim to receive education with Russian as medium of instruction. Having analyzed the state laws about language use and the real language situation with languages in Uzbekistan he concludes that Russian can be called “one of the national languages of the Republic” (Djusupov, 2005).

Even though only Uzbek is declared a state language, it can be seen that the government uses Russian equally with the national language and all the documents are issued in two languages. Many local mass media organisations use Russian in broadcasting as well as written press. From my personal observation, it is possible to live in the country the whole life not knowing a word in the Uzbek language and without feeling any inconvenience in terms of communication in any circumstances. This undoubtedly is the consequence of Russian language dominance in all domains during the USSR period (Shoumarov & Iriskulov, 2005)

Usually the Russian language is usually learned by means of communication, as some part of the population uses it on a daily basis and it is not hard to find an atmosphere where one can learn spoken Russian. Therefore, it is hard to call Russian a foreign language, due to its scale of usage and widespread functioning within the country. Most educated people are bilingual in the mother tongue and Russian. Admittedly, the language is mostly used in urban areas, however, it is still understandable for people of rural areas and they can communicate in this language even though it can be on a basic level for some. No other language can be given such a characteristic in terms of functioning in the territory of the republic.

 

Conclusion

In conclusion, language policy in the country can now be characterized as eagerly concentrated on learning English, while Russian still remains as the most widely used socially as a second language. Even though there is not yet so much research covering the language situation in Uzbekistan, it is still clear from those which have been studied that both English and Russian have their own place and role in education and social life in Uzbekistan. It is hard to predict whether English will ever replace Russian and take its position as a lingua franca. Education is a strong tool in positioning the status of language in society. Therefore, perhaps the government by introducing changes into language policy of modern Uzbekistan envisages the time when English will “penetrate into society” (Hasanova, 2007b) and become as common as Russian has been until now.

 

References

Dearden, J. (2014, January n.d.). English as a medium of instruction–a growing global phenomenon. Retrieved from https://www.britishcouncil.org/sites/default/files/e484_emi_-_cover_option_3_final_web.pdf

 Duff, C., & Dickens, M. (2005). A View from the Ground in Uzbekistan. In H. Coleman, J. Gulyamova & A. Thomas (Eds.), National Development, Education and Language in Central Asia and Beyond (pp. 134-141). Uzbekistan: British Council.

Dzhusupov, M. (2005). The Social Functions and Status of Language in Multicultural Contexts. In H. Coleman, J. Gulyamova & A. Thomas (Eds.), National Development, Education and Language in Central Asia and Beyond (pp. 10-19). Uzbekistan: British Council.

Hasanova, D. (2007a). Broadening the boundaries of the expanding circle: English in Uzbekistan. World Englishes26(3), 276-290.

Hasanova, D. (2007b). Functional allocations of English in post-Soviet Uzbekistan: Pedagogical implications for English language teachers (Doctoral dissertation). VDM Verlag Dr. Müller: Germany.

Hasanova, D. (2007c). Teaching and learning English in Uzbekistan. English Today23(01), 3-9.

Hasanova, D., & Shadieva, T. (2008). IMPLEMENTING COMMUNICATIVE LANGUAGE TEACHING IN UZBEKISTAN. TESOL quarterly42(1), 138-143.

Hasanova, D. (2010). English as a trademark of modernity and elitism. English Today26(01), 3-8.

Shoumarov, G., & Iriskulov, A. (2005). Globalisation and the Sociolinguistic Typology of Languages. In H. Coleman, J. Gulyamova & A. Thomas (Eds.), National Development, Education and Language in Central Asia and Beyond (pp. 134-141). Uzbekistan: British Council.

Snow, M. A., Kamhi-Stein, L. D., & Brinton, D. M. (2006). TEACHER TRAINING FOR ENGLISH AS A LINGUA FRANCA. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics26, 261-281.

West, R. (2013). PRESETT Curriculum Reform Project: External Evaluation Report. Tashkent: British Council.

West, R., & Sheykhametova, E. (2016). The State of English in Higher Education in Uzbekistan:  A pilot study. Tashkent: British Council

 

Appendix

President resolves to improve foreign language learning system

12.12.2012

On December 10, 2012 President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov signed a decree “On measures to further improve foreign language learning system”.

It is noted that in the framework of the Law of the Republic of Uzbekistan “On education” and the National Programme for Training in the country, a comprehensive foreign languages’ teaching system, aimed at creating harmoniously developed, highly educated, modern-thinking young generation, further integration of the country to the world community, has been created. During the years of independence, over 51.7 thousand teachers of foreign languages graduated from universities, English, German and French multimedia tutorials and textbooks for 5-9 grades of secondary schools, electronic resources for learning English in primary schools were created, more than 5000 secondary schools, professional colleges and academic lyceums were equipped with language laboratories.

However, analysis of the current system of organizing language learning shows that learning standards, curricula and textbooks do not fully meet the current requirements, particularly in the use of advanced information and media technologies. Education is mainly conducted in traditional methods. Further development of a continuum of foreign languages learning at all levels of education; improving skills of teachers and provision of modern teaching materials are required.

According to the decree, starting from 2013/2014 school year foreign languages, mainly English,  gradually throughout the country will be taught from the first year of schooling in the form  of lesson-games and speaking games, continuing to learning the alphabet, reading and spelling in the second year (grade).

Also it is envisaged that university modules, especially in technical and international areas, will be offered in English and other foreign languages at higher education institutions.

The State Testing Centre, along with other relevant agencies, is tasked with preparing draft proposals on introducing foreign languages testing to the entrance examinations for all higher educational institutions.

In order to increase teaching standards in distant rural areas, the higher educational institutions are allowed targeted admission of people living in distant areas to foreign language programs on the condition that they will oblige themselves to work in the acquired specialty at their residence area for at least 5 years after graduation. The decree also envisages 30% salary increase for foreign language teachers in rural areas, 15% increase for those in other areas.

The National Teleradio Company, State Committee for communications, informatisation and telecommunication technologies, Agency for Press and Information of the Republic of Uzbekistan are tasked to prepare and broadcast language-learning programs, significantly increase access to international educational resources via “Ziyonet” educational network, promote publication of foreign language textbooks, magazines and other materials.

The summary of the Decree has been taken from http://uza.uz/en/society/president-resolves-to-develop-foreign-language-learning-system-11.12.2012-3147

 

komila-photoKomila Tangirova has been teaching English at Uzbekistan State University of World Languages since 2010. Apart from her main responsibility of teaching a Course Integrated Skills to graduating students, she gets involved in projects linked to English teaching in her country. Before coming to Warwick as a 2016 Hornby Scholar, she was taking part in British Council project entitled “The Reform of Testing System at Higher Educational Institutions in Uzbekistan” and worked with language specialists from UK. Testing and assessment is her interest area. One of the reasons she mentions is that she produces and conducts quite a lot of tests and assessments at her region.

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