Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Time Out for Turkish

Maiden's Tower on the Bosphorus

I haven't blogged here for awhile.  It is not because I don't have a million things to say; I do. I have had to choose - between spending time learning Turkish - or blogging. Turkish won. It's not like I have a staff who can help me keep my blog going while I study: gidiyorum, gidiyorsun, gidiyor. The authenticity of my blog is that it is merely me, myself, and I.

I've had so much fun learning Turkish, I've put "learning another language" on my bucket list. Before becoming an "Empty Nest Expat" I was a typical American who could only speak English. I took 7th grade French, but I didn't learn much and never had any opportunity to use it.  These days in America, a child could at least practice his Spanish with a native speaker on a daily basis. Like many in America, I found it hard to justify the time investment of learning another language with only the typical two weeks of vacation each year, usually spent within the continental United States. Take a look at this infographic before embarking on a language journey.

Part of being an "Empty Nest Expat" though is to meet people on their turf and attempt to communicate with them in their language and hear, see and feel their point-of-view. My time in the Czech Republic rid me of the intimidation factor many Americans feel toward learning a foreign language because I met plenty of people who had learned not one, but two, and sometimes three or more foreign languages.  If they could do it, why not me?  This was such a perfect example of the importance of role models in our learning environment. Even though I came from a highly educated environment (my hometown is among the top three American cities for number of Ph.D.'s per capita), I don't often meet Americans who have learned a lot of languages, so it is easy to say and think,"I'll never learn." Nonsense.

America's political climate also encourages America to stay ignorant of the languages and world outside of America.  When I was younger, if a politician made fun of another politician for knowing a foreign language, it wouldn't have occured to me to wonder "why does that politician want to keep Americans afraid of and ignorant of the greater world? Is he afraid we'd all discover that our country is getting outperformed on several metrics?" This downscale English-only attitude may appeal to some aspects of the American public but only furthers to make the nation less competitive globally. Plus, when our citizens don't know other languages, we really do have to rely on our own political leaders for interpretation of events.  It's healthy to have points of interaction with other countries at many levels, including citizen-to-citizen, and not just in our native language.
The first week I was in Turkey, I went to YouTube to look up "10 words of survival Turkish." The two words for "thank you" take six syllables to say. YouTube was censored at the time in Turkey so I found this instead: the 100 most useful words in Turkish. I learned them. My goal was to learn three words a day. Next came this resource, the free part of the website called "Funky Turkish." I've also been using a book called "Turkish in Three Months." I've lived here a year-and-a-half and I'm about halfway through.

The person who has really propelled me forward on my language learning journey is Aaron G. Myers, writer of the Everyday Language Learner blog.  Aaron is a former English language teacher who now is a self-employed language-learning coach. I signed up to take his free 10-week course on self-directed language learning.  I also won an hour of coaching from him through his Facebook page.  These two wonderful educational tools have helped me realize and maintain my own enthusiasm for learning Turkish.

It doesn't hurt that Aaron also lives in Istanbul, and has taken the exact same journey I'm on - learning Turkish! He's created, for example, his own handcrafted audio site for people learning Turkish language to listen to again and again.  It's called the Turkish Listening Library. It would be fun to contribute my own Turkish audio someday.

Aaron Myer's blog and advice are suitable for any language.  He has taught me about fun online language-learning resources that I did not know about. So far, I haven't spent a dime on the Turkish I have learned. I also have invested only the amount of time I would not regret spending on it while living here.

I started with a resource Aaron suggested as part of his 10-week journey: LiveMocha.com. It's the largest language-learning website on the Internet. I first logged on on March 7th, 2011 and finished my final and 51st lesson on January 24, 2012.

Now I am beginning with a second online resource he recommended called LingQ.com which will help me graduate from phrases to conversations. I am still a beginner but I can make myself understood with people who don't know English, even with my rudimentary grammer.

The first year of language learning is the hardest. I watched with interest as Yearlyglot tried to learn Turkish in one year from Italy.  I lived here in Turkey and I wasn't near that fast! At the end of the year, he admitted, "ok, so maybe that wasn't doable." But in watching people learn, I learned too. I also learned not to think of language as something binary: not knowing or flown-blown fluency.  One of my Czech students told me he had a fine vacation in North American on 150 words of English. Getting to that level with online resources is fun and easy.

Did you know, when the creators of Esperanto were looking around the world for a suitable grammar for their newly-created language they chose Turkish grammar as the most logical?  I found that, in itself, motivating!


Aaron G Myers said...

Wow. What an inspirational and encouraging post for all of the 'normal' language learners out there. And thank so much for the kind words. Keep at it! Damlaya damlaya gol olur!

Perpetua said...

As someone who studied modern languages 40+ years ago at university, I found this post fascinating, Karen. We British are often not good at learning languages for different reasons, mainly because we arrogantly assume that we will always find English-speakers wherever we go.

Good luck with your learning of Turkish,. I admire anyone who can learn a language which has no linguistic links with English, something I have not yet managed to do.

Senior Dogs Abroad said...


As two (American) people who embarked on the same language-learning adventure about the same time as you did, we really, really enjoyed reading your blog. Your links also show how many, many resources there are out there now to learn languages. But the main thing that comes through is your positive attitude which we think is the main thing that brings you through to the end. Tebrikler! - senior dogs.

Justine said...

What a timely post, Karen, and so helpful! In fact, just this morning I was asking some language learning friends on FB for resources for learning Turkish. I'm really trying to get a basic foundation in place before I head to Turkey for the summer with my two sons. I'm so thrilled to hear about Aaron's site and resources because, frankly, everything I'd found was so focused on language for short-term vacations in Turkey. Thanks for posting this and best of luck with your Turkish! P.S. What a hoot about the creators of Esperanto finding Turkish grammar to be the most logical. It doesn't seem that way at all to me from this vantage point. But maybe in a year (or more:-) I'll see their point.

chaplain.cz said...

Hi Karen,
So glad to see you back blogging after a gap of four months & that I seem to have brought you one of my regular commenters too :-)

I admire you for what you have achieved so far with the Turkish language & thank you for this informative & thoughtful post. Whilst being a native English speaker does have many advatages, not least because it tends to be the second language of choice for most non-native speakers, it does have the down side of everybody wanting to pratice their English on us rather than allowing us to try & use our limited Turkish/Czech or whatever on them. At times, I get frustrated trying to use my fairly limited German or Czech, only to be spoken back to in English.

Christopher said...

What a great post Karen! And I love all of the language resources. Thanks!!

Katy said...

This is exactly what I needed to read to get myself back on the language-learning wagon! Thanks, Karen!

Karen said...

March 15, 2012: My review of LiveMocha.com as a language learning resource is here: http://bit.ly/AhyAz8

Anonymous said...

Haha, I'm laughing because you're becoming more influenced by Turkish than you realize: "grammer" is how Turks misspell "grammar."

You are a real positive go-getter and a great inspiration. Thanks for all the terrific links! I don't have time for a course, so learning Turkish online is the answer, for now.

Joy said...

Great post Karen!

I still have a tutor once a week, and I've learned what I call daily survival Turkish. I can speak basic sentences (past and present tense) and understand well enough. Should I study more? Of course, but then I'd miss out on this cool city. ;-) Congrats on your recent endeavors! Yavas, yavas.

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