Laden with stickers, scavenger hunt items (which ranged from silk flowers to a teddy bear to an onion), and flashcards so freshly laminated that they were still warm, Uzbek FLTA Dilnoza Kadyrova and I would be ready every Thursday to teach Uzbek to a group of spirited 5-8 year olds. Thanks to the Bridges Program run through IU’s Center for the Study of Global Change and coordinated by Vesna Dimitrieska, four languages were taught across afterschool programs in Bloomington. Uzbek was one of them, and we were assigned to the class at Girls Inc.
The task of teaching Uzbek to tiny humans was a daunting one. 5:00-5:45 is prime afterschool naptime (for elementary and graduate students alike), and most of these students had never learned about other parts of the world, let alone in depth about Central Asia and Uzbekistan. Thankfully, Vesna worked closely with us to ensure that our lessons were both educational and fun. Each week, we would prepare a lesson plan centered around a cultural theme, and she would look over it and suggest well-loved games and techniques to help the students. Accordingly, our classes featured activities like scavenger hunts, relay races, and dancing.
And the students took to those activities extremely well. The more we let them move around and participate the more they enjoyed learning about Uzbekistan and the Uzbek language. Not to mention, they were also very talented language learners, able to remember last week’s lessons when prompted, numbers, colors, and greetings. Even if there were a few pronunciation missteps -
Me/Dilnoza: Qandaysiz? (How are you?)
Students: Yashil! (Green! (Instead of “yaxshi,” for “good))
-they were eager, enthusiastic, and just so much fun to work with. It was rewarding getting to teach them about Central Asia and seeing their learning processes as well as their reactions to new cultures. On the last day, we brought non (Central Asian bread) and achik-chuchuk (a cucumber, tomato, and onion salad) and were very happy to see how much they loved the non. Even the fact that they tried the achik-chuchuk (“Hmm…I’ll just take out the cucumbers and onions.” “…So, you’ll just eat tomatoes?” “Yeah!”) was a lot more than most students of that age are willing to do.
At the end of our last lesson, I made them promise that they would always remember Uzbekistan and try to travel there some day. They said they definitely would. But honestly, even if they don’t get that exact chance, we know now that they understood a bit about a different country and culture, one that they might have never encountered otherwise. Here’s to hoping that they continue learning about many more.