Turkey is a country where a relatively small number of people speak English. They are, mainly, fairly young. Some speak it better than others. Few professionals speak it totally fluently: if you find one, value them.A much smaller number speak German, Russian and Italian. Very few speak Chinese or the languages of many of our other readers.
Even if you speak English fluently, it will greatly simplify your life and enrich your time in Turkey if you take the trouble to learn at least some Turkish. Even a limited knowledge opens doors and business opportunities. If you do not speak English it becomes even more important.
Unfortunately, Turkish is not the simplest of languages to learn but there are ways of becoming a Turkish speaker without too much time and trouble.
The good news (if you’re a Westerner): it is written in the (slightly modified) Latin alphabet. You won’t have to learn a completely new script.
The bad news: the language may not seem intuitive to most Europeans and Americans. Turkish base words can stand alone – prefixes are not part of the language – but are built in complexity by the addition of suffixes. Words can therefore get very long!
Even if you learn only a few words, it will be seen by people in Turkey as both a courtesy and a gesture of good faith. They will respond enthusiastically, correcting your errors (in a very gentle way) and helping you expand your vocabulary.
A good starting point is the ‘100 words’ (see below).
How can a foreigner learn Turkish?
There are seven main ways.
A local partner
By far the best is to find a Turkish boyfriend or girlfriend. If, however, your significant other balks at this idea, do not despair; there are alternatives!
You can learn Turkish before you come to Turkey or after you have arrived. Children learn very quickly – three months would be normal for a young child. Adults can take a lot longer. I know people who have been studying, regularly, for over two years and who only now feel comfortable with their ability. Of course, they may be being harsh on themselves! Most will speak basic Turkish after six months’ study twice per week.
Learning ‘back home’
There are lots of Turkish speakers around the world. This is a very good thing for you, because it means there are lots of people teaching Turkish.
Do an internet search for “learn Turkish in [your city]” or check out the website of your local language school.
If there aren’t any official Turkish language lessons in your area, or they are too expensive for you, consider whether you know (or your friends know) any Turkish people. You can ask them if they would be willing to tutor you. This method is likely to be a little more haphazard than if you learn in a formal class, but could be very enjoyable, and it is certainly better than nothing at all.
It’s a great idea to, at least, get the basics of Turkish down before you move to Turkey: it will make the whole thing a lot less scary and ensure you can get set up more quickly.
Learning in Turkey
You can visit Turkey and take intensive courses before you move (immersion is the easiest way to learn a language), continue your studies ‘back home’ when you arrive, or even start from scratch when you’ve moved to Turkey.
There are many places to learn Turkish in Turkey. Search the web and local newspapers for a private tutor or check out a local school. In some tourist areas the municipality (town hall) arranges classes for newly arrived foreigners.
Courses will vary: from evening classes over a period of months, to intensive full-time courses of a couple of weeks.
Prices also vary widely: the best thing to do is call up the school or teacher and find out what you’ll need to pay for your specific needs. You can expect to pay around US$100 (TRY377/€92/£79) for a few weeks of evening classes, or $300-$400 for a three-week intensive course.
The table below is far from comprehensive – if there are any institutions you think we should include, let me know.
|Antalya||Babil Language School|
|Bodrum||Çimen Sevanç (private teacher, good reviews)|
|Fethiye||Dem Turkish Center|
|Istanbul||Royal Turkish Education Center|
|Istanbul||Istanbul University Language Centre|
|Izmir||Royal Turkish Education Center|
|Izmir||Turkish Language Center|
The internet, DVDs, CDs and books
There are many, many Turkish language courses available online and in print.
A leading and well respected example is the Rosetta Stone courses, which are comprehensive online, audio and written lessons. A popular free course is Duolingo, which is online-only but allows you to write, listen and speak in Turkish. More below.
Websites that charge monthly will often let you ‘bulk buy’ months, or sign up for an extended period of time, which works out cheaper per month.
Many of these websites will also offer an app for your mobile phone.
There are also hundreds of books and DVDs devoted to learning Turkish. A quick search on your favourite bookseller’s website will show you. Books should be used in tandem with other, more interactive, methods of language learning.
Again, email me if there’s anything you think I should add to the table below.
|Media type||Course||Price (2017)|
|Online||Babbel||Free trial, then US$12.95 (£9.99/€9.95) per month|
|Online||busuu||Free trial, then US$12.50 (₺47/€11.50/£10) per month|
|Online or CD/downloaded audio||Rosetta Stone||Online subscription: US$49 (₺185/€45/£39) for three months.
CD or audio download (first three levels): US$129 (₺486/€120/£102)
|Online (lots of video content)||Turkish Class 101||US$25 (₺94/€23/£20) per month|
‘On the job’
Many people pick up the rudiments of Turkish whilst working. This is a slow but inexpensive way of becoming bilingual. Unfortunately, your colleagues are likely to want to use the opportunity to learn your language, and so you may find it difficult to get them to teach you much Turkish. You often end up having slightly surreal conversations with you speaking Turkish to them and them speaking English to you!
Some employers, particularly the big banks and IT companies that have now set up in Turkey, run formal tuition for their staff. This is a huge advantage and could be a good reason for taking that job in preference to another.
