People mostly speak Russian in Kazakhstan. Kazakh is also an official language but doesn’t seem to be spoken as commonly since the country’s independence is still so recent.
Here is my approach to learning Russian. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it but it works okay so far:
- Take Ancient Greek for three years in university.
- Take Latin too and inadvertently develop a system to getting an A+ in any 100-level European language course.
- Take too many upper level credits during your undergraduate degree, forcing you to take a bunch of 100-level classes in your last year
- Choose Russian because the Cyrillic alphabet is based on the Greek alphabet and you’ve always been entranced by Russian culture. Also take German, just because.
- Travel to Russia for two weeks after graduating. Say the phrase, “I don’t understand” so many times that you will remember it forever. It proves very useful over the two weeks.
- Keep your Russian 100 textbook.
- Move to Kazakhstan six years later, where you are forced to use the few words you remember every day!
- Make a point of saying “hello” in Russian to all of the locals, which sounds like “ZDRAHS-tvooy-tyeh.” If you are shy, you can just say the “zdrahs” part and mumble the “tvooy-tyeh.” But make sure you say hi to everyone, lest your shyness be mistaken for being a jerk.
- Also say “thank you” constantly, because it’s easy to say (spaseeba) and you’re Canadian and need a substitute for apologizing all the time.
- Don’t worry about learning new words for the first few weeks. It’s easy to get by with basic phrases. Say, “I don’t understand,” a lot. Mostly when cashiers ask you for exact change because people are fiercely possessive of change and small bills here.
- Realize you should really relearn your numbers. You remember how to say “1” “2” and “4” but not “3”, which is weird, because “3” is the easiest one to say (tree).
- Hit your low point when you order at a restaurant, and the waiter asks what kind of shashlik you would like, and you don’t know how to communicate any meat words. You try a few times, using a translation app but it doesn’t work. Finally, the waiter goes, “Baaaa, baaaa!” and you excitedly nod.
- This humbling experience motivates you to crack open your textbook and plan on hiring a teacher for lessons once a week by the end of the month.
Now I will always know how to order lamb.