Learning to Speak Turkish . . .

Today, I will attempt to buckle down and really start learning the Turkish language.  I have been in Ankara almost a full year.  So far, I find it pretty easy to get around without knowing the language.  It seems there are many Turks who know a little English.  When I am at a complete standstill, I always check to see if they may know a bit of German.

I can shop and haggle without knowing the language.  I can drive.  I can get through American movies dubbed in Turkish, as well as some of the Turkish comedy on TV.  Yesterday, I discussed what I wanted in a new lamp with a woman at a local store.  I was able to tell her for which room, what my color scheme is, and so on and so forth.  So I get by.

But I guess it’s time to start learning to communicate better with my in-laws.

Everyone tells me Turkish is difficult.  I disagree.  It’s just different.  I studied Spanish, French and German.  German is difficult, and yet I speak that better than the others.  I find that once you let go of that need to translate everything word for word, learning a new language becomes easier. 

When my last Turkish teacher was asked questions to which she didn’t have a great answer, or to which she thought it was unnecessary to answer at the time, her response was always, “It is not important.”  I find that to be very true.  When learning  a new language, the “whys” are not necessary.  It’s the “how” that is important.  I don’t need to know why there is no real difference between saying, “Are there children” or “Do you have children?”  (çocuk var mi?)  I just need to know that is the way to say it.  (Hopefully, I’m right on that translation!)  Sentence structure is different.  Forget about what you know and it will make learning the new way easier.

I find that taking it slow, repetition, and practicing the pronunciation are key.  I got over my fear of making mistakes publically long ago.  And I find that most people will never laugh at you – that’s high school.  Most Turks will simply appreciate the attempt.

Besides taking a class, there are some other useful things you can do to learn the language.  First, get a book and CDs.  I have “Teach Yourself Turkish” by Asumen Cellen Pollard and David Pollard.  I find this book better than the books published by one of the well-known local universities here in Ankara.  It’s also useful to play the CD over and over again, just to help with pronunciation.  Second, if you have the cash, Rosetta Stone is a great way to learn.  Third, hang post-it notes all over your house, so you will learn the names of common house-hold items.  Perhaps you will begin to think in Turkish.  Don’t take that bottle of soda from the refrigerator until you know how to say “botttle of soda” in Turkish. 

Fourth, make flashcards.  It’s a proven method!  It’s how we learned our own vocabulary in grade school.  It works.  Finally, use the vocabulary on the flashcards every day.  Take a few of them and write sentences.  Have someone check your sentences.  The next day, write a few more sentences, building on what you learned from the day before. You will find this a bit time consuming at first.  But with practice, it comes easier.

What I loved about lamp shopping yesterday was that the saleswoman completely understood that I didn’t know the language, yet she kept talking to me in her native tongue.  I even think she knew a little English, but she wasn’t using it.  She spoke more slowly and kept talking until I would catch a word – hanging onto it in hopes that I understood her.  And I think I did!

One more note on ways to learn – watch TV!  I have the movie, “Vizontele” with English subtitles.  It’s a comedy, with a very sad ending.  I find comedies are much easier to follow in foreign languaged.  I have watched it a few times with the subtitles.  Now I watch it without the subtitles.  Each time, I catch and understand more.  It’s a fun way to learn! 

27 thoughts on “Learning to Speak Turkish . . .

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  1. kolay gelsin Terry!
    I am a follower also in twitter and I like to read your posts. interesting to see ankara through a young american gelin’s eyes…

    1. Welcome and thanks for reading the blog! So nice to still be called “gelin” at my old age. Do Turks have a period that they refer to a new couple as “newlyweds”? In America, it’s just after the first year of marriage. But here, I feel like I am still a newlywed after after 2 years because I am still introduced as “our gelin”.

      1. We were called “newlywed” until the time I gave birth to my daughter..and it was after three years of marriage..

        and now I am called “ex gelin” as I was divorced after thirteen years of marriage 🙂

        in between I was toujours “gelin”.

        you will be called gelin as long as you are together with your husband, it is ageless:))

  2. I’ve been living in Thailand for two years and trying to learn the language and I have to say it is VERY difficult. The speaking part not so as its almost like baby talk “me go shop”, “where you go?” etc. The problem with Thai is the writing though, its all in symbols. I find learning a language easiest when I can read it. Keep at it though! I’m determined to learn… and I agree with your sentiment on watching TV. Scooby Doo and the Flintstones in Thai have got me picking up a few words 😀

    1. Thailand? Wow! Thanks for reading my blog!

      I would definitely find a language with a different alphabet very difficult. Turkish has a few different characters from English. But nothing unmanageable. And the beauty of the Turkish alpahabet is that once you learn to prounounce a letter, it never changes, unlike English!

  3. T,

    I am in agreement with you on the “post-it notes” method.
    Putting them all over the house in the language you want to learn is very useful and satisfying.

    Keep it coming cause we in Sharon Hill love it!


    1. Thanks Artie! I love post-it notes. I used to complain that they didn’t stick to my dashboard. Then a friend from Seattle sent me a little gadget that did stick, and I could slide my notes into it!

  4. I can relate to many of the things you post about, my main problem in Turkish is that I don’t have enough self-confidence to speak it and I am struggling with that. Flashcards never worked for me, but watching cartoons rather than movies helped me a lot in the beginning, i advise you to try watching “Caillou” in Turkish (simply type “caillou türkçe” on YouTube’s searchbox and you will find tons of episodes, or buy it in VCD format), they speak very slowly and because it is an educational show you learn a lot of vocabulary from it step by step :).

    Books for children are also inexpensive and can be found virtually anywhere, those help a lot too!

