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Interview with Tatar FTLA - Gulshot Safiullina

This academic year, the CEUS department welcomed Golshat Safiullina as a Fulbright Scholar to teach Tatar.  She moved here in October with her two daughters, who study at Binford and Rogers Elementary Schools.

Safiullina has been teaching English at Kazan State University since 1998, where she studied Comparative Philology. After defending her thesis, she became interested in the Comparative Studies of Idioms with a focus on English and Tatar. She soon found that English resources were far and few between in the Republic of Tatarstan.  “In 2000, a strong necessity of the knowledge of the English language was felt by everyone, but unfortunately there were no textbooks for the English language with Tatar instructions,” she said.  Safiullina decided to tackle the issue head on.  In 2004, she began working on a Tatar-English dictionary. It took her over 10 years to complete.  “Along with the project, I had my two daughters and I can say that the dictionary is my third child,” she said with laugh. The dictionary was published in 2014 and contains over 25,000 multiple translations. Also for the first time, the phonetic transcription of English words is given in the International Phonetic Alphabet. Safiullina said she has received an offer to make a reverse version of the dictionary.

While serving as a Fulbright scholar at IU, one of Safiullina’s main objectives has been to develop a textbook of the English language for elementary school children that has both instructions and explanations in the Tatar language.  She is using her knowledge of American elementary texts to guide her. She stated that she has been inspired by the assignments that her daughters bring home from their respective elementary schools in Bloomington.  “Our first week here, I tried to help my children with their homework and one of the questions was ‘What was a problem that you came across in your life and what were the means and the methods with which you managed to solve this problem?’ For me, this was culture shock because this exercise teaches children not only to think independently from such a young and tender age, but it also teaches children analytical thinking skills, and I think that is very important.”

Another one of Safiullina’s research interests is the teaching of language through folklore. She believes that a culture’s folk tales contain three important components of cultural competence: metaphors, archetypes and a culture’s system of values. These, she believes, serve as a key to understanding both a society and that society’s language. “I would say, in every culture, if we teach a minimum of ten important codes in our classroom. It would be much easier for students to find these common grounds for communicating and expressing themselves,” she said. Safiullina gave two presentations about this concept on March 8 at a conference sponsored by Purdue Language and Cultural Exchange.

In addition to her teaching role, Safiullina has participated in many outreach events, both for the IAUNRC, CEUS, and her daughter’s school. She especially enjoyed a cultural presentation that she gave, along with her daughter, Kamilla Shakirova, during Dr. Seuss Day at Rogers Elementary School.  Safiullina read the children a Tatar fairy tale entitled, “A Sheep and a Goat”; taught them to sing “Ay Bylbylym,” a tatar folk song, and taught them some traditional Tatar folk dances.

Even though Safiullina and her daughters look forward to returning home, she said they will miss IU and all it has to offer. She said they have especially enjoyed the various events and programs offered by the university. “I have had fantastic experiences visiting the concerts. The sounds of the instruments and the technical skills of the performers are beyond comparison,” Safiullina said.  “We also like the IU museum with its wonderful collection of paintings and African, Asian and European cultural artifacts”.