Friends and neighbours
Your local Turkish neighbours will be very friendly and open to forming friendships with you. They will also love it if you show that you are sufficiently interested in their country to want to learn the language and they will, often will great patience and politeness, guide your faltering steps to some level of command of Turkish. They will often, also very politely, repeat the words that you have said to them (to help your pronunciation) when replying to you whilst gently correcting your grammatical catastrophes.
Two things that are sure. One is that you will have a richer experience with your neighbours if you do speak some Turkish. The other is that your neighbours are likely to be as keen to use you as a way of learning your language as you are to do the reverse.
A half way house between formal tuition and a social occasion – in truth, tending toward the latter – the conversation group is a group of people, some Turkish and some speaking another language. it is better if all the non-Turkish people speak the same language but this is not essential.
The group meets regularly. Regularity is the key. The meeting should be for an hour or two. Over food and drink works well.
Many groups have an agenda, circulated in advance: on Wednesday we are going to discuss paella and the recent air traffic control strike. this allows you to think about – and research – vocabulary.
Whether you have an agenda or not, you spend half of the meeting discussing things in Turkish and the other half in the other language.
This can be a really effective way of improving your basic Turkish skills.
If you are lucky enough to have young children, especially if they are attending the local school rather than the international school, you will be amazed at how quickly they learn Turkish. They will sometimes be semi-fluent in as little as six weeks and usually skilled within six months. They can then help teach you. Just expect some face-pulling as they indulge their inadequate and stupid parents who struggle to do something that they find so simple!
Keeping up your language
Read the local newspaper (in Turkish) and listen to the local television news. Getting to the stage where you can do this takes time. In my opinion, the real test of whether you can speak any language is whether you can follow a programme on the radio, where they tend to talk quickly and where there are no visual clues.
Another great and painless way of keeping up and improving your Turkish is to watch movies on DVD. Depending on the level of your skill, you can either listen to the movie in your own language but display the subtitles in Turkish or listen in Turkish and display the subtitles in your own language. If you are really good, you can listen in Turkish and also display subtitles in Turkish! All of these methods are very effective at surreptitiously improving your skill.
The 100 words
I am a great believer in the ‘100 words’ (you can tell, because I’ve mentioned it twice!). This is the idea that, with just 100 words (or short phrases) of any language, you can get by in many day-to-day situations and in an emergency.
You will also gain the respect and approval of local business colleagues: you are trying to meet them half way, not working on the basis of cultural imperialism.
See below for the 100 words, or download a PDF with the list:
You will probably want to add a few of your own.
I am sorry but I don’t speak Turkish – Pardon, Türkçe konuşamıyorum
My name is – Adım
How far is – ne kadar uzak
What time is – Ne zaman
I don’t understand – Anlamıyorum
I understand – Anlıyorum
I would like – istiyorum
Do you have…? – var mı…?
I am hungry – Açım
I am thirsty – Susadım
I must – yapmalıyım
Hello – Merhaba
Goodbye – Hoşçakal
Please – Lütfen
Thank you – Teşekkürler
Yes – Evet
No – Hayır
Me – Ben
My – Benim
You – Sen
It – O
He – O
His – Onun
And – Ve
But – Ama
Also – Ayrıca
To have (possess) – Sahip olmak
To be (verb) – Olmak
To go (verb) – Gitmek
To give (verb) – Vermek
To think/believe – Düşünmek
To walk (verb) – Yürümek
To take (verb) – Almak
To read (verb) – Okumak
Now – Şimdi
Soon – Yakın zamanda
Later – Sonra
Always – Hep
Never – Asla
Today – Bugün
Tomorrow – Yarın
With – ile
Without – onsuz
Because – çünkü
From – ’dan
To – ’ya
Until – Kadar
Near – Yakın
Far – Uzak
Inside – Içeride
Good – Iyi
Bad – Kötü
Big – Büyük
Small – Küçük
Sick – Hasta
Well – İiyi
Very – Çok
Much (a lot) – Daha çok
More – Çok
Less – Az
Other – Diğer
For (purpose) – Için
What? – Ne
Where? – Nerede
Who? – Kim
When? – Ne zaman
How? – Nasıl
Why? – Neden
Thing/item – Şey
Friend – Arkadaş
Man – Erkek
Woman – Kadın
Child – Çocuk
Country – Ülke
Your nationality – Nerelisin?
Food – Yemek
Drink – Içecek
Water – Su
Beer – Bira
Wine – Şarap
Petrol/Diesel – Benzin/motorinmazot
Police – Polis
Doctor – Docktor
Hospital – Hastane
Pharmacy – Eczane
Consulate – Konsolosluk
Airport – Havaalanı
Car – Araba
Taxi – Taksi
Telephone – Telefon
Bed – Yatak
Towel – Havlu
Toilet – Tuvalet
1 – Bir
2 – Iki
3 – Üç
4 – Dört
5 – Beş
6 – Altı
7 – Yedi
8 – Sekiz
9 – Dokuz
10 – On
100 – Yüz
1,000 – Bin
1,000,000 – Bir milyon
None – Hiç
Few – Biraz
Many – Çok