Guest Post: Aaron Myers Shares On How To Learn The Turkish Language

Learn The Turkish Language

Today we have a guest post by my friend Aaron Myers of the Everyday Language Learner blog on his experience with the Turkish language.

A while back I reviewed his Guide To Getting Started and I also guest posted for him on how to learn endangered and minority languages. He’s always been a constant source of encouragement and support for myself and others.

After having spent some time living in that part of the world with his family, Aaron learned an impressive level of Turkish (see the video I’ve posted below). This is a major point of interest for me personally as I lived in Turkey last year and spent a while learning it. It’s a fascinating language that I hope to come back to sometime in the future.

I’m delighted to have Aaron share today on some of the things he’s learned. Make sure to check out his blog if you haven’t already! :)


Riding the mini bus toward my new apartment in the middle of Istanbul my palms began to sweat. The walking bridge with it’s arched blue beams was quickly approaching and with it came my point of disembarkment.

I’d learned a new phrase today – memorized it really – for I had no idea what it really meant, but I knew that if I said it, and said it loud enough for the driver to hear, the bus would pull to the side of the road, the doors would swing open and I would be able to step onto the walk leading home. I’d heard others say it time after time in my week and a half in Turkey and it always worked for natives. But the question remained – would it work for me?

The problem was actually in the spitting out of this new cacophony of sounds and syllables, so strange to a tongue that had only traipsed the English and Spanish languages.

And so there I sat, note card in hand, silently whispering it over and over again. The bridge approached.

I stood and blurted out as best I could:


Despite the fact that I had little command over the grammar or even meaning of what came out of my mouth, the bus driver slowed, pulled to the side and threw the door open. I stepped out into the fresh air and sunshine, let out a deep sigh of relief and rejoiced.

Turkish is a wonderful language. As it marched across the the steps of Central Asia from Mongolia to Turkey a thousand years ago, so it marches across the page today in tight strides with little time or energy for exceptions to the rule or irregularities.

With scientific precision its alphabet was converted from the Arabic to the Latin script in 1929, assigning one sound to each new letter. This is where the easy parts of Turkish lets off though.

Turkish is a S-O-V language meaning that the subject is followed by the object which is followed by the verb which always brings up the rear of the sentence.

Turkish is also highly agglutinating, meaning that it uses a lot of suffixes and infixes to mark or modify words. English too is agglutinating giving us words like suffixation, enjoyment and education. But where English adds an occasional suffix or two, Turkish regularly uses several stacked right on top of another each adding a grammatical feature to the word; negation, passivity, mood, plurality, possession, questioning and many more.

The longest word in the Turkish language is:


It has 70 letters and means “As though you are from those whom we may not be able to easily make into a maker of unsuccessful ones.” Not a word anyone would use in normal conversation, but an example of what one can do with agglutination none the less.

Another aspect of Turkish that takes some time to get used to is its demand for vowel harmony, the phenomenon in which all the vowels in each word must be of the same class, i.e. all front vowels or all back vowels. And of course like many languages, there is a whole range of Turkish grammatical structures for which there is no real equivalent in English.

As a Turkish language learner myself I will in no way claim fluency over the language, but as someone who has worked to learn it in an independent, self-directed manner over the course of the last four and a half years I will offer a few pieces of advice that I hope will make your journey toward fluency in Turkish – and perhaps any language – more enjoyable and successful.


Learning Style and Personality

As a language coach, I’ll always encourage my clients to think about their personal learning style.

Many a language learner has been told to join a Turkish class filled with lecture and workbook exercises when their learning style would have them thriving out in the community interacting with the locals. When they begin to fall behind, most conclude that they must not have the language learning “gift.”

There are literally hundreds of resources, activities, methods and opportunities to learn Turkish – you just need to find what is the right one for you. For me that was with a language helper, a young college student who was my Turkish resource and who now as well is a good friend.


Listen, Listen, Listen

Like any new language, Turkish is filled with both new sounds and new sound patterns.

These are at first strange to the ear for an English speaker and completely foreign to the tongue. By listening early and often, learners will begin to train their ears to these new sounds and sound patterns even before understanding meaning.

