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Why Kyrgyz is difficult to learn

2012 March 8
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by learnkyrgyz

What's standing between you and fluency in a new language?

A good friend an an amazing blogger, Bektour of Kloop.kg, published an insightful post today on his struggles with the Kyrgyz language.

I am sure many readers will be able to relate to at least some of the difficulties described. While the original post is in Russian, you will find excerpts from it in English below.

Bektour writes:

I decided to learn Kyrgyz. For the first time in my life I realised, with such urgency and clarity, that I want to start speaking Kyrgyz. Also, to understand it, to write in it, and so on.

I still insist that no one should be obliged to learn Kyrgyz in Kyrgyzstan, but for me, specifically, at this point of my life, this is something I want.

He goes on to describe his reasons for learning the language. Learning Kyrgyz would make his life easier, Bektour reasons. His main motivation, however, is to improve the sharing of information in Kyrgyz—Bektour is a vocal advocate of translating Internet resources, such as the Google interface, into the language that is widely spoken in Kyrgyzstan but enjoys very limited presence online.

The biggest difficulty in acquiring the language, Bektour discovered, was the means of acquisition. Granted, Bektour is semi-permanently based in Bishkek (he’s a frequent traveller), which should ensure unimpeded access to all kinds of Kyrgyz language learning resources: books, TV and radio programmes, and, most importantly, native speakers.

Things aren’t so easy, however. Here’s what he discovered:

Alas, the current situation is such that the Kyrgyz language can be freely and easily acquired only by one group of people—those who were born and raised in Kyrgyz-speaking families.

For many language learners, an “immersion experience”, i.e. spending time in an environment where the language is spoken, is the ultimate aspiration (and frequently the ultimate excuse for failing to master the language). But being born into a family of native speakers of your target language as a precondition for language learning, that’s going a bit too far, isn’t it?

Bektour explains:

The issue is not the quality (or lack thereof) of Kyrgyz language instruction in schools. And neither is the abundance or the dearth of literature published in Kyrgyz. All these are secondary factors.

The issue is that if you can be clearly identified as a native resident of Kyrgyzstan—and you speak Kyrgyz with an accent—then you and your attempts to start speaking Kyrgyz are met with ridicule at best—and with aggression at worst.

He gives plentiful examples, from his own experience growing up, how damaging mockery of one’s attempts to master a new language can be to one’s self-esteem—and to one’s persistence in learning the language. The following parallel is a particularly good illustration of this:

Now imagine you’re learning English, for example. You go to London for language practice. You start trying to speak English, and everyone howls with laughter when you do. Are you going to learn it? Oh no, I really doubt that.

Those of us who are “foreigners” (meaning, we can’t be easily identified as people born in Kyrgyzstan) are much better off. In fact, we are likely to be encouraged and praised by the locals for our attempts, however measly, to speak Kyrgyz. On the other hand,

If you are an ethnic Kyrgyz who doesn’t speak Kyrgyz and you decide to go to a Kyrgyz-speaking village for complete language immersion, then people are going to laugh at you—at best. And at worst, you’ll get a good whack on the head.

Bektour’s post raises many important issues pertaining to race, ethnicity, and the post-Soviet language debate. But what are the implications for language learners who do not hail from Kyrgyzstan and want to learn the language?

The key takeaway point would be that non-Russian-speakers who are learning Kyrgyz in Kyrgyzstan are at a definite advantage. They can easily enlist the support of native Kyrgyz speakers, and this can be invaluable in language learning.

Those of us who are not clearly identifiable as “foreigners” in Kyrgyzstan (individuals from other former Soviet countries, who can easily pass for Kyrgyzstan-born Russian speakers) have a bigger challenge of being discouraged from learning the language both by Kyrgyz and non-Kyrgyz speakers. For one, when I was in Kyrgyzstan, I was frequently asked “why the hell” was I attempting to learn the language.

This slight disadvantage, however, comes nowhere near the enormous obstacles faced by those ethic Kyrgyz individuals who are attempting to master the language as adults. For Bektour, the way forward is clear:

One day I will learn to speak Kyrgyz anyway, because it’s not my habit to give up on my goals.

I guess the first thing I’ll have to learn is the phrases to shut up all the idiots who’re going to laugh at my accent.

That’s my kind of approach!

What about you? What challenges have you encountered while learning Kyrgyz—or another foreign language? Please share them in the comments.

Recommended reading:

Photo by Giuseppe Bognanni

Google Translate in Kyrgyz: Coming Soon

2011 November 10
by learnkyrgyz

Want to speak to sellers in Bishkek's colourful bazaars? Google Translate won't quite cut it.

