MULTILINGUALISM IN KAZAKHSTAN’S HIGHER EDUCATION: CODESWITCHING AMONG LANGUAGE DEPARTMENT STUDENTS
The paper examines attitudes and some functions of Kazakh-English code-switching among foreign language learners in the classroom and outside the classroom activities. To achieve these goals, quantitative and qualitative research methods such as observation, questionnaires, interviews with students have been used. The results demonstrate that attitudes toward the promotion of English in higher education are positive in general. However, there are still some concerns on its usefulness.
Keywords: Code-switching; attitude; function, Kazakh, English
Code-switching as a language phenomenon has been investigated largely during the last decades. Defined as the use of two languages in the same speech event, it has attracted academic interest in the field of foreign language learning. Much debate has been focused on the attitudes towards code switching and functions of code switching in a foreign language classroom environment.
This paper investigates the attitudinal approach towards code-switching among learners and teachers of code-switching. The aim of the study is to determine attitudes of students and teachers towards code-switching and define some functions of code-switching. The study is based on the observations, questionnaires conducted among students with different proficiency levels of English and teachers of L.N. Gumilyov Eurasian National University (Astana, Kazakhstan).
Nowadays the English language is becoming the leading language of the modern world as a result of globalization and integration, dynamic migration processes and international contacts in all spheres of life. As well-known scholar David Crystal  states, approximately one out of every four users of English is the native speaker of the language and the number of non-native speakers is growing steadily. According to the Internet sources, speakers of English as a second language differentiates from 470 million people to one billion people which depends on the level of literacy and mastery of the language. Many researchers refer English as an international, world, universal language and use the term “English as a lingua franca” as a way of communication between nonnative speakers of English. Due to these factors, world economy and culture are becoming interconnected and interdependent in political, social and technological aspects.
Kazakhstan’s linguistic landscape can be described as the unique lingual space where the representatives of more than 100 ethnic groups live in a multilingual society . According to the Constitution of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the Kazakh language is the state language of Kazakhstan. The Russian language has the status of the language of interethnic communication due to historical reasons of the Soviet Union period in Kazakhstan.
The globalization trends in the world, the expansion of international contacts, which have affected Kazakhstan’s political, economic and social spaces, have led to the dynamic development of the English language in the sociolinguistic space of Kazakhstan. Due to general tendencies that have happened in the world, significant changes have taken place in the educational space of Kazakhstan as well. Nowadays the proficiency in the English language is of high importance for the competitivenss of the young generation of Kazakhstan. This fact is reflected in policy documents where the main focus is given to the necessity for learning English. The project “Trinity of Languages” was introduced by the Government of the Republic of Kazakhstan in 2007, where the English language has been designated as a condition for successful integration into the global economy . The Ministry of Culture and Information developed the State Program of Languages Development and Functioning in the Republic of Kazakhstan for 2011-2020 years where one of the key indicators is to increase the proportion of the English speaking population up to 10% by 2014, up to 1% by 2017, and up to 20% by 2020. It is expected that the proportion of the population who speaks three languages, i.e. Kazakh, Russian, and English, up to 10% by 2014, up to 12% by 2017, and up to 15% by 2020 .
In 2004, an experiment on early study of English (starting from Grade 2) in 32 schools of the country was launched by the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Their number has currently reached 165. Statsistical data show that in 2007 the total number of English-medium schools was 2, in 2008 it was doubled, in 2009 its number reached 6 and in 2010 the quantity of schools was 7 . The number of learners in English-medium schoolswas 418 in 2007, 883 in 2008, 1060 in 2009, and 1207 in 2010. The educational system in Kazakhstan has undergone significant changes in recent years. In the annual address to the people of Kazakhstan “Social-economic modernization – the main vector of the development of Kazakhstan”  President Nursultan Nazarbayev highlighted the development of multilingualism among future specialists which is the basis for mobility and competitiveness of the nation. Special departments for training multilingual specialists have been opened in 32 higher educational institutions since September 1, 2012 where 5,5 thousand people are studying now.
Nowadays the English language has become one of the leading languages in the educational space of Kazakhstan and this trend will undoubtedly continue in the future.
The research was carried out at L.N. Gumilyov Eurasian National University. The university is situated in the capital of the country – Astana. L.N. Gumilyov Eurasian National University is one of the main universities of Kazakhstan. The study was carried out as follows: First, observations were made in order to define the frequency of using code-switching in the classroom and outside the classroom in the university; secondly, a questionnaire was distributed to the teachers and students to acquire additional information about their language use and their attitudes towards code-switching; and thirdly, teacher and student interviews were conducted with the purpose of determining their attitudes towards code-switching.
