The odd irony of giving three presentations about language learning in a city that saw 450 people killed last year in ethnic violence was not lost on me. Via the US Embassy, I was in Osh, Kyrgyzstan informing language students and teachers about how to learn and teach various languages using songs, TV, radio, movies and other activities. I spoke in Russian and English to 13-15 year olds and adult language teachers and professors. When I looked out into my audience, I saw ethnic Uzbek, Kyrgyz and white faces (either ethnic Russian or German Russians called Russlanddeutsche). For more information about the origins and history of the Kyrgyz and Uzbek, please visit the Wikipedia pages for the Kyrgyz and Uzbek people.
The BBC recently did a report on ethnic tension in Osh, Kyrgyzstan and showed a mixed Uzbek-Kyrgyz couple talking about the problems their children face in finding a spouse. They don’t know if they should marry and Uzbek or a Kyrgyz. Interestingly, they did the interview in Russian, which may be the language they use to communicate with each other.
I see language learning as a way for people to bring down the barriers between peoples and communicate. It’s the exact opposite of ethnic violence. Therefore, my being able to reach both kids and adults who will help others learn languages in fun ways with music and media means a great deal to me emotionally because I see that I am contributing to people’s peace and prosperity.
Ethnic based killings, burned homes, people running for their lives and now we’re all sitting in one room talking about learning any language and culture via songs and media. Odd. Although there are still tensions between the ethnic groups, I didn’t feel it, neither between the kids nor between the adult instructors. I was happy to see that my topic of learning about languages, cultures and countries was a unifying topic that could get people around a table without problems. In the audience, I had Uzbek, Kyrgyz, Russian, English, French and German language teachers.
There were no ethnic conflicts or disputes while I was presenting. As a matter of fact, if I didn’t know the history of the city and the ethnic clashes of 2010, I would have had no idea that these groups were at each other’s throats last year. The driver pointed out the Uzbek homes and businesses by the bazaar that had been destroyed the previous year.
I hope the tension subsides and people move on to rebuilding their city and lives.