/ Turkish

From zero to Turkish in 6 months

November 1st marked the first day of the six month journey I am embarking on. I have been putting off learning Turkish for many years now and am finally in a spot where I can commit a few hours each day to learning the language my wife and her family speak in addition to German.

Not only will Turkish allow me to feel more connected to my in-laws, it will also make it possible to converse with the approx. 1.5 million Turkish speakers in Germany.

Approach

There are many different ways to approach a new language. I have previously studied Spanish in high school, Swedish in college and at home as well as dabbled with Icelandic for some time. Swedish, Icelandic, English and my native tongue, German, are all part of the germanic branch of indo-european languages, making them easier to learn as they share similar vocabulary and grammar.

Turkish on the other hand belongs to the Turkic language family. While the language has accumulated a lot of loan words from French and English in recent decades, it historically has incorporated words of Persian and Arabic origin. Its grammar is wildly different from the languages I know. To give a brief example:

The English sentence "I am going to my car" can be expressed in Turkish with "Arabama gidiyorum". Let's take this sentence apart:

  • Araba means car
  • -m, the ending "(I)m" expresses possession in the first person singular
  • -a, the ending "I" expresses direction (to where, compare engl. "whither")
  • gidiyorum, formed from the verb "gitmek" with the ending "-yor" and the personal ending "-um". Together this forms the 1st person singular present continuous (roughly the english "ing" form)

You can already tell, that this is quite different from how the English sentence is structured. English uses prepositions like "to" to express directions whereas Turkish utilizes suffixes. The subject in the Turkish sentence comes first and the verb last. "Car-my-to go-I-am" would be the literal, piece by piece, translation of the above sentence. Having previously looked at the language it always felt like Turkish was taking a "Yoda" approach to sentence structure.

How then am I going to approach this language?

There are plenty of resources out there that tell you how to approach a language. In the end it comes down to finding your own approach and sticking to it. After all, language learning doesn't happen over night - it requires dedication and time. How you use that time is where you can optimize.

Benny Lewis from Fluent in 3 months recommends speaking from day one. Gabriel Wyner's Fluent Forever describes in detail how to best make use of flashcards and spaced repetition to learn vocabulary and grammar. I've decided to combine both methods.

In the first few weeks I am committing to speaking at least 5 minutes a day. The goal is to get comfortable making the sounds of the language and getting my ears tuned as well.

In order to get a basic understanding of Turkish grammar I am also going to work through the Duolingo English-Turkish course. While not very popular amongst polyglots, I find Duolingo gives me the right amount of daily gratification to keep my motivation up. Likewise, I will work through the Turkish courses offered by Memrise.

Now here's the thing: You can sit in your room and quietly work through these courses. You will be able to read and potentially write some of the language when you're done with the courses. What's missing is the speaking part which is completely neglected by both apps. When it comes to speaking, your mouth will not yet be used to producing the sounds of the language. I find it key to speak out loud every sentence you encounter and repeat it until you can produce it without any hiccups.

Finally, I have decided to give Assimil a shot. Their courses are more traditional in that you buy a book and get a CD/MP3 set for self-study but they're often praised for their high quality material. Assimil produces their courses for French speakers first and then builds them for other languages. It just so happens that they offer a book for German speakers called Türkisch ohne Mühe (Book for 20EUR, Book + 4CDs for 99EUR).

The book comes with 71 lessons. Each of which you are supposed to go through in five steps:

  1. Listen to the audio recording and read the text out loud
  2. Read the text slowly and pay attention to the word by word translation
  3. Listen to the audio recording again
  4. Read each sentence out loud until you completely memorized them
  5. Listen to the audio recording again

While this seems incredibly repetetive, it contains all the key points I made above.

With these three resources I should be set for the first one or two months of my six month journey. I will gradually extend my toolset to Anki and iTalki when I feel the need to do so.

Why six months?

I find six months to be an optimal duration for this project. The #Add1Challenge prouds itself with helping learners to have a 15 minute conversation after three months. I participated in the Add1Challenge around this time last year but felt really pressured and eventually dropped out. This is obviously just my personal experience - other learners made great progress while I was struggling with deciding what tool to use.

Shawn Crowder, who is currently learning Japanese in a year, nicely documented his journey from setting out to learning the language to the changes he has made over time to his study routine. For anyone who is interested in learning Japanese or simply how to use Anki for practicing vocabulary and grammar I can wholeheartedly recommend his videos.

Inspired by Shawn and the Add1Challenge I decided to go with 6 months. It gives me time to experiment with my study routine while not overcommitting. In the beginning I plan to reevaluate my study habits every two weeks in order to stay on track.


Finally, I want to take you along on my journey, whether you're a fellow Turkish learner or just generally interested in language learning. I will post regular updates on my progress, study habit and lessons learned. Subscribe to get updates delivered to your inbox as they're released!