Alima Salakhutdinova: Tatar language in 7 weeks in Arizona

How a Canadian Tatar woman taught Americans their native language

Alima Salakhutdinova, a Tatar from Kazan, who lives in Montreal with her husband and four children, this year has become a teacher of summer courses of the Tatar language in Arizona. In the interview with Realnoe Vremya, she told how much the teaching of children from all over the world online and American adults offline is very different.

A teacher among the locals

Salakhutdinova, having moved to Montreal, launched the online school Alima Academy. Tatar language courses at the University of Arizona originated at the Institute of Critical Languages, which operates within the Melikian Center. Summer intensive courses in the languages of Europe and Eurasia have been held there since 1991.

Tatar language was among them in the programme in the 2000s. For example, Aygul Ayupova, who lived in the USA at that time, taught there (she even wrote a self-help guide for the States, and then created the children's project Uchteki and participated in the creation of the Kazan textbook “Selem”). And the first teacher was Agnes Kefeli, senior lecturer at the university, author of the book “Becoming Muslim in Imperial Russia: Conversion, Apostasy, and Literature”. Now 14 languages are taught here, each group has an average of 2-3 students, there are languages where the number of students is greater. In addition to lessons, there are literature, dance, and arts clubs. At the initiative of the students, a “language cafe” was organised once a week, where it was possible to practice any other language. The summer course programme is paid, $1,500, while students with American citizenship have the opportunity to get a grant.

“For a long period, there were no students who enrolled in Tatar, for about 8-9 years Tatar was not taught," says Alima. “It is easier to restore a language that was taught earlier than to open a course in a new language, since there are developments and programmes.”

“These were adults, they knew the value of time”

“My student wrote to them about me. He took language and history lessons from us at the academy," Salakhutdinova continues. “I gave them a good review about me. As a result, they wrote me a letter with an offer to send a resume. Since I have a degree in history, not linguistics, they asked me to make a programme for seven weeks (five days a week, five hours of study). Then there was the second interview. They asked situational questions about the methodology and principles of teaching. After that, they sent me an offer. I agreed.

Salakhutdinova says that in the case of small languages, teachers prepares all materials themselves. Students can always get acquainted with them, revise. She had two students. The main one is Jacob, a postdoc, young historian.

“He knows Russian, has been to Russia, was familiar with the Tatars, so he decided to learn the language in summer lessons. And there was also a professor with whom we studied online," says Alima. “So my day was different from the routine of other teachers. In the morning, I went to Turkish classes myself, studied their experience, then taught Jacob, after worked online some time. I'm glad I went there. I still have very positive emotions. They were adults, they knew the value of time, they have training schemes.

“The child is studying, but the mother does not know a word in Tatar”

As for her own academy, Alima says that she has started to open more historical classes.

“Because parents come and say: the child needs Tatar. And there is no language in the family, there is no environment. The child is studying, but the mother does not know a word in Tatar. I have a lot of such children. Two years later, the question arises — why would he do that?"

And this was not the case with students in Arizona. This is their conscious choice. Besides, they are scientists, they were keenly interested in history, our values. In general, it was very different from the children's programme. Other topics. In general, the programme is different, after all, seven weeks. At the same time, for the entire programme, from the first lesson, from dating, to the last, I was looking for relevant topics. For example, we talked about the diversity of Islam in the republic, and studied Almetyevsk and Innopolis in geography.

Next year, Alima intends to return to Arizona:

“I wanted to make a Tatar camp this year, at first I postponed it, then due to events in the world I had to abandon the idea. So I want to continue teaching Tatar in the USA. In October they announce recruitment, in January they find out what level the applicants have, a programme is being built, and in June training begins. I want American Tatars and linguists to learn about the courses. My big dream (I already found out, according to the documents it's real) is to bring people from Canada to study, we have a lot of applicants. Besides, Arizona is beautiful — warm, dry air, beautiful views...

Radif Kashapov