Learning Turkish in London
How hard can this be, right? After all, I teach ESL English. I’ve studied enough about second language learning strategies, tools and techniques. I’ve pushed my international students to saturate themselves in their language of choice, making full use of the immense variety of communication channels and opportunities which surround them daily.
And here I am in London surrounded by 300,000 potential language exchange partners (Turkish speakers), ready to sit patiently with me in different kebab shops every day, sipping cay and guiding me to a mastery of vowel harmonies, agglutination, and yumuşak ge.
Depending on your location, it can be surprisingly difficult to find a source of formal Turkish Classes around London. A few colleges and universities in Central London will offer evening classes. Turkish community schools and cultural associations in the central, inner northern and north-east suburbs offer classes catering mostly to British-born children of expat Turkish families.
London, due mainly to sheer size, is not the easiest city to traverse. For me, way out in the Western suburbs, there was no local option to take a regular class.
Private tuition is another good option, if you can afford it. Should probably be used as a supplementary rather than a sole learning strategy. Does allow you to personalise the learning experience to your own needs, location, style and format. Does not provide instant language learning. Many private students drop out after a few months because of the cumulative costs.
So, self-study it had to be!
Turkish course books
One of the first Turkish grammar books I stumbled across was Elementary Turkish by Lewis V. Thomas, a Professor of Near-Oriental Studies at Princeton. Originally published in 1967, I was strangely attracted to its rigorous, old-school style. It’s comprehensive and packs so much into a convenient, paperback grammar reference. Perfect for cafes and kebab shop revision. However, it’s a really, really heavy read. Only recommended for reference, not a course book.
One Turkish friend brought me back a Turkce Ogrenelim (Mehmet Hengirmen) course book from Istanbul. Really nice format, but don’t forget to buy the CD too for the dialogues. I also invested in Colloquial Turkish (Routledge) based on good experiences with their Spanish and Portuguese language equivalents. A couple of Turkish friends have advised that some of the dialogues in this book are not particularly realistic or colloquial.
I’m sure there are just as many Turkish Language course books as there are English. So, just pick one and start!
Whilst travelling in Turkey, grabbed a handful of Turkish kids’ comics from a book market in Akçakoca, at 1TL each. Can’t understand any of them. Still looking forward to the day that I can read and understand Turkish Peter Pan!
Music and Video
Always easier to learn from material you’re really interested in. For me that’s often music. Others find it a bit weird that I can recite entire songs and nursery rhymes (I know!) in languages which I cannot converse at all. Turkish just joined the list – nursery rhymes but not a single coherent conversation yet! I believe the idea of learning from child-targeted material is a good one. So I’m sticking with this particular plan.
Searched and printed the lyrics from favourite songs. Tried to translate using Google Translate then asked Turkish friends to normalise. Seems that Turkish pop lyrics are often just as abstract as English ones.
Haven’t really got my head around Turkish films and TV. The Yunus Emre Centre’s film nights I’ve attended have all featured incredibly sombre human-centred stories of suffering, loss, and tragic endings. Nothing cheery, uplifting or comical at all.
On the other hand, a friend introduced me to the wonderful, hilarious movies of the dynamic Adile Naşit. Highly recommended!
Turkish Cultural Events
The Yunus Emre Institute in Central London hosts some really nice Turkish cultural events such as classical Turkish music performances by local musicians and Turkish film nights with English subtitles. Most events are free and open to the public.
Nice place to look, listen and learn. A seriously Turkish clientele, many families, here to enjoy some entertainment from home. Open to all, but not much opportunity to interact or practice language if you’re a beginner.
Language exchange is a brilliant idea, supported by internet sites such as GumTree. It’s currently completely free to place an advertisement asking for a Turkish native speaker to help you with your learning, in exchange for you helping with their English (or other) learning needs.
The challenge is finding an exchange partner at a similar level of proficiency to you. If you’re not equally matched, your communications will eventually lean towards to the stronger language – in my case, English always dominated. My exchange partner’s English was always so much better than my absolute beginner’s Turkish.
Fantastic, no-cost concept for language learning. Just haven’t been able to find any learners as completely inept as me yet!
For me? Despite best efforts, I remain an absolute beginner who can recite a couple of Turkish nursery rhymes! I suspect that the only solution for this cerebrally-constrained (see Broca’s and Wernicke’s) mono-linguist is immersion. Looks like I really need to sling my hook to Turkey.