Learning Turkish as an expat in Turkey

Updated 2017-09-18 07:22

Everybody in Turkey does not speak English, especially outside of the major cities. Although not an absolute necessity, acquiring at least the rudiments of the Turkish language can be a valuable asset in your everyday life — to purchase groceries, visit a doctor, or simply ask for directions.

If you intend to work in a Turkish company you may need an even sounder command of Turkish. Here is a short guide for would-be Turkish learners.

Challenges and opportunities

The Turkish alphabet is derived from the Latin alphabet, without Q, W and X, and with 6 additional letters (Ğ, ğ, Ş, ş, İ and ı) tailored for the phonetic requirements of the language.

A major hurdle for Turkish learners is the length of words, which can reach an impressive 20-syllable count and can hence be hard to pronounce. The syntax can also be somewhat confusing to English speakers at first, as the phrasing structure is reversed (generally following a object verb subject pattern).

On the bright side, Turkish spelling is perfectly phonetic, with words written exactly as they are pronounced. The grammatical corpus is pretty straightforward, with only very few exceptions. Moreover Turkish has many loanwords of foreign origin. Arabic, French or Persian speakers will recognise such words as aile (family), kuafor (hairdresser), or beraber (together).

Language classes

Many public universities offer evening classes for beginners. They are free for students and can be joined by outsiders for a small fee.

Besides, private language schools offer Turkish classes taught by certified teachers for all levels. The most renowned language schools in Turkey are Tomer, which has branches in 6 cities (Alanya, Ankara, Antalya, Bursa, Istanbul and Izmir), Dilmer and Kedicat. Many smaller schools offer equally good teaching, so asking your fellow expats for school recommendations can be worthwhile. Language schools provide intensive training or weekend and evening classes. They are however comparatively pricy; up to EUR 500 for one month.

Private tutoring

A cheaper option is to seek private tutoring with a native speaker. While such tutors are generally not certified language teachers and might struggle a bit more with the ins and outs of the grammar, they will provide you with tailor-made training and can give your learning a more spontaneous feel ' they can for instance teach you curse words!

Many former school teachers or other well-read retirees offer inexpensive tutoring for foreigners. Besides, many young Turks engage in language learning exchange programmes to hone their foreign language skills.

Self learning

Provided you are disciplined enough, you can try to learn Turkish on your own. A number of paid or free apps (Rosetta Stone, Assimil, Babbel, Duolingo to mention some of the most popular) offer to teach you Turkish, each with a different method. Browsing online and reading the feedback of other learners can help you pick the service best suited to your profile.

To improve your understanding of the Turkish speech, watching TV or listening to Turkish radios and podcasts are significant skill boosters. Beginners can find subtitled Turkish TV shows online, either on specialised platforms or simply on YouTube.

Trying to read children books or comic books in Turkish can help more advanced learners perfect their reading and writing skills.

Good to know:

English to Turkish online dictionaries such as Tureng and Zargan are of invaluable help to Turkish learners.

We do our best to provide accurate and up to date information. However, if you have noticed any inaccuracies in this article, please let us know in the comments section below.