Google Translate will soon feature Kyrgyz translation, say Kyrgyz news media. The popular online search translate engine will offer translation from and into Kyrgyz, courtesy of a group of Kyrgyz-speaking enthusiasts who are helping feed Kyrgyz texts with translations into Google’s database.

Launch estimates for Google Translate in Kyrgyz range from 3 to 5 months, which means we won’t see a Kyrgyz language option in the popular online translator until February 2012, at least.

Since Google Translate relies heavily on parallel texts (the trick behind its often outstanding translations between major European languages), the quality of Kyrgyz translations via the service will largely depend on the kinds of texts that are entered into its database.

Most parallel texts with Kyrgyz are likely to have Russian as the second language, so we can expect better quality results with Kyrgyz-Russian translation on Google, while Kyrgyz-English will probably be more glitchy.

While the addition of Kyrgyz to Google Translate is certainly an exciting development, I wouldn’t get my hopes up.

Although highly logical and structured, Turkic languages, such as Kyrgyz, are notoriously difficult to translate. Turkish, for example, has been part of Google’s online translation system for a while now, but the results are still subpar. For a glimpse of said results, check out this automatic translation of a children’s story from Turkish:

A night of Christmas. Freezer, the blistering had a cold. Passers-by the collar of their coats omitted, atkılarına clad, fast speed walking. Some home late, rushing up, sometimes going to a fun place. They run children from each other, throwing snowballs. Most of the night they just had the pleasure. They laugh, and shouted with joy.

Hans Christian Andersen, The Little Match Girl
Translated from Turkish by Google Translate

If your goal is communication in a (relatively) rare language, such as Kyrgyz, learning this language to fluency is still your best option. The dearth of English-language textbooks for learning Kyrgyz need not be an obstacle. A selection of source texts (easily obtainable online) coupled with good language learning techniques and a bit of persistence should get you there in a few months’ time.

If you’re new to learning a foreign language to fluency and your goal is communication, you should by all means get the Speak from Day 1 series by polyglot Benny Lewis. Yes, it’s a shameless affiliate plug, but trust me, it’s worth it!

After all, even if the Kyrgyz version of Google Translate proves to be better than our wildest dreams, it will never be able to match a solid command of the language. So what are you waiting for? Go, get learning!

Recommended reading:

Photo by neiljs

How to Say Hello in Kyrgyz

2011 March 26
by learnkyrgyz

One of the first things you will want to learn in Kyrgyz is how to say “hello” and exchange various pleasantries when meeting a Kyrgyz speaker. This post will help you learn to do just that.

The list of Kyrgyz phrases below assumes that you have basic reading skills in Kyrgyz. If you do not, there is no need to worry—the Kyrgyz alphabet is very straightforward. If you haven’t had any previous exposure to Kyrgyz phonetics, it would be a good idea to learn to read in Kyrgyz before attempting to master these phrases. If you are pressed for time, just ask a Kyrgyz-speaking friend to read on these Kyrgyz phrases for you as you try to imitate your friend’s pronunciation as closely as possible.

Here are some basic greetings to get you started in Kyrgyz:

Салам! — Hi!
This greeting is very informal and is generally used by young people when they are among friends. I don’t suggest you try it with older people or if you want to convey some respect.

When it comes to more formal Kyrgyz greetings, things get trickier, since the form of the greeting depends on two factors: (A) the degree of formality between you and the person you are greeting and (B) whether you are the person doing the greeting or replying to another person’s greeting. read more…

Kyrgyz News as a Language Learning Resource

2011 March 22
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by learnkyrgyz

International news sources can be a great resource for language learners, particularly when it comes to rarer languages, such as Kyrgyz.

Exposure to authentic reading material in a foreign language has many benefits. These include increased fluency and confidence in the language, better familiarity with grammatical structures, and exposure to idioms, collocations, and other useful phrases in Kyrgyz (which tend to be conspicuously absent from traditional textbooks).

One international news source of interest is the website of the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT) in the Kyrgyz language. It is perfect for language learners in that all news is available in a variety of languages, ranging from English to French to Russian to Hungarian. Whatever your native language, you can easily switch between reading the news in Kyrgyz and in your language of choice. This is arguably better than looking words up in a dictionary or giving up on reading advanced texts altogether because they are too difficult for a learner’s level of proficiency in the language.

Multilingual news sources, like TRT Kyrgyz, are essentially an enormous database of parallel texts in Kyrgyz and in your native language. For English speakers, another parallel news source is the previously mentioned Kyrgyz service of BBC Online.

For uses of translations and parallel texts in language learning, you may check out this tutorial by Iversen, a polyglot member of the How To Learn Any Language forum.

Can you suggest other resources for parallel texts in Kyrgyz? Let’s hear about them in the comments!

