How To Learn The Turkish Language

How to learn Turkish

Since we’re now in the run up to the ANZAC Centenary (the most sacred event on the Aussie and Kiwi calendars) I thought it would be fitting to help those of you who are interested in learning Turkish.

Today I’ve revisited and repurposed a guest post from Aaron Myers of the (now sadly defunct) Everyday Language Learner blog.

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’ve lived in Turkey and spent quite a bit of time learning it.

I stayed in Turkey again a few months ago (that’s my girlfriend and I at sunset in Istanbul) and it’s made me want to pick up Turkish again so much!

It’s definitely one my favorite places in the world and a language I love.


Resources for learning Turkish

How to learn TurkishBefore we get into the guest post by Aaron, I thought I’d just list a few excellent resources here to help you get started.

This small list is current and after spending some solid time going through most available online resources, these made the cut:

Getting started with Turkish:

Both of these are paid resources and have a very similar lesson style (podcast) that’s more geared for new to intermediate learners.


Turkish Tea Time

Turkish Grammar:

Duolingo Turkish (beta)

For free sites that explain the grammar of Turkish comprehensively, these sites do a good job of it (no audio though unfortunately).

Manisa Turkish

Turkish Language Class

Turkish Basics

Practicing Turkish with native speakers:

italki (currently only 3 professional teachers and a dozen or so informal tutors)


There are some excellent vocabulary lessons on Memrise (especially the ‘Hacking Turkish’ ones).

Memrise courses for Turkish

Online Dictionary:

Sesli Sözlük

Also if music helps you learn languages, my friends over at Earworms Musical Brain Trainer have a Turkish edition available called Rapid Turkish (see my review here as well).

Would you recommend another online resource? Share it in the comment section below.


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.

A photo posted by Donovan Nagel (@mezzoguild) on


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.


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

How to learn TurkishWhile 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 The Mezzofanti Guild language challenges. :)

How To Find The Motivation To Learn A Language

How to get motivated to learn languages

Recently I wrote about how one of the biggest struggles people face when learning another language is finding time (according to many of you who I surveyed).

The response I gave can pretty much be summed up like this:

Minimalist living → Less work → Less hours stuck doing things that enslave us → More time to truly live and do the things we love

It doesn’t take into account everyone’s own situation but for many it does.

You know what the second biggest problem people said they face?

Finding motivation.

The difference between the time issue and the motivation issue is that time isn’t always within our immediate control whereas motivation absolutely is.


Intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation

If you’ve got any kind of background in education, you may have heard at some point that there are two types of motivation – extrinsic and intrinsic.

Extrinsic is motivation that we get from our environment.

For example if I offer you $100 to pass a test and you pass with flying colors, I’ve used a reward to motivate you to succeed.

That’s extrinsic motivation.

Other language-specific extrinsic motivators might be learning a language in order to get a promotion at work or to be able to chat up girls in a bar.

Then there’s intrinsic motivation.

This is the motivation that comes from within ourselves.

An intrinsic motivator could be something like wanting to learn French just because you love French culture or because you enjoy learning. Intrinsic motivation is basically feel good motivation and is all about self-improvement and feeling good about ourselves.

Experts say that kids are much more extrinsically motivated than adults (which is why they’re so easy to bribe with candy) and that as we get older we become more intrinsically motivated.

In my experience and opinion, some adults are far more similar to kids however.

A lot of people stay mostly extrinsically motivated for certain things their entire lives and in the case of adult language learners, unless there’s a serious extrinsic motivator like getting a job promotion, there just isn’t enough motivation there to do it.


Are you extrinsically or intrinsically motivated to learn a language?

When you hear of polyglots learning their umpteenth language and you’re amazed at how they do it, remember that they’re mostly just intrinsically motivated to learn languages.

They do it because it makes them feel good. They enjoy it.

I have a good friend who buys and collects vintage cars – he has more than he needs and he keeps buying them.

He treats vintage cars the same way I treat languages.

We’re all intrinsically or extrinsically motivated to do different things – everyone’s different.

So really, the first thing you need to do is decide whether or not you’re intrinsically or extrinsically motivated to learn a language.

