The Turkish language is spoken by close to 80 million people in the world, most of whom speak the language as their mother tongue. It's a language of the Turkic language family, which means that it's completely unrelated to English. It also means that the Turkish language might be a little more challenging to learn for an English speaker than many other languages.
But let's say that you set out to learn Turkish by yourself. How long would it take?
Figuring out how long it takes to learn the Turkish language depends on a lot of factors. It's not just a question of the Turkish language itself, but also of you, your motivation, academic and linguistic background, what level of Turkish you're aiming for, your motivation and the time you put in. Depending on all of these factors, you could reach your goals in 1-3 years, or it could take a decade.
In order to calculate how long you need to spend to learn Turkish, go have a look at my study time calculator.
Or you can keep reading, to learn a little more about the different variables.
Let's take a closer look:
Difficulty Of The Turkish Language
Turkish isn't an inherently difficult language to learn and as it's the case with most languages, as long as you're patient and you put in the time and stay consistent, you will eventually pick it up.
There are, however, some aspects of Turkish that might be more time consuming than others. Keep reading!
The Turkish Alphabet And Pronunciation
Since 1929, Turkish has been written with a modified version of the Latin alphabet, which is the very same you use to read and write English. Where Turkish is different, however, is that the Turks adapted their new alphabet to their pronunciation in such a way that each sound in the language has a distinctive letter.
This means that the Turkish language is written phonetically, and that, as long as you know the pronunciation rules, you'll be able to pronounce all Turkish words only by reading them. This makes reading Turkish significantly easier than a language like English, where you just have to "know" how a word is pronounced. (Think of all those words ending in "-ough").
And once you've figured out how to read Turkish, the pronunciation isn't really that bad. The most challenging sounds in Turkish are three letters, Ö, R and Ü.
Ö and Ü are vowels which are pronounced pretty much like in German. It's not quite an O and a U, but close, and it might take a little getting used to. And then there's the R, which in Turkish is thrilled. Don't worry, this isn't really a big deal!
My advice is to focus on getting better at Turkish pronunciation as you go and to not dwell too long on it. It will get easier with time as you get used to it.
As for the time it takes? I wouldn't say that Turkish pronunciation really adds anything significant to the time it takes to learn the language. Carry on!
The grammar on the other hand, is quite different from English. Turkish is a so-called "agglutinatie" language, meaning that many of the things you'd express in English by adding words to a sentence is done in Turkish by adding prefixes, internal syllables and suffixes to a word.
While this isn't any more difficult than what we're used to in English, it's completely different, and for this reason, learning Turkish grammar might take longer than it would if you were learning Dutch or Swedish grammar which resemble English much more.
Many other aspects of Turkish grammar make it more time consuming than other languages such as the word-order of sentences and the fact that there are no articles like "a" and "the".
Turkish is, in many ways, an "exotic" language. It is completely unrelated to English, French, Russian and other European languages of the "Indo-European" language family. Some linguists theorize that Turkish may be remotely related to Korean, which might help you get an idea of how different it actually is from English.
This means that Turkish words, for the most part, are unrelated to English words, and it means that you'll need to spend longer remembering them because they just don't remind you of anything you already know.
On the other hand, the Turkish language is rich in loan-words from languages such as Arabic, Farsi, French and English. If you already know related words in any of these languages, chances are that you'll have an easier time remembering them in Turkish too.
But as a general rule, remembering words in Turkish takes time and work.
Turkish - A Relatively Time Consuming Language To Learn
The Foreign Service Institute (or FSI) is the US government institution in charge of language education for American diplomats and emissaries that are sent on over-seas missions and tasks. They're very experienced in teaching languages and also know a thing or two about what to expect of the time needed to learn different languages.
According to the FSI, Turkish takes about 1100 class-room hours to learn to a C1 (lower advanced) level.
These numbers might not be directly transferable to your situation, though! The reason is that the FSI teaches languages in a very specific situation. The students are highly talented and focused individuals who study intensive language learning programs in small groups with a dedicated teacher who adapts his or her teaching approach to each individual student.
1100 hours is about 3 years of studying one hour per day. And while that might seem more or less realistic, it doesn't necessarily apply to your situation and your case.
The time you'll need for learning Turkish will depend on much more than the language itself, it will depend on you.
Other Factors: You, Your Study Routine And Your Goals
When calculating how long it takes to learn a language, the language itself, obviously, is important. But some of the other variables have nothing to do with the language you're learning. One person might learn Chinese faster than someone else learning French, because they've got advantageous factors playing in.
- Your personal experience,
- Your motivation,
- Your goal with the language you're learning,
- The time you're able to put in
- And how consistently you're able to study.
In the following, I'm going to go a little more into detail with some of those.
What's Your Background? (Linguistically And Academically)
Your background, as a language learner, as a multilingual or monolingual or as a student will heavily influence the time needed for learning Turkish.
