Trying to learn Turkish in a day

Teacher: Filiz Venn

From: Dorset

Lesson: A very basic introduction to Turkish

The teach us team with their Turkish teacher

Everyone knows you can’t learn a language in a day. It takes months to develop enough confidence to hold even a basic conversation, and years to become fluent. Fortunately for her, our half-Cypriot half-English teacher, Filiz, developed bi-lingualism as a child, and picked up Turkish as a consequence of being born in Cyprus.

Learning as an adult is certainly harder, but not impossible. Choosing a new skill to learn of your own volition (rather than being pushed along by parents) is also potentially infinitely more rewarding. This is the mindset that we carry into each of these lessons, and the reason why we accepted Filiz’s offer to show us why “it really isn’t as hard as people make it out to be”.

Filiz Venn from Dorset explains some basic Turkish

Alice from teach us takes notes. Turkish is a hard lesson to learn!

We started with the basics: merhaba! (hello!) and hoşça kal (good-bye), then moved onto the alphabet. Feliz explained that it’s a phonetic alphabet, which meant it really shouldn’t be any problem to learn, but the phonetics proved to be enough of a challenge. In our defence, it is quite confusing! For example: ‘c’ is pronounced ‘j’ but ‘ç’ is pronounced ‘ch’. ‘O’ is ‘o’ as in ‘door’ but ‘ö’ is pronounced ‘u’ as in ‘burn’ and, as for how to pronounce ‘ğ’, God only knows.

After giving it a good go, and feeling that we’d probably tested Filiz’s patience enough for one lesson, we admitted ‘Türkçe bilmiyorum!’ (we don’t speak Turkish) and stopped to listen to Filiz’s tales of life in Cyprus during the military coups of 1974. Before becoming too distracted, we turned our attention back to the lesson and asked how hard we’d need to try if we wanted to gain a good understanding of the language, if she enjoys teaching, and whether or not she’d ever consider teaching people like us again.

Our Turkish teacher from Dorset, Filiz Venn.

How did you learn Turkish?

I was born in Cyprus so I’m fluent. I have a British mother and a Turkish father, which means I’ve been speaking both languages since birth.

What has bilingualism brought you?

The first things that come to mind are that it’s made going on holiday a lot easier, and that I’ve been able to help loads of my friends with learning certain helpful phrases. It’s been great for my family too, but it’s also meant that they’re quite dependent on me. My husband has made a solid effort to learn the language and has gotten pretty good, but only one of my daughters has ever attempted to learn (and not with me!) Still, I consider myself very lucky.

Is it something anyone could pick up?

Yes! Anyone could learn it. It requires hard work, dedication and lots practise, but it’s all made much easier by immersing yourself in the language by listening to Turkish music, watching Turkish films and using YouTube.

What advice would you give to beginners?

It would be that it’s easier to learn a language if you listen to the radio a lot and watch films. Also remember that it doesn’t matter if you make mistakes. If you’re practising on holiday, Turkish people will just love the fact that you’re giving it a go and making an effort. I don’t think it’s too difficult to learn, but you might think otherwise!

The teach us team listen intently to their Turkish teacher

What are the most common mistakes?

Probably forgetting that the verb comes at the end of the sentence, and trying which seems to be the hardest thing for British people to get their heads around.  

Can you tell us one interesting fact about the language?

The Turks used to speak Arabic and Turkish but use the Ottoman Turkish (perso-arabic) alphabet, which made it incredibly difficult to pick up. In 1928, Atatürk (the father of the Turks) invented the modern language and instated the Roman alphabet, which made it much easier and resulted in lots more people speaking Turkish.  

Why would you recommend people learn Turkish?

Turkey and Cyprus have been favourite holiday destinations for the Brits for years but unfortunately, with the current political situation, many people have been put off going there. This is a huge shame, and if you do choose to take a trip, you’ll find that the problem spots are isolated to small areas, so most of Turkey is still open to tourism. If you are going to go on holiday there, I’d recommend learning at least a few phrases because it’ll give you a better holiday, the locals will love it and, ultimately, it’ll enrich your life.  

The teach us team get shown a traditional Turkish coffee pot

How do you keep it up now that you’re living in England?

The only way to keep up a language is to speak it as much as you can. I speak to my sister in Turkish most of the time, which an interesting experience because we have both lived in the UK for 30+ years now.  We speak our own kind of Turkish that includes a lot of English words, so it probably wouldn’t be that hard to understand what we were talking about if you overheard a conversation.

How would you rate us as students?

You were all keen and the fact you’d been to Turkey and had a flavour of the language definitely helped. If you really wanted to learn and persevered, you could get to a better level pretty quickly.

Is there another skill you wish you had?

I’ve always wanted to be a tree surgeon. I’m a demon with a pair of secateurs, and I’d love to get out there and chop something bigger. Unfortunately I think I’m a bit beyond that now, but you never know… perhaps in the next life!

Who’s the most skilled person you know?

I’m impressed with my husband, because he’s a very dedicated language learner. He learnt French and German when he was younger and is very good at Italian as well as having a decent grasp of Turkish. He uses his arms a lot and doesn’t mind if people laugh at him, but I admire the fact he can do that because I just don’t have the same confidence.

New skill learners, the teach us team, with their Turkish teacher

More complicated Turkish words to learn for teach us

Our teacher shows us how to spell Turkish words

What we learned

  • Basic greetings: ‘merhaba!’ (hello) and hoşça kal (good-bye)
  • ‘Merci’ can be used for ‘thank you’
  • The Turkish alphabet is phonetic, but getting to grips with the sounds takes time
  • The Ottoman-Turkish alphabet was replaced with the Roman alphabet by Atatürk in 1928
  • If in doubt, use Türkçe bilmiyorum! (I don’t speak Turkish)