Eight groups of foreign language learners (2 groups – 1st year of study, 2 groups – 2nd year of study, 2 groups – 3rd year of study, 2-groups – 4th year of study) were observed during one week. The recordings of the interaction were made by means of dictaphones as well as taking notes. Audio-recordings of 3 lessons were used to determine functions of code switching. The total recording time was 150 minutes. 21 students participated in it. The activities take place among 3year students.
We have developed a questionnaire for students. The structure of the questionnaire was as follows:
Section A – Information about participants.
Section B – Attitudes toward promotion the use of code-switching.
Each question had several answers using a 5-point Likert scale:
1 — Strongly agree;
2 – Agree;
3 – Disagree;
4 — Strongly disagree; 5 — Not given.
The data were analysed with SPSS 16 programme.
We have also conducted interviews with students of the university. 21 students participated in the interviews. The interviews were carried out to determine the attitudes towards code-switching. It was used to complement the information obtained during the observation. We also wanted to compare between the interview’s answers and the answers given by teachers and students in the questionnaires. The questions include the participants’ view on code-switching and their language use.
467 students from 1 to 4 courses, learning English as a foreign language, and 53 English language teachers participated in the questionnaire.
65% of the students were female, 35% were male. Coverage of respondents-students on the year of study was evenly distributed: 27% of students were freshmen, 22% were sophomores, 25% were junior students and 26% were senior students. The native language for 61.5% of students was Kazakh, 34.2% of them indicated Russian, and 4.3% indicated Uzbek as their mother tongue. Distribution of respondents-students according to their proficiency in English is presented in Table 1.
Table 1 – English language proficiency level
Level Percent (%)
As can be observed from Table 1, most of the students assessed themselves as Intermediate users (47%) and Upper-Intermediate users (31%). 12% of students referred to themselves as Beginner level of English. 12% of respondents assessed themselves as Pre-Intermediate English language users, and only 1% of respondents believe that they spoke fluent English.
During the observation we have tried to determine the frequency of Kazakh-English codeswitching. The main groups of situations with bilingual utterances of students and teachers include classroom activities and interactions outside the classroom in the university. The frequency of codeswitching among students is given in Table 2.
Table 2 – Frequency of Kazakh-English code-switching
Situation Frequency of code-
switching ge Percenta
Outside the classroom
university in the 423 83 %
In the classroom 86 17 %
Total: 509 100 %
As can be seen from Table 2, students switch to English before, after or between the lessons when one of the lessons is not deactivated fully, and another begins to be activated. 83% of the participants switched outside the classroom, whereas only 17% of students switched in the classroom during the activities.
Table 3 – Students’ attitude towards code-switching
Item Description Students’ answers (percentage)
Stro ngly Agree A
gree D isagree Str ongly Disagree Und
switching leads to the loss of Kazakh. 13 3
4 12 8
switching leads to the loss of English. 7 2
6 16 6
Kazakh-English codeswitching leads to the maintenance of English. 15 4
6 11 6
I prefer to study only in English. 23 2
7 11 12
I prefer to study in English and Kazakh. 25 3
7 6 12
Kazakh-English codeswitching contributes to productive language acquisition. 25 4
3 7 13
Kazakh-English codeswitching means high proficiency in both languages. 20 4
3 9 7
Kazakh-English codeswitching means lack of proficiency in both languages. 13 3
3 7 5
Table 3 shows the students’ perceptions of Kazakh-English code switching and its influence on Kazakh and English. According to Table 3, nearly the half of the participants (46%) agreed with the statement that Kazakh-English code switching leads to the loss of the Kazakh language and the same number of respondents (46%) disagreed with the statement. 8% of them left the statement unanswered. The next item displays the impact of code switching on the English language. The responses demonstrated that only 32% of participants agreed that code switching leads to the loss of English. The majority of students (62%) disagreed with this statement and considered KazakhEnglish code switching as a useful tool for better understanding of the target language. 6% of them left the statement unanswered.
47% of informants think that Kazakh-English code-switching leads to the maintenance of English and 48% of them disagree with it. 6% of informants found it difficult to answer. For the language of instruction, 49% of respondents prefer to use only English in second language classroom, whereas 38% of them hold negative attitude towards it. 12% of students left the question unanswered. 63% of participants hold positive attitudes towards Kazakh-English code switching. In this regard, 66% of participants consider that code switching contributes to productive mastery of English. For the majority of students (61%), code switching is regarded as a high level of language fluency, 32% of respondents disagree with this statement. 45% of participants view code switching as a lack of language proficiency. And half the students (50%) shared the opinion on the negative effect of code switching. 5% of the informants left this statement unanswered.