Maybe you're someone who's successfully taught yourself one, two or even several languages before. One of those languages could even be a language related to Turkish like Kazakh or Uzbek, and if that's the case you won't find Turkish very challenging. (Maybe just a little)
But even if you haven't studied another Turkic language, or if you aren't exactly a polyglot, you might still have taken French in high-school or grown up listening to Spanish. Having this experience will be an advantage too. Not because French vocabulary will help you a lot (even though Turkish has many French loan-words) but simply because the idea of "a foreign language" isn't completely foreign to your brain.
Having already had some kind of experience with other languages than English will help you break that initial barrier that many monolinguals feel when first starting out learning a new language. You'll simply be more open for other ways of expressing oneself.
And even if you neither know, nor ever studied another language - if at least you have some experience with learning, taking notes, being structured, setting goals and being disciplined, you'll have an advantage over someone who doesn't.
How Motivated Are You To Learn Turkish?
Motivation, in language learning, is a biggie. Someone who positively adores Turkish and everything about Turkey and Turks will find it much easier to advance than someone who's just moderately interested.
This is partly because motivation keeps you going and helps you realize your goals when things start seeming a little boring. But actually, it's much more than that.
Someone who is passionate about a language and a culture will be mentally receptive to that language in another way than someone who isn't. If you love the sound of Turkish, you'll take notice of the tone in which it's spoken, the way it's pronounced and exactly how the words are spelled, and you'll find that the information sticks much, much better than it's the case with other topics.
You don't have to be extremely motivated to learn Turkish, but if you are, it'll be both easier and faster. So if you're learning Turkish for "hard, logical reasons" instead of following your heart, try finding something about Turkish that you can be passionate about. Try making friends, look into the cuisine (especially baklawa!) and listen to the music.
What Level Of Turkish Are You Aiming For?
Most people who want to learn a language like Turkish don't think much about language levels. They just want to be "fluent" in the language. When figuring out how long you'll need to spend studying, it's very important to know what you're aiming for, though.
"Fluency" is difficult to define. Some people consider it to be able to speak and communicate exactly as a native speaker. Others simply want to be able to "get by" in the language. If you can converse, make friends, order food and go about your day in Turkish, you've already got a long way!
So which one do you choose? Learning Turkish to the same level as a Turkish academic might take you a decade or more! And even when you reach a point where you can write scientific papers in Turkish, chances are that your American accent still shines through.
Personally, I'd aim for the intermediate level. You'll reach your goals in a fraction of the time and you'll be able to do so much with the language if only you're conversational.
And as long as you keep using the language, you'll keep improving anyway.
The 1100 hours cited above refer to the "C1", or lower advanced. If you aim for B1 instead, you just might get there in half the time.
How Much Time Can You Put Into Studying Turkish?
This is essential. If you study 8 hours a day, you'll learn Turkish much faster than if you did 30 minutes per day. This is obvious.
But what you might not have considered is that you might not get the same "bang for your buck".
When calculating how long it takes to learn Turkish, you can't just divide the 1100 hours by the amount of time you're able to put in every day. The fact is that studying extremely intensively will make you tired and less focused, which might mean that you get a little less out of the time you put in.
On the other hand, if you only study 10 minutes per day, you'll forget new information faster than you can revise it, and you'll never really get around to covering new material.
I find that I'm most effective if I study 45 minutes to 1½ hours per day. When I do more, the quality of my time dwindles, and if I do less, I just don't advance.
How Consistently Can You Study Turkish?
When learning languages, consistency is key. The more often you sit down to study, the better. Try avoiding infrequent breaks and hiatuses in your journey to learning Turkish. These are not only obstacles, but setbacks and once you've been away from your language learning routine for a while, you'll have to revise, catch up, and you even run the risk of loosing steam and eventually giving up!
Studying an hour a day, every day is much better than cramming in 10 hours during the week-end. The reason for this is that the brain gets a lot more out of dealing with the language as a "habit". 5 or 10 hours in one sitting is not only ineffective, but it's draining and hard work. But if you can do one hour now, and repeat the same thing tomorrow, you'll neither overburden yourself, nor forget what you just covered before getting back for your next study session.
In fact, what's even better than studying Turkish for one hour per day is 10 minutes 6 times a day. While this is, first of all, more practical if you're trying to fit Turkish into a busy schedule, it's secondly a great way to keeping the Turkish language active in your mind throughout the whole day.
You'll never get the chance to get "comfortable" and rely only on English, because your mind will be constantly soaked in the Turkish language.
And 10 minutes while riding the bus and doing the dishes? Everyone can do that.
Calculating how long it takes to learn Turkish is no exact science.
It depends on so many things, some of which I've covered in the above, but it's impossible to cover everything. If you want to get a ball-park figure, I encourage you to go and try my calculator, which I've previously mentioned in this article.
And then I suggest that you get started.
Go read my article on just that right here:
How To Learn Turkish By Yourself.