ASTANA – For those who want to make meaningful use of their screen time immersed in high-quality Kazakh folklore content, the Qonzhyq App offers an extensive collection of modern Kazakh and traditional music, gathers all pieces of Kazakh folklore in one place, and seeks to address the lack of a systematized folklore archive in the Kazakh language, said the app’s founder Aigerim Issatayeva in an interview with The Astana Times.
The Qonzhyq App, which translates as a baby bear to the Kazakh language, is a platform that offers free unlimited access to contemporary and traditional Kazakh songs, folk tales, traditional Kazakh music – kuis, poems, and even “Book of Words” by Abai Kunanbayev – all accessible from a smartphone, also adding options for users who want to learn the Kazakh language along the way.
Issatayeva, similar to many Kazakh parents educated in Russian-language schools, was keen to see the Kazakh language thrive and be spoken freely at home among her children.
“As the kids grew and learned more about the world, my top priority was introducing them to our rich culture by reading folktales, singing folk songs together, and upholding the appropriate traditions and practices, which would foster a love for them,” said the founder.
The scarcity of children-oriented material in the Kazakh language has been a sore point for her, and the app allowed her to circumvent the issue. She nostalgically recalls searching for various materials for children in the Kazakh language.
“When I started searching for these materials, I ran into a real problem: there was no single platform where it was all stored. I had to read tales from out-of-date websites, look for CDs of recorded children’s songs, and either learn about traditions orally or through books that were hard to find. I could not find accessible and good sources where my children or I could fully immerse ourselves in the Kazakh language to learn it quickly and well,” she said.
The Qonzhyq App was built and launched in August, a year after Issatayeva first came up with the idea of having all Kazakh folklore in one application.
The app has since acquired 120,000 users and now features over 170 world and Kazakh folk tales that have been voiced by famous Kazakh speakers.
Among the featured artists, one could recognize the father of the Kazakh kui Kurmangazy, the king of Kazakh waltz Shamshi Kaldayakov, musical masterpieces performed by the Otyrar Sazy folk orchestra, and an impressive lineup of contemporary singers, just to name a few.
Issatayeva said that she and the team have been very pleased with the app’s growth and that new users continue to join daily.
“Our app is used by everyone, regardless of gender or age,” she said, pointing out that the application has far outgrown its initial target audience.
“The public’s acceptance of our project is our greatest accomplishment,” said Issatayeva. “We have created a useful product that people genuinely love. Often parents write about how much more rewarding their time with their kids is today. Together, they read or listen to stories, play children’s songs, and learn the language,” she said.
Issatayeva often receives thank-you notes from school and kindergarten teachers, for whom the app has been a true lifesaver. They use it during school hours, and afterward, they assign homework based on the app content.
Admirers of Kazakh culture, language, and music who have been forced to use outdated media or websites also express their gratitude to Issatayeva. “They thank us for our contribution to the development of our culture,” she said.
“Feedback really motivates my team and me. Every day we get dozens of thank you messages, which we read and respond to,” she added.
People leave dozens of messages on their Instagram page. Some suggest ways the app’s content could be diversified, but most express admiration and gratitude for the Qonzhyq App team, saying they will encourage their circle of friends to download and try the app.
Apart from offering users a taste of Kazakh music and folklore, Qonzhyq App tries to get people to learn the Kazakh language as they go about their days and use the app.
The learning integration allows users to improve their Kazakh language skills through step-by-step exercises that help them to learn new words in themes.
Issatayeva said engagement is the key to helping users increase their language proficiency.
“We are currently doing a lot of work on the learning section. Anyone who wants to learn a language quickly and effectively needs to immerse themselves in it fully. This means being able to read, listen, engage, and see all at once,” she said.
Over time, Issatayeva hopes to add other features to make the app more interactive. These include bonuses and the ability to track the user’s learning progress, making it feel like a game. They plan to add more exercises and material on an ongoing basis.
Issatayeva expects the app to have one million users by the fall of 2023 and become the number one app for the development of Kazakh culture and language.
“We are considering working with training centers, schools, and kindergartens, preparing materials and testing,” she said.
Issatayeva financed the app independently, but she is now looking for sponsors and funds that might be interested in supporting the project in the future.
The app is available worldwide across iOS and Android devices. Once users download the Qonzhyq App, they need to complete a sign-up process by verifying their e-mail address.