So before getting into the subject on how to learn Turkish, let’s first have a look at the language itself, to see what we’re dealing with.
Turkish is a language with around 80 million speakers in the world.
It belongs to the Turkic language family and is quite different from both the Indo European languages we mostly speak in the west, but also from Arabic and Hebrew, spoken in the Middle East.
Turkish is related to languages like Uzbek, Azerbajani, Kazac and Tartar to name a few.
Among the characteristics of Turkish is the concept of Agglutination.
Agglutinative languages are characterized by adding information to words as suffixes. This makes the words longer and longer, rather than keeping the information as individual words in a sentence.
An example from the above Wikipedia article could be “evlerinizden“. This means “from your houses”, or literally “houses-your-from”. In one word.
Wilder examples exist, and the concept can seem scary. It really, however, is just another way of writing out a sentence. And it’s nothing to be intimidated about!
Turkish has other features which might be more relieving to a new learner.
Namely that the language is very regular.
There are almost no exceptions to grammar.
There are almost no irregular verbs, and the language is pronounced exactly the way it is spelled!
And while we’re speaking of spelling: Turkish has been written by a slightly modified Latin alphabet since the great Turkish language reforms of 1929. Before it was written in the Arabic script.
So despite Turkish being a complicated language quite foreign to most Europeans, it actually IS approachable!
So how should you go about learning Turkish?
- 1 How to start learning Turkish?
- 2 How to improve Turkish speaking comprehension, grammar and pronunciation with Glossika
- 3 How to start reading in Turkish?
- 4 Using parallel reading to learn Turkish
- 5 Start speaking and writing in Turkish
How to start learning Turkish?
Since Turkish is quite different from English and most Indo-European languages, you might feel a little confused in the beginning.
If you’re new to language learning and not entirely sure about yourself, I recommend that you start out slow when learning Turkish:
Pimsleur Turkish (link to amazon) is a slow-paced and very thorough audio course that teaches you the basics.
As you start listening to the Pimsleur Turkish recordings, an English speaker will gradually introduce you to your first Turkish words and sentences.
Make sure to repeat out loud!
Since the course is quite slow paced, you get plenty of time to get it right. The course is focused mainly on pronunciation and basic grammar concepts and it gradually expands its vocabulary.
But I don’t recommend that you stay long with Pimsleur!
Give it a week or two of daily listening and repeating sessions, and you’ll quickly feel confident enough to move on to a more serious Turkish course.
Get one or two Turkish beginner’s courses
Wether or not you chose to use Pimsleur as your first glimpse at Turkish, you need a solid self-study course to really get started.
One that I often recommend is Teach Yourself Turkish (amazon link). Teach Yourself Turkish is a solid book that takes you from the beginning stages to the intermediary stage in Turkish. The course is built up around dialogues.
You get the Turkish dialogue and the English translation. Then there are some drills, grammar exercises and explanations.
I recommend that you do one new lesson each day.
First read through the English text, so you know what’s going on. Then read the Turkish equivalent while listening to the Turkish audio. Lastly, go through the sentences in Turkish one by one.
Read it aloud.
Then play the recording, and try to repeat again. When you’ve finished a dialogue, read through the notes and explanations and try making sense of them.
At this point you might also want to do the exercises. If grammar drills are not your thing, however, it’s okay to skim through them, and continue on.
For each new lesson, I recommend that you read through 5-10 of your previously finished dialogues! (And do so out loud).
Do this every day.
This helps you familiarize yourself a little to Turkish sentences, and doing repetitions like this might help make something stick.
If it doesn’t though, don’t worry!
Learning Turkish is a long process, and even though the language keeps seeming very foreign, you’re making progress!
A second beginner’s course?
Whenever I study languages, I always try to do multiple things at the same time.
The reason for this is that seeing something from another perspective, just helps new concepts and ideas stick better.
When you’ve recently studied a new word, seeing it in another context makes you feel like you “recognize” it. This feeling of recognition triggers something in your brain, that lets it know that the word is important.
You haven’t just heard it from one source, but from multiple, so it must be worth remembering!
So when learning Turkish, I strongly recommend that you approach the language from more than one front at the same time.
If you do your Teach Yourself lessons in the morning, have a go at something else in the evening.
If you were to get another beginner’s course, I’d normally recommend Assimil. Assimil is probably my one favorite beginner’s course for any language.
The problem is, however, that it doesn’t offer Turkish.
If you’re not able to study Turkish through German or French, I have another solution for you.
Have a look at the Foreign Service Institute’s Turkish course.
FSI is the organization that takes care of teaching languages to American diplomats.
They’ve developed quite a few, quite thorough language courses, including Turkish, and put them up for free on the internet.
The content might seem a little dated and perhaps a little dry, but I really recommend working your way into it.
Approach the FSI course in the same way as you would Teach Yourself. And don’t forget to listen to the audio and repeating every day.