This is especially important for Turkish with its use of vowel harmony. You cannot pronounce it correctly if you cannot hear it and you will not be able to hear it until you’ve heard it a lot. So go online and find podcasts, videos, music, movies or radio stations and begin listening to Turkish right away.

(Visit The Turkish Listening Library)


Comprehensible Input

Finding input that is comprehensible is key to beginning to to actually understand and speak Turkish. For me, comprehensible input began Saturday mornings with Dora the Explorer and my two kids.

High quality comprehensible input can come from nearly any source, but the main idea is that you should be able to understand the message behind the sounds. Not every detail, not every grammatical function or even every word, but the message behind the sounds you are hearing. In the early days on the bus in Istanbul, I would routinely hear Turks say phrases that caused the driver to stop the bus and allow them to get off. I didn’t understand what was happening grammatically in the phrase “musait bir yerde inebilirmiyim” for some time after I began using it.

I had rather made a direct connection between a phrase and it’s meaning. I had acquired the language rather than learning a word for word translation. And acquisition will always be deeper, more meaningful and longer lasting than learning.


Find a Good Grammar Resource

While working to get massive amounts of comprehensible input was the back bone of my journey to learn Turkish, I also used a number of different text book type of resources to help fill in the gaps, gain understanding and get much needed practice with the new concepts I was learning.

My favorite for Turkish as a beginner was the Teach Yourself Turkish book. I worked through the sixteen chapters over the course of about seven months, giving myself plenty of time to camp out in each of the new concepts and practice using them.

Another great resource is Peter Pikkert’s A Basic Course in Modern Turkish. This is a simple grammar text with no exercises or dialogues, just explanations and examples. It is simple and to the point.


No Silver Bullet

There is not one thing anyone can do to master another language.

Each day as I was learning Turkish I tried to listen a lot, to read, to write, to speak with others and in the course of conversation, to listen as well. I used flashcards, a pocket dictionary, my ipod, a text book, I journaled daily and used a host of activities and tools to help me gain access to Turkish out in the community.

It was a well rounded personal program for learning the language and it worked.


You Should Learn Turkish Too

Turkish is spoken by over 70 million people. Turkey is also a rising economic and political power whose influence is growing throughout the world.

If that isn’t reason enough to start learning it today, Turkey itself is a beautiful country filled with immense cultural heritage and tremendous natural beauty.

Book yourself a ticket and begin learning Turkish today.

Kolay Gelsin!


Here’s a short video that Aaron made in Turkish a while back for one of the language challenges here – My Dream House. :)

This guest post was written by Aaron Myers.

Aaron Myers is a writer and language coach dedicated to helping learners the world over be more effective, more efficient and have more fun on the language learning journey. He is the creator of The Everyday Language Learner blog but can also visit him at The Turkish Listening Library. You can find him on Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube.

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Comments: If you’ve got something you’d like to add to this or some constructive criticism you can do that at the bottom of this page. Just please be respectful. Any abusive or nonsensical comments will be deleted.

The Uncomfortable Truth: Social Risk-Takers Are Better Language Learners

Risk-taking and second language acquisition

I made a slight cultural boo-boo two days ago that prompted me to write this very important post on how important it is to be a social risk-taker.

Right beside my apartment here in Korea is a small, family-run convenience store that I go into every day to buy food and I usually try to practice a little bit of a Korean with the kids who work there after I finish work.

Using hand gestures and broken Korean, I try to elicit new language from them, repeat cash amounts after them and point to things in the shop saying, 이거 뭐예요? [ee-go mwo-ye-yo] (What is this?).

I always learn a lot from our brief exchanges. :)

Now, I’ve really wanted to get to know the parents who own the shop because they’re there more often and they seem really friendly so I tried to initiate some chit-chat with the mother by asking her – using the polite form in Korean – what her name is.

Harmless enough, right? Not here it seems.

Her response to my question was pretty apprehensive.

