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!