Is The Turkish Language Hard To Learn? Well.. It'll Take Some Time..

avatarMille Larsen
8 mins read

The Turkish language is one of the bigger and most popular languages in the Turkic language family. It's a language that more and more people get interested in in today's world whether it be for touristic, cultural, business related or other reasons. This is also why a growing number of people decide to try and learn the Turkish language.

But how difficult is the Turkish language to learn? In my opinion, no language is "hard to learn". But the more different they are from English, there more time you'll need to spend before getting to fluency. Turkish is quite different from English. But some aspects of the language aren't that complicated.

In the following I'll discuss some different aspects of Turkish that influence the difficulty and the time it takes to master the language for an English speaker.

Turkish grammar, not hard, but different

In many aspects, Turkish grammar is simple. There are no articles like "a" and "the" and the verbs are very regular unlike most languages in the world. Add to that the fact that you won't have to deal with gender like you do in most languages in the world (except English of course).

Yet there are other points that complicate Turkish a little. One such is that Turkish is a "SOV" language, or "subject - object - verb". English is "Subject verb object". This means that while you'd say "Poul drinks coffee" in English, you'd say "Poul coffee drinks" in Turkish.

This doesn't seem so bad, but imagine a really long sentence. You'll get all the info about who's doing something and what he's doing it to first. But you'll have to wait to actually learn what he's doing until the end of the sentence.

This isn't necessarily more complicated than the sentence structure we use in English - but it takes some getting used to!

Another, quite different, aspect of Turkish grammar is agglutination.

An example of Turkish agglutination with the word stem "korku" (fear)

In Turkish, a lot of things are expressed by adding extra suffixes to a word, rather than keeping information as separate words. This means that words can end up very long and practically convey entire sentences on their own.

While this seems extremely difficult when you first look at it, it actually isn't any more complicated than constructing sentences out of individual words. If you consider each suffix a separate word, you can use the suffix independently in other words, like you would use a word in another sentence in English.

But even though this isn't more difficult than English, it is very different. If you were to learn French or Dutch, you'd have the advantage of being used to forming long sentences with short, individual words. With Turkish, you have to change your way of thinking!

Turkish Pronunciation? No Big Deal

When learning Turkish, you have the advantage of an almost completely phonetic alphabet. Words are pronounced exactly the way they're spelled, which means that you can more or less read and write anything as soon as you've got the pronunciation down.

But how about that pronunciation?

You won't experience a lot of problems with Turkish pronunciation. In fact, it's really easy! There are three letters that might represent a slight challenge to English speakers, though.

  • Ö - This is pronounced like in German. Similarly to a French E or a Danish Ø.
  • R - In Turkish, you have to roll your R's
  • Ü - and this one is pronounced like in German too. It's similar to the French U.

And that's it!

In other words: Turkish is pretty easy to pronounce correctly!

What About Turkish Vocabulary? Is It Hard?

When learning Turkish, you're learning words from a completely different language family. Unlike most European languages and even languages such as Russian, Hindi and Farsi, Turkish is not Indo-European. It belongs to the Turkic language family, and all the originally Turkic words in the language are completely unrelated to Enlish.

Yet, you'll probably still see a lot of words that seem vaguely familiar when learning Turkish. This is because there's a great deal of foreign loan words in the Turkish language, partly due to its history. Most are from Arabic - if you know Arabic you will recognize a ton of everyday Turkish words with Arabic roots. "Hello" in Turkish is "merhaba", "book" is "kitap" and "mint" is "nane". But even if you don't know a lot of Arabic, you still might recognize other Turkish words.

As a matter of fact, a significant number of Turkish words came from French. They're spelled and pronounced slightly differently than they are in France, granted, but if only you know a little French you'll recognize them. In fact, you might recognize most of them, because a lot of them have been borrowed by the English languages as well. Take words like "ajanda" (agenda), "grup" (group) and kompleks (complex) and many more.

Still, all words aren't loan words from French or other languages that you're familiar with. Most Turkish words are distinctly Turkish, and these might take a little longer to get used to, because they don't really remind you of anything you already know.

So even though loan-words provide a nice short-cut for learning Turkish words, it isn't a cure-all solution. If you want to read more about my techniques for learning words, go read the article I wrote on the subject.

The Difficulty Of Turkish According To Linguists

The Foreign Service Institute, or FSI is the American government institution in charge of teaching foreign languages to US diplomats going overseas. They're known for sorting the languages that they teach into groups defined by the time they estimate that they take to learn.

The outcome of FSI's intensive courses is what they call "professional working proficiency". In other words, you're expected to be completely fluent in the language after completing their course, which is based upon classroom training.

This also means that you, as a self student, should take FSI's estimation with a grain of salt. You might not be aiming for "professional working proficiency" and your study method and approach will impact your road to fluency differently than FSI's class-room courses. That being said, the groupings can be interesting when it comes to comparing each individual language in terms of difficulty.

Group one consists of languages like French, Dutch, Spanish and the Scandinavian languages. These are easy languages according to FSI and they estimate that it will take an average English speaker 5-600 classroom hours to finish their program.

The second group is for languages such as German, Malay and Swahili. These take roughly 30% longer, or a total of 900 hours to learn to professional working proficiency.

Then there's the third group. This is where we find languages such as Hindi, Russian, Thai and Turkish. These, including Turkish, are estimated to take 1100 hours to learn to fluency.

And the fourth category is for languages such as Korean, Arabic and Mandarin. These take an astounding 2200 hours.

But 1100 for Turkish. That's around 3 years of studying an hour per day. This is twice as long as it would take to learn French, but half as long as Chinese.

So although there are languages that take significantly longer to learn than Turkish, the language most definitely isn't among the easiest in the category.

So What's The Verdict? Is Turkish Difficult To Learn?

Asking if a language is easy or hard to learn is obviously like asking how long is a piece of string. It depends.

I do think, however, that we can conclude that Turkish is one of the more demanding languages out there. I don't believe that you'll need a special kind of language talent or a super high IQ, though. Turkish children learn the language every day after all. But they don't have a choice. You do.

So the single most important factor for learning Turkish is exactly what makes children succeed. Sticking to it!

You need to be consistent with your language studies and you need to patiently work at it every day even when you don't see a lot of progress. Only if you have this mindset will you succeed.

Turkish is not hard, but sticking to it might be!

If you want to read more about how I'd recommend that you go about learning Turkish, go read my article on how to learn Turkish.