Interviews with students of the university have been carried out to determine their attitudes towards code-switching. The informants answered the questions of interview in three languages:
Kazakh, Russian and English. The questions are as follows:
What do you think about Kazakh-English code switching?
What’s your attitude towards using the native language in the English language classroom?
Many respondents think that code-switching is an effective way of learning a foreign language. The answers of the following participants prove the statement.
«Менің ойымша, код ауысымы тілді үйренуде өте тиімді құрал. Ағылшын тілін үйренуде кейбір түсініксіз мәселелердің мағынасын қазақ тілінде түсіндіру арқылы жеткізуге болады». (Студент, 19 лет, муж.)
«In my opinion, code-switching is a very effective tool. When you learn difficult issues in English their meaning can be given by means of Kazakh». (Student, 19 years old, male)
As can be seen from the answers above, code-switching is considered as a tool that assists in a foreign language learning. However, it should be noted that for some respondents, code-switching is associated with a deficiency in second language acquisition. They believe that code-switching negatively affects learning the languages.
«As a learner of English I prefer to speak only English in English lessons. Maybe, codeswitching helps us in some way but using only English contributes to effective learning of the language». (Student, 22 years old, female)
«Я думаю, что переключение кодов мешает полноценному усвоению иностранного языка. Студент привыкает переключаться с одного языка на другой, следовательно, не говорит полноценно ни на одном языке». (Студент, 2-курс, 18 лет, жен.)
«I think that code switching prevents second language acquisition. A student gets used to switch from one language to another, consequently, he does not speak any of these languages coherently». (Student, 2-course, 18 years old, female)
The results of interview illustrate that there is no unanimous opinion on code-switching. For most of participants, it is important to keep the target language exclusively. Moreover, many of the believe that there is no beneficial aspects of code-switching. Only few of the participants think that code-switching promotes foreign language learning.
This study was an attempt to determine attitudes towards Kazakh-English code switching among students and define some functions of code-switching. In order to achieve the aim of the research the following methods were used:
1) observation of the activities in the classroom and outside the classroom;
3) interviews with teachers and students.
During the observations the frequency of code-switching among students were identified. Code-switching mostly occurred outside the classroom. This can be explained by the fact that during the breaks between classes the second language is not deactivated fully, therefore, it happens frequently. Besides, the use of the native language in the foreign language classroom is not desired and, in some cases, even not allowed. The analysis of interaction among and students show that code switching contributes to understanding of words, expressions, and concepts, explaining grammatical rules and structures, regulating classroom interactions, asking equivalent meanings in L1, clarifying understanding of vocabulary and grammatical rules thus implementing content transmission and classroom management. Despite the fact that code switching is regarded as a negative phenomenon in the foreign language learning process, the results of informal talk with and students show their positive attitude towards it. They believe that code switching contributes to successful fulfilment of tasks, helps them to feel satisfied with language learning. They also feel more comfortable and less tense during the lessons. In general, code switching plays an important role in foreign language learning.
The results of the questionnaire support using code-switching during foreign language classes. The data obtained show that code switching is one of the features of functioning of English in the educational environment and is perceived as a support mechanism for English language proficiency. The majority of students and teachers approve the positive influence of code-switching. However, there is a slight concern about the negative impact of code-switching on the language learning process. Some respondents consider code-switching as a phenomenon which hinders the process of second language acquisition, a sign of deficiency.
The results of the interview illustrate controversial opinions on code-switching. Although
many of the respondents support code-switching, there is still some doubts in using the native language in English language classrooms. However, during the observation of lessons codeswitching occurred in the speech of students. This confirms the fact that some of informants are unaware of their usage during the lessons. It was difficult for participants to find a compromise between, on the one hand, exclusive use of the target language, and, on the other hand, no use of it.
In general, the results of the research illustrate that code-switching occurs in the speech of students and teachers. Most of them regard code-switching positively but there is still negative attitude towards it among teachers. For majority of students it is rather a helpful tool in acquiring the foreign language.
It should be noted that the bulk of studies on code-switching has been carried out in a natural bilingual settings. Therefore, the area of code-switching in the classroom deserves to be studied further. The studies on code-switching in the classroom as a way of assisting students in the learning process, the research on how students use code-switching in a foreign language classroom with a larger number of students and a longer time will be of an interest for the researchers in the future.
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