Photo by Dustin Diaz

Learning Kyrgyz: Website Redesign

2011 March 20
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by learnkyrgyz

This website is currently undergoing a major redesign and is being moved to a new server. Unfortunately, technical problems with my previous hosting company mean that I have to move every post manually, and this will likely result in a loss of all previous user comments.

I am putting a new commenting system in place, which will make interaction between readers more streamlined, and will allow you to subscribe to replies to your comments.

Please excuse any glitches you may experience during the transfer. The new setup will make the website load much quicker, with less downtime, and will make it easier to use, with more features. Stay posted and, if you are not yet subscribed to our feed, this is a good chance to do so!

Kyrgyz language course for English and German speakers

2010 September 6
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by learnkyrgyz

Learn the Kyrgyz Language: Connecting with People and Culture is a new book geared specifically to German-speaking learners of the Kyrgyz language. The excerpt below is from a recent announcement distributed via Central-Eurasia-L, a mailing list for Central Eurasian Studies.

The first Kyrgyz Language book for German speakers, “Lernen Sie Kirgisisch – oeffnet tausend Tueren zu Land und Leuten”, is now available. The book is the translation of “Learn the Kyrgyz Language–Connecting with People and Culture”, which was written and published by Bakytbek Tokubek uulu in 2010. These books are the first complete and comprehensive versions available, and are suitable for those interested in getting acquainted with the Kyrgyz language, as well as those wishing to increase their proficiency. These books contain: – 334 pages, all in color – Audio CD with listening and verbal exercises – Phrasebook – Grammatical overviews – Cultural Information – and many more features. It is both for absolute beginners and for intermediate learners. The English version can be purchased for $30, the German version for 30 euro. For more information or purchases, please contact: For the English version:  kglanguage@gmail.com For the German version:  kirgisisch@gmail.com More information and sample pages are available at:
In English: http://users.fulladsl.be/spb15502/KG/KyrgyzLanguageBookInfo.pdf
In German: http://users.fulladsl.be/spb15502/KG/NeuesKirgisischesLehrbuchInfo.pdf

Great new book on language learning – the Language Hacking Guide

2010 June 17
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by learnkyrgyz

Open book

Benny Lewis, also known as “the Irish polyglot”, has recently published a book in which he distils years of his language learning experience in a highly enjoyable and readable form. The book, which he called the Language Hacking Guide, is packed with language learning tips and advice both for beginning and advanced language learners.

The book’s humorous approach, which is typical of Benny’s writing in general, is a definite confidence booster, particularly for those of us who are learning languages on our own and may need an occasional word of encouragement.

Benny also runs a highly popular blog, Fluent in 3 Months.  I strongly recommend visiting his blog, if you haven’t done so already.

The Language Hacking Guide is available for download from his website.

Update (May 5, 2014): The Language Hacking Guide has recently been upgraded to full-fledged language-learning program: Speak from Day 1, which includes the original book, in addition to tons of new content.

Earlier this year, Benny also published a book with Collins, Fluent in 3 Months: How Anyone at Any Age Can Learn to Speak Any Language from Anywhere in the World (available in paperback, audio and Kindle formats). Check it out!

(Photo by Alexbrn)

Vote for Top 100 Language Blogs

2010 May 12
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by learnkyrgyz

Great news! Learning Kyrgyz has been nominated for the Top 100 Language Blogs competition. Voting starts today and ends on May 24, so please make sure you visit the competition website and cast your vote. In addition to participating in the voting, it’s a great chance to discover new blogs on language learning and technology.

Vote the Top 100 Language Learning Blogs 2010

Coming up soon: Kyrgyzstan’s landmarks on commemorative coins.

Kyrgyz language facts on Twitter

2010 April 28
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by learnkyrgyz

Kyrgyz was featured today in a tweet by About World Languages

Recent events in Kyrgyzstan (April 2010)

2010 April 8
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by learnkyrgyz

I woke up this morning to text messages from friends in Kyrgyzstan and from across Central Asia. If you follow the news, you probably know what happened. While it is not the policy of this blog to comment on political issues, what we can do is share a few links to what bloggers and others in Kyrgyzstan have to say on the events of the past few days.

Kloop.kg, a portal ran by young journalists in Kyrgyzstan, features an extensive coverage of the events (for the English version of the portal, please go to kloop.info). Recent posts on this website include the Chronicle of April 8 Events, among others. On Twitter, Bektour (of the aforementioned kloop.kg) publishes regular updates in both English and Russian. A good source of news from Central Asia and the larger Eurasian region is EurasiaNet, which can also be followed on Twitter and Facebook. One of their recent updates is a slideshow of photos from Bishkek.

Please feel free to post links to other news sources and blogs in the comments. Your input is greatly appreciated!

Update: More photographs from Bishkek, some very graphic.