Now, everywhere else I’ve been and lived in the world it would be strange not to ask questions like this when you meet somebody but here in Korea there are layers of social hierarchy that the society takes seriously. She was much older than me and therefore, as my Korean friends explained to me afterwards, it was impolite of me to ask that of an older stranger.

If she had of been a younger woman it probably wouldn’t have been an issue (although a young woman might get other ideas). :)

I did manage to clear it up by explaining that I’m learning Korean and just want to talk to people which she was happy about in the end, and she eventually introduced herself.


I learned an important cultural lesson but I make no apology for being a risk-taker

I’m not sorry for making this mistake.

Part of the reason for my success with other languages is due to the fact that I put aside my fear of making mistakes – language and cultural – and just put myself out there. You’re never going to get anywhere if you let shyness, introversion or fear of what other people might think hold you back from giving it a try.

Sure, you might make some cultural boo-boos by saying something inappropriate or making grammatical mistakes but so friggin’ what? That’s part of the process of learning.

It’s bound to happen.

People can see you’re a foreigner making an effort and even if they do get pissed off and dislike you (highly unlikely), you’ll learn an important lesson for next time.


The results speak for themselves – risk-takers are far more successful at learning languages

When I was in Ireland over a month ago on a mission to improve my Gaeilge, I was harshly criticised in an email by another popular language learning blogger who was also on the same course because he saw me walk up to a group of people I didn’t know in a pub, sit down and introduce myself to them.

I was accused of being rude for doing this.

Now I’ll be honest – this did make me consider that maybe he was right. Maybe it was inappropriate for me to do that and I was the only one who didn’t realize it.

But after thinking about it for a while I thought to myself – hang on a second…

Putting aside the fact that where I come from this is perfectly normal in a pub, I came away from my time in Ireland with a lot of new friends who I met up with several times throughout my stay in different parts of the country.

We’re all still in contact and looking forward to the next course when we can catch up again. There were also enormous improvements in my Irish as a result (which attracted numerous interview requests from newspapers and radio stations) and I now have language exchange partners via Skype that I previously didn’t have.

It was a massive accomplishment – all thanks to being a social risk-taker.

Now, if I had the same attitude of the person who criticised me I would have sat in the corner of the pub not knowing anyone and I wouldn’t have come away with the experience that I did. Perhaps it was rude initially but the results of me taking that risk far outweigh anything else.

I also experienced the same kind of results in Egypt and Georgia where I came away with precious friendships as well as enormous gains in my language learning by putting myself out there.


If you’re not taking risks with every conversation then you aren’t trying hard enough

Today I’m giving you some homework.

Every time you have an opportunity to use your target language – whether it’s ordering food in a restaurant, talking to a friend, taking a taxi, Skyping somebody, or whatever – I want you to take at least one risk.

What do I mean by that?

I’ll give you an example:

When I go into a convenience store, the gym, a cafe or wherever here in Korea, rather than only using the language I need to do whatever it is I need to do (e.g. order a coffee), I push myself to go beyond what’s necessary. I’ll ask for a takeaway latte, use the necessary dialogue (simple request and thanks) and then I’ll talk about something – anything – that brings the exchange up a notch.

This could be something as simple as it’s really cold today isn’t it? How’s business? This is really good coffee.

Last week I was in a cafe and a song came on the radio that I liked the sound of (a Korean song). So I used Google to find the word for song in Korean (노래) and used to it as a conversation starter by asking a couple of people what the song’s called.

I say these are risks because anybody can walk into a shop, use a standard can I have…? request from a course book, ask how much, say thanks and then walk out.

It’s only the risk-takers who see this as an opportunity to add some flavor to what they’re saying – even if it’s at a very basic level. It’s the risk-takers who use the small amount of language that they have to actively pursue friendships without being afraid of what others might think.

Don’t wait to be introduced to people – get out there and take some risks.

Then you can come back here and tell us all about the new acquaintances and friends you’ve made in the comments section below. ;)


This was written by .

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Comments: If you’ve got something you’d like to add to this or some constructive criticism you can do that at the bottom of this page. Just please be respectful. Any abusive or nonsensical comments will be deleted.

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