If you learn languages just because you enjoy it then you shouldn’t really have as many issues with motivation as it’ll be something you do just because you really want to.

People who rely on extrinsic motivation are the ones who will struggle the most to find it when learning a language.


How to find motivation to learn a language

Get serious.

When I sit down to get something done that’s important to me and motivation wanes, I tell myself this:

There’s nothing on earth more important than what I’m staring at right now.

Put yourself in a zone where language study is do or die.

One of my biggest heroes is Bear Grylls (the British former SAS survivalist guy on Discovery Channel) and I’ve been reading a motivational book of his called A Survival Guide For Life.

He tells a story in his book about a friend of his who had piles of unfinished work that he couldn’t find the motivation to finish. It just kept piling up and he couldn’t bring himself to get through it all.

Then one day one of his friends invited him to Fiji for a holiday but the only way he could possibly go on that holiday was to finish all of his unfinished work.

Bear then goes on to say that his friend smashed it all out in lightning speed.

The trip to Fiji (great extrinsic motivator!) pushed this guy to get absolutely everything done.

He concludes by saying that whenever you struggle with motivation, just go to Fiji. :)

The good news for us is that we don’t need to have a holiday to Fiji on the horizon. We can apply the same principle to our own motivation when it comes to language study or anything else by denying ourselves pleasures and rewards until it’s done.

If you’re the kind of person who finds language learning boring and monotonous (ah man, I suppose I should study now :() then you may be learning in a way that makes it boring.

Or you may have been taught a misconception about how languages should be learned which is making you hate the idea of study altogether (see this post).

Routine is a progress killer.

Try doing something completely different for a change.

Instead of going for the same book or tool you use every time you study, use another resource that you don’t usually use for a while. I’m sure that a lot of people take online tools like Duolingo and use them almost exclusively to learn languages which is never a good idea.

Variety is key both to success and sanity.


Let the world hold you to your promises

I wrote about this a while back but here it is again to remind you.

Public accountability is powerful.

When everyone knows what you’ve set out to do, it’s much harder to quit because of the social pressure involved.

Nobody likes to fail and especially when other people can see it.

In my case about 50,000 strangers visit this site every month, thousands of people read my emails and thousands more read the stuff I say on social media.

That means that when I learn a language and announce it here, I feel pressure to make sure I follow through with it – not because I have anything to prove but simply because I’ve made it known publicly to a lot of people what I’m doing and that alone challenges me to carry through with it all.

If I start getting lazy or losing motivation then all I have to do is look at this blog or open my email account.

But this is a principle that applies to the real world as well as online (in fact much more).

Tell everyone around you (family, friends and colleagues) that you’re learning a language, set a date for when you expect to reach a certain goal and also tell them about that.

Let them hold you to it and remind you constantly.

So in summary:

1. Self rewards and punishments. Deny yourself simple pleasures until the job is done.

2. Break routine and monotony. If it’s boring, you’re doing it wrong.

3. Seek out social pressure. Hand the whip to people around you who will make sure you follow through.

How Different Are European and Latin American Spanish Really?

May 25, 2015 – 9:47 pm

Jason Eckerman - Spanish Vault This is a guest post from Jason Eckerman who runs a great blog for Spanish learners called Spanish Vault.

If I Started Learning Arabic Again, This Is How I’d Do It

May 17, 2015 – 5:42 pm

Starting learning Arabic Arabic was the first foreign language I learned to fluency. I started almost 13 years ago when I was just…

The Fail-Safe Way To Learn Foreign Language Vocabulary

May 9, 2015 – 12:01 am

Learning Foreign Vocabulary Recently I started another course of university study in teaching/education (sucker for punishment!) which has been a great chance to…

Detailed and Honest RussianPod101 Review

April 30, 2015 – 1:00 am

RussianPod101 Review It can be hard to find good, reliable resources for learning the Russian language. I became a fluent speaker of…

About The Mezzofanti Guild

Learning another language or want to? This site is aimed at offering you unique foreign language learning tips, travel advice, anecdotes, encouragement and providing another handy place for language learners to connect.

Click here to read more about The Mezzofanti Guild.