How to improve Turkish speaking comprehension, grammar and pronunciation with Glossika
Keep studying Turkish every day with your Teach yourself and the FSI course.
As you gradually improve, it’s time to broaden your focus a little and add another method to the mix. When you’re around 30-40% into the beginner’s courses, start studying Turkish with Glossika.
(I’ll give you a link when I’ve finished telling you about Glossika)
Glossika is a quite clever language learning system that helps you learn grammar, speaking comprehension, pronunciation and grammar through sentences.
It’s built upon an archive of several thousand sentences in Turkish along with their recordings and English translations.
As you study the sentences, you gradually start to recognize patterns in the language by habit.
This resembles the way children learn their mother tongue.
You immediately recognize if something is incorrect in your native language. But can you explain why?
Likewise – think of a language where you’ve spent time studying the grammar – perhaps in school. You probably would be able to explain why something is right or wrong. But chances are that you won’t instinctively feel it.
Glossika makes sure you do!
So how to learn Turkish with Glossika?
Glossika is built on some rather complicated theories on language learning and linguistics. Yet using it is extremely simple!
When studying with Glossika, you study sentences of batches of 5.
I recommend you do 5-20 new sentences per day. You’ll find that it won’t take long, but before you go ahead and study sentences like crazy, be aware that these all will be scheduled for review later. Several times!
You first hear a sentence in English. Try reading the Turkish sentence out loud after the English one. Then the Turkish sentence is repeated two times. Repeat after the voice in Turkish. Follow the speed of the speaker as well as you can!
And don’t worry if you didn’t get it right, or if you were mumbling a little.
You will improve.
There are ways to slow down the speed of the Turkish recordings, but I don’t recommend it.
The best you can do is to get used to the speed and melody of real Turkish as early in the process as possible.
Reviewing or doing “reps” with Glossika
After you’ve done your 5-20 sentences, put Glossika aside for a while.
Your sentences will be rescheduled for review after 12-24 hours. So review those before doing your new sentences.
The scheduling of sentences if based on a clever algorithm that tries to predict when you’re about to forget the sentence.
So you’re asked to review the sentence just before you forget it.
As you do your reviews, new repetitions are scheduled further and further into the future. If a sentence is particularly difficult, you can tag the sentence in the study screen.
This means that Glossika will make sure to make you review this sentence a little more often.
Likewise if it’s too easy, you can space out the reviews, so you see the sentence more rarely.
And that’s basically it!
Glossika has a lot of sentences in their system, which means that you can keep studying with Glossika for a long time and go from the beginner stage to upper intermediate.
Keep using it until you’ve done several thousand reps! If you’re interested, read my article on Glossika.
And here’s the link I promised you to the Glossika Turkish website
How to start reading in Turkish?
You’ve finished with your Teach yourself book and the FSI course. And you’re a few thousand reps into the Glossika sentences.
The time has come to add something new to your daily study routine.
The importance of reading can’t be overstated when learning Turkish.
When you choose the right material, reading lets you learn new vocabulary from engaging content.
It’s a way of internalizing grammar and it’s a great way of making the Turkish language part of your life.
The problem is to find texts at just the right level.
If you spend a lot of time reading texts that are easy, you won’t progress much.
In the intermediate stage, however, the problem is more often of finding texts that aren’t too hard!
The American linguist Stephen Krashen has defined the process of learning languages through reading in his Input Hypothesis.
The idea is – in very simple terms – that you should read texts in Turkish that are just slightly above your level.
You need a certain amount of known, comfortable words around an unknown word to be able to deduct its meaning from context. Other linguists have thought about this, and put a number of it. 3% of unknown words in a text.
You shouldn’t focus too much on that number though!
So how to learn Turkish through reading? There are a number of strategies or approaches you can use to benefit from reading in Turkish. They all touch on the subject on Krashen’s Input Hypothesis in one way or another. The idea is to make the text transparent.
Here’s an article I’ve written about some of these reading strategies. Or you can keep reading:
Reading Turkish by looking up words
The first approach you might think of is reading Turkish texts with a good old-fashioned dictionary.
For each word you don’t understand, you look it up.
I do not recommend this.
Pausing to look up unknown words as you move along can be extremely tiring.
Even if you’ll look up just one word per page, you’ll constantly be interrupted in your reading. Where were you? What did you just read? What was the meaning of that word you just looked up again?
Reading with a dictionary is actually not that helpful, and in my experience, it takes out all enjoyment and motivation.
What I do recommend, is using an instant pop-up dictionary for reading. If you use Google Chrome, try installing Google Dictionary.
With this tool, you can click on any word, anywhere on the net, and it’ll instantly look it up for you!
This can be extremely helpful if you want to read Turkish articles of interest.
The “greetings and goodbyes” “at the airport” and “going to the baker’s” of your beginner’s course might be getting a little boring to you. So go look for Turkish articles on cooking, health, gardening, fishing, or whatever you’re interested in!
