So You Want to Learn Some Turkish…
If you have ever traveled in a foreign country without understanding the local language, you can understand the draw to learn one. Of course, to reach a conversational level in any language takes some time and effort, but that doesn’t mean that you are unable to learn enough to drastically improve your experience of a new country, even on a short vacation.
If you just want to be able to order food and say hi, this is the place for you. If you think you might spend several months or years in Turkey, this is a great place to start, too.
Thanks, Internet! You make language learning a million times easier and far cheaper than ever before.
Turkish learning options abound. Many of the large online language teaching sites include at least beginner Turkish. We have made lots of use of Memrise, an online spaced-repetition flashcard learning tool. This is great for learning new vocab, but won’t help you very much with understanding sentence structure or conversation.
That’s where iTalki comes in. iTalki is a networking website that connects language partners and teachers with students so that they can talk over Skype to practice a language. You can learn just about any language from iTalki. Choose a native speaker to teach you Turkish. Honestly, two or three 1-hour sessions might be enough to prepare you to speak enough to make a huge difference on your trip.
A mixture of Memrise and iTalki sessions would be a great way to prep your Turkish for your trip, be it long or short term. (And if you really love it, that same method can be used for hundreds of other languages!)
Looking for online Turkish-English dictionaries? Tureng is great for slang, idioms, and even Turkish proverbs, while this other dictionary gives you more hints about how to use the word with proper grammar. (We still use them both almost every day!).
Lonely Planet and other language books have produced a number of resources for use in Turkey. They are useful phrasebooks, but of course fall short in that they do not speak out loud and their pronunciation guide is pretty bad! We used some of these books in the first months we were here and didn’t regret it at all, but they’re most helpful if you have taken the time to read in Turkish (which is very simple, by the way) and get introduced to the basic sounds.
Language Schools in Turkey
The two biggest and most widely spread Turkish schools (for foreigners) are Tömer and Dilmer. Many language schools that specialize in other languages (like German or English) will also teach Turkish. Yes, we do make fun of our Canadian friend who is studying Turkish at “Active English.” Since we didn’t attend one, we won’t say anything else about those smaller organizations, except that they are out there and they are an option. Many times they’re much cheaper, too.
Tömer is a language course franchise with branches in major cities across Turkey. It’s ultimately run the by University of Ankara. Tömer is a very thorough and professional school. If you complete the whole curriculum, you receive government certification that your Turkish is university level, so many students attend Tömer as preparation for studying at a Turkish university.
Dilmer is a little smaller and a little less formal, though you still take a government certified exam at the end of their curriculum. Class sizes usually don’t exceed 12-15, and sometimes are much smaller (which is a good thing). If you’re ambitious, it is possible to complete all of Dilmer’s courses in 7 months. The main difference between Dilmer and Tömer is that Dilmer is much more relaxed and less academic in nature. However, this will vary a bit no matter where you are based on the teacher you get.
Ask around anywhere that foreigners gather, and you’ll hear the names of local men and women who offer one-on-one Turkish classes to foreigners. Every successful Turkish student I know made use of private teachers. They’re affordable (the average rate I have paid is 25TL per hour), flexible, and for the most part, delightful people. Obviously, you only have access to them if you live in Turkey, so location matters!
What We Don’t Recommend
- Don’t trust Google Translate! It tries – but often fails. As a simple test I just looked up ‘rotisserie’ and Google gave me ‘et lokantı’ meaning meat restaurant. Use it if you get totally stuck but don’t lean on it too heavily if you can avoid it!
- Rosetta Stone and other big-name, paid language learning systems are not worth what they ask for. Using the resources listed above and other things like them, you will get as much or more quality and content for a fraction of the cost.
- You plan to use a speech-translator app… OK, a few of these aren’t bad for basic phrases, but the hilarious “conversation” my father-in-law had with our taxi driver recently didn’t do much to convince me of their usefulness. I snickered through both sides of the exchange until the phone was put away and we could live translate. Quality apps may work for a few basic phrases, but they are unreliable.