    TY Turkish is fantastic to learn all the basics, then you can move to more complicated materials or join a course in TÖMER, if you aren’t already taking lessons.

    Nice post!

    1. Thanks Reyhan. I will check out Caillou. So far, I have had problems with the cartoons, although I agree that it would be much simpler language, because the lips weren’t sinked to the voices. Turks use alot more of their mouth and face muscles than Americans do.

      What do you mean by “TY Turkish”?

      1. Take it easy, at the beginning you will only understand a few words here and there, but let your ears get used to it and you will be getting the gist of the pronunciation in no time, believe me! ;).

  5. Hi Terry, thanks for your post. You’re giving me hope that I’ll at least be able to get by without really knowing the language. I’ll be moving there in less than a month (eek!) and I’ve done Pimsleur’s CD’s, have a few books, try to learn at least one new word a day, and I pick up a lot from my boyfriend. “Yavaş yavaş,” he always says but I’m so impatient! Good luck in your further learning and wish me luck in mine! 🙂 I love reading your blog, by the way!

    1. Hi Caroline! You will be just fine. Turks are very friendly. And don’t forget that you can always point to things you want or need. They truly are very happy that you have attempted to speak their language. You are probably way ahead of me. It’s normal to be hesistant, but just jump in and start talking. Once you get over the fear, things will be easier. And I find it fun when I can tell what a conversation is about, because I know a few of the words, even though I can’t participate in the conversation.

      Last night, I made a formed a few basic sentences – telling my husband’s uncle that I started class and things like that. They seemed very impressed, and believe me, these were sentences I should have been saying a long time ago!

      Thanks for reading the blog and wish you well!

  6. Hi Terry,
    I did about 5 courses in Tömer. It did help me a lot. But the biggest help was my father in law. He’s a stickler for speaking correctly and would work on my pronounciation with me every day. Sometimes for hours on end! Even although I tried to get out of it, I have to say that he really contributed to me speaking turkish now.
    In the beginning of my stay here I got by without turkish. But after a few months it frustrated me not being able to express myself properly and not being able to participate in a conversation.
    Kolay gelsin as they say here and keep at it. As you said, it gets easier every day. Before you know it, you’ll be thinking in turkish!

    1. Thanks for reading the blog Michele and the comment!

      I think at a younger age, it would have frustrated me quite a bit if I couldn’t participate in the conversations. But I have had enough frustration in my life! Now, I quite enjoy the peace of not getting into conversations – especially since so many people here are very political. I think it keeps me out of arguments, which is a good thing for now. But I can tell that my in-laws are dying to have more in-depth conversations with me. Once that happens, I hope I don’t get kicked out of the family! I tend to be opinionated! 🙂

  7. They have Turkish cheat cards at D&R. I think they are very useful. Small enough to carry in your pocket even with the tightest jeans! 🙂

  8. Let’s see if you will be able to figure this out:

    Terry Hanım, Blogunuzun hayranıyız. Ailece izliyoruz. Sizi çok seviyoruz.

    I am so startsturck now!

  9. It’s good you’re in Ankara, Terry. We’re in a tourist area and EVERYONE speaks English and wants to speak English (young Turkish people need to practise for their summer work) When we speak Turkish, they reply in English. 🙂 This is all lovely but we have spent many years learning the language and the only practise we get in speaking it is when we leave this area. If you know so many languages, I’m sure you’ll be fluent soon! 🙂

    1. The grass is always greener . . . People in Ankara would probably be jealous of where you live! But I see your point. I do have alot of access to learn the language through usage every day. Even in Ankara, however, people who want to improve their English seem to find me.

      1. We’re still getting visits from Turkey. Turks are experienced at finding ways round bans (as with the You Tube ban). We’re still blogging, too! 🙂 We’re hoping the ban is lifted soon so everyone in Turkey can see the blog again.
        Most of our regular readers in Turkey subscribe to the blog so they can still read it in their email inbox or Feedreader – they just can’t comment so they’re using the Facebook page. It’s all quite good fun, jiggling it about. 🙂

  10. I have just moved to turkey. I came to ıstanbul lookıng for a house but fınd the cıty too overwhelmıng. ı am thınkıng of tryıng ankara ınstead and wıll go vısıt the cıty tomorrow. not sure ı lıke ankara, I`ve been there before and dıdnt lıke ıt. I wonder ıf there are many westeners lıvıng there. are you stıll ın ankara? do you know of any amerıcan students that are there?


    1. I’m sorry I didn’t respond sooner Khalid. I am still in Ankara. And there are many westerners there, especially since the Embassies are there. There are likely some American students (if you mean university), and definitely many European students. I hope you enjoyed your visit. Let me know if you have any questions.

  11. I really like this post. A very enjoyable read. I came to ankara two weeks ago for an internship in one of Ankara Uni’s lab. I am staying here for two months and somehow I feel a bit crippled not knowing the language so I try to find books about learning the language. I came across the pdf file of teach yourself turkish. Somehow, I am not satisfied reading it on screen so I googled where to buy it in ankara and stumbled upon your blog. Please could you tell me where i can get this book on ankara? Thank you. Keep on writing

    1. Hello Aya and thanks for reading the blog! I am not really sure who carries it in Turkey. There is one street in Kizilay that has a ton of little book stores with a big focus on learning English and Turkish. Dost is a chain of bookstores, if you find a larger one they may have it. There is a little bookstore that carries a lot of English language books called Homer Bookstore. It is on a side street between Tunali and Tunus (close to JFK Cad.) – possibly on Buklum Sokak. And D&R may have it which is in the malls and also on Tunali.

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