Using LingQ to read in Turkish
Another one of my favorite language learning tools is LingQ. (That’s a link to their website)
LingQ does a lot of things, but its most important feature is its reader.
With LingQ you import texts you want to study into their website or their app, and you read the text through their interface.
All words are then held up against texts you’ve previously studied.
Words that are new and completely unknown will be blue, words you’re in the process of learning are yellow, and words you know well are just black on a normal white background.
When you read texts with LingQ, you learn words from seeing them again and again in different content.
Like with Google Dictionary, you can instantly look up words, but instead of being prompted with a standard dictionary entry, you’re encouraged to save a “hint”.
A hint is designed to make you think. You click on a blue word – something that is still unknown to you, and you’re faced with a dictionary translation to English.
Work with “hints” in LingQ rather than direct translations
At this point you can either choose the translation as a hint, or you can write something else.
Try explaining what the word is about in Turkish. Or try writing a Turkish synonym instead of the direct English translation.
Doing a little brain work with unknown words actually helps you remember them much easier.
So the next time you come upon that same word, you have a better chance of recognizing it; Not because you’ve already looked it up, but because you’ve taken the time thinking about synonyms or definitions to the word, so you have a recollection of doing something with it.
As you study with LingQ, the system keeps track of how many words you know and how many you’re in the process of learning.
It’ll also give you a percentage of known or unknown words in any text you import into the system and help you judge the difficulty of a text.
If you want to read more about LingQ, you can go read my review of it!
Using parallel reading to learn Turkish
Another approach to reading in Turkish, might be to read an English book side by side with the Turkish version.
First read one sentence, paragraph, page or chapter in English, then read the same in Turkish.
What this does is to reveal the plot to you. You know what’s going on and what the subject is. This makes it possible to take advantage of the Turkish text without being frustrated by the difficult parts.
I’ve read Harry Potter (link to Harry Potter in Turkish on amazon) in multiple languages using this approach. But there are many options!
If you’re slightly more advanced in Turkish, you might also try and jump directly to reading your favorite book in its Turkish translation.
Even though you’re not reading the two books side by side, you’re already familiar with the plot and the tone of the story, so it’ll be much easier to recognize it when rereading it in Turkish.
Start speaking and writing in Turkish
So you’ve already done a few thousand reps with Glossika, and you have made Turkish reading part of your everyday routine.
It’s time to take Turkish to the next level and start reading and writing.
To many people, the task of speaking a foreign language that you’re learning seems like one of the most difficult milestones.
It actually isn’t that bad.
You’ve got the vocabulary in you, it’s just a question of activating it now.
I recommend that you look into getting a tutor. On Italki you can find a lot of Turkish tutors who offer their services for a fee. Have a look at what’s available, and see if you can find someone who you’d like to work with.
I recommend that you schedule sessions with your tutor 2-3 times a week.
When scheduling a session, make sure to also mention the subject that you’d like to discuss and the way you’d like to do it.
I suggest that you pick a new topic for every tutoring session. Make it a topic of conversation, not a question about grammar or vocabulary.
Ask your tutor that all of the session be in Turkish and that he or she limit the corrections to the absolute minimum!
Your tutor can write you a report after the conversation with a few points to focus on. That’s much better than interrupting the flow of the conversation with explanations and corrections.
Write short essays on the same topic and have them corrected
After the end of each session, sit down and write a short essay about what you’ve just discussed.
Take great care of writing as correctly and as eloquently as you can (Even if it’s very little).
In the beginning, you can make the text 100-300 words long, but as you progress with your writing, the sky is the limit! (And your wallet).
Send the text to your tutor, have it corrected. Then take great care to notice the corrections!
And one other thing: Many tutors will have an opinion on how you should go about studying Turkish.
Some offer their own lessons and learning programs and some have their own specific style.
I recommend that you take charge of your tutoring sessions. You’re the one who’s paying, so make clear how you’d like it done.
You might have to go through a couple of different tutors before you find one you really like to work with.
Getting a language exchange partner
Paying a tutor for conversation and corrections multiple times per week can be a little costly.
If you’d like to try other options, try looking into Language exchange. With language exchange, you partner up with someone who’s learning a language that you speak and you act as a tutor for one another.
I’ve had some good experiences with this arrangement myself. But it can be difficult to find a good partner who has the same method, level of ambition and availability as you do.
There’s also the inconvenience of spending half your time helping your partner rather than improving Turkish.
But if you have the time and if you’re able to find someone with whom you can make it work, go for it!
And that’s it!
Learning Turkish if not difficult if you do it right. But it takes dedication, patience and time.
If you’re not willing to put in the work you’ll end up giving up like most people who set out to study a foreign language.
And if you’re not consistent with your studies, you won’t get very far.
The above suggestions is obviously not the only way to learn Turkish.
You might want to adapt and try out different things as you go along. But if you do everything I’ve mentioned, and you keep studying regularly, you’ll become a fluent speaker of Turkish, and that’s a guarantee!