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MarioninTurkey 31 Dec 2009

Turkish in Three Months ???

One of the most FAQ I get in a PM is 'How did you learn Turkish?'

It is now out of print, but when a customer in our bookstore would buy a copy of Hugo´s "Turkish in Three Months" I would joke with them and say they would not be entitled to a refund in three months time if they were not fluent!

Seriously, books with a title like that should be banned. The Teach Yourself series has a CD called "24 hours Turkish" - but at least it admits it doesn´t teach you the whole language in that time. It is aimed at just giving you a few basic phrases.

Here is the bad news: there is no short cut, and no quick way to learn Turkish. In fact, there is no short cut, and no quick way to learn any language.

I arrived in İstanbul in April 1994. I had previously visited Turkey a number of times on holiday, and had a few set phrases down pat: "Merhaba", "Ben İngilizim", "Hoş bulduk" etc. I intended to work later, but had the wonderful privilege of having a year on career break. I didn´t have to work to earn my living, and could devote myself to learning the Turkish language and culture.

I quickly set about my new full-time job: being a language learner. I decided the only approach was full-immersion. My flat-mate was a Korean lady who had been in Turkey for four years. She didn´t like speaking English, so preferred to talk to me in Turkish, even if this meant I had to look up every word in the dictionary. That was great in terms of stretching my vocabulary!

I also used my dictionary a lot when I went shopping. Unlike people who arrive today, and can just find what they want in the shelves at Carrefour and put it in their basket, back in 1994 the main place to shop was the Bakkal.

The bakkal amca would smile and greet me when I came into the shop. However everything I wanted was on the shelf, behind him, or in the glass fronted refridgerator in front of him. In order to get anything I had to know its name, say it, get him to understand my pronunciation, and only then would he be able to give it to me.

So a shopping trip had to be prefaced by at least one hour of research! Even then, there could be comic moments such as when I asked for köpekli ekmek instead of kepekli ekmek for brown bread.

Once I got more fluent I found that sometimes the Turks struggled the same way! I remember taking hours preparing for a trip to the nalburiye - the hardware store. I needed some sand paper, undercoat, enamel paint and a paint brush to brighten up a second hand bookcase I had bought. Entering this male bastion, I hung back a bit to allow the shopkeeper to serve his exisiting customers. They all looked like workmen, so I thought they would need their purchases urgently for a job. Well, one guy said in Turkish "I want a thing to put on the end of my drill thingy to put this other thing in!" He kept saying "şey" instead of the correct word for the bit he wanted. It made me feel loads better, I can tell you.

Next time I will write about the DLI method I used to learn Turkish with a language helper.

Keep pressing on: learning Turkish is a marathon not 100m sprint.



Leo S, Lilyana, Maryko, demps, emjay and 18 others liked this column
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