English is becoming increasingly popular among Tajikistan's younger generation as Russia's role in the region fades. English is entering the lives of Tajiks through the Internet, popular songs, and Hollywood movies. In addition, Tajiks are discovering that a working knowledge of English gives them better employment and educational opportunities at home and abroad.
Prague, 14 August 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Young people in Tajikistan say the English language is squeezing out Russian both at school and in everyday life.
During Soviet times, Russian became the first and sometimes the only language for many Tajiks, especially those living in urban areas. Parents sent their children to Russian schools because it was easier for them to find good jobs if they were fluent in the language. Russian was common at Tajik universities, too. Most textbooks were written in Russian.
Speaking with a mixture of Tajik and Russian was fashionable among the younger generation, especially with young women. Today, however, young people mix Tajik and English, as well as Russian, in order to sound modern and trendy.
Muhayo, a 24-year-old graduate of Tajik State University, says her generation tries to use English words and phrases as much as they can.
"Now young people mix three languages -- Tajik, Russian, and English. For instance, when two young people greet each other, one of them says 'privet' in Russian, the other one says 'hello' in English. Or while speaking Tajik, some people use English phrases like, 'I'm sorry,'" Muhayo says.
The number of Russian nurseries and schools has been declining in Tajikistan. In their place have come English nurseries and schools. There are hundreds of private English courses both in urban and rural areas.
In a country where monthly salaries range between $5 and $30 in state-run firms, many Tajiks pay up to $30 a month to attend private English classes. The quality of the teaching materials is different according to the price of the course.
Nigina is a teacher in an English-language kindergarten in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe. She says only wealthy people -- the so-called "New Tajiks" -- can afford to send their children to the kindergarten, where monthly fees start at 15 somoni, or around $5.
Many Tajiks say they are learning English for purely economic reasons. Fluency in English provides them broader employment and educational opportunities both at home and abroad. People with good knowledge of English work at foreign companies, international aid organizations, embassies, hotels, and tourist agencies.
Many school children, university students, and graduates with English fluency participate in educational and professional exchange programs funded by the U.S. government. Since the early 1990s, hundreds of Tajiks have spent a year living and studying in the United States as exchange students or specialists.
Nigina says her knowledge of English means she earns quite a bit more than most teachers. While other nursery school teachers earn about $5 per month, Nigina says her monthly income is several hundred dollars or more. In addition to her job at the kindergarten, Nigina gives private English lessons.
"I use computers, modern books, and videos for teaching English. I charge $10 a month per student, if they are attending group lessons. For individual lessons, I charge $20 a month," Nigina says.
Unlike the early 1990s, however, when those few people in Tajikistan who had English fluency were in great demand, knowing the language alone is not enough to land a job with a decent salary today. The number of English speakers is increasing, and so are the requirements of international organizations that are offering jobs. They are now looking for qualified specialists with computer skills and professional fluency in English.
Muhayo says she has been looking for a good job for a long time, but with no luck.
"I have been learning English for seven years. During the past year, I have been looking for a job in foreign organizations but wasn't able to find one. I think even in international companies, you need friends and contacts to get a job," she says.
The Russian language is still likely to maintain a significant role in the lives of Tajiks for many years to come, despite the popularity of English.
While interest in it may be fading among young people, the Russian language still maintains its importance in official contacts between the former Soviet republics. In addition, some 700,000 migrant laborers travel to Russia every year in search of jobs that would be impossible to find without knowledge of Russian.
However, many Tajiks believe that with the country's improving economic situation and its growing cooperation with the West, Russian will eventually lose its dominant place to English.