Showing posts with label Turkish language. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Turkish language. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Exploring Üsküdar's Historic Fish Market

Üsküdar's Historic Fish Market;
Fishmongers shout to the customers
what is on offer.
It adds to the fun.
There were so many kinds of fish,
yet I wanted to use the kind
I was most familiar with.
Where were the salmon fillets?
I saw just one lonely salmon fillet
on display.
When I said what I wanted,
the fishmonger urged me
to go behind the counter.
I did as told, not understanding.
The other fishmonger opened up
the deep freeze and went in.
Will this do?
I almost screamed
it was so fun
to see that giant fish.
A memory of watching
Martha Stewart videos
with my oldest child
came rushing back to me.
It was before Martha
became really big.
We marveled that Martha
would buy and handle
a gigantic salmon
in her kitchen.
She bought the entire fish??
We admired Martha
risking all that money
preparing one gigantic salmon. 
What if it didn't turn out right
when she cooked it?
Martha was thinking big,
obviously.
The fishmonger thought
I was German.
In my imperfect Turkish,
I tried to say,
"I'm not German, I'm American."
But like all language learners everywhere,
it wasn't exactly right.
Apparently, I said:
"The German doesn't exist!"
Custom-cut fillets.
I felt so lucky,
and so full of anticipation
to enjoy my own cooking.
I wanted to take advantage
of Turkey's incredible
nut crop
and make
pistachio-encrusted salmon.
Later, after I had my wrapped salmon fillets from the fish market, I went to the nut shop to buy fresh pistachio meats. I was asking questions in slow Turkish about the various kinds of pistachios.

A Turkish man barged into the shop, shouted out his order, oblivious to the fact that I was ordering. The shopkeeper switched to the new, louder patron. "Men get waited on before women in Turkey, even if the woman was first?" I asked, after the man left.

"Maalesef (unfortunately)," the shopkeeper replied. I said 'no thank you' to placing my order with him and took my small request (1/4 kilo) to the shopkeeper's competitor across the street.

"Roasted pistachio nuts please," I ordered in Turkish. The man reached inside a heated drawer and scooped up the warm nuts into a paper bag for me. It was so satisfying to take my business there. I swear the pistachios tasted better for the lack of sexism!
My meal turned out so well!
Martha would be proud, I think.
My finished dinner
of pistachio-encrusted salmon
and Mediterranean bakla,
pine-nuts & herbs
(Bakla is Turkey's version
of green beans).

Shopping the Üsküdar fish market
was a fun experience.
And delicious too!



Interested in other posts about homemade food in Istanbul?
Take a look at these:







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Thursday, December 5, 2013

#EnSonNeOkudun What are you reading lately?

If one stays in a country long enough as an expat, it's easy to see places where one could contribute.

Turkey recently had its 90th anniversary and it got me to thinking about Turkish reading culture as Turkey approaches its centennial as a Republic. Reading culture here is still a flame in need of kindling, simply because of the incredibly interesting history of the Turkish language.

Turkey used to have an alphabet that looked like Arabic script. It was hard to read because it wasn't consistent, and it contained many loan words from Arabic, Persian, and French. Often court language and the language in the hinterlands wasn't the same.

Atatürk reformed the Turkish language by adopting the Latin alphabet. Think about what a gigantic change that was for Turkish people to absorb! And that was just one of the reforms he was undertaking at the time. When the Republic was formed, only 10% of the population was literate (it was an empire, after all).

I often tell my friends Atatürk and his generation changed the language so people could learn to read, the next generation did exactly that, and now the third generation's job is to learn to love to read.

I meet Turkish "reading role models" everywhere. As a librarian, I nurture, support, and help create reading communities. I thought that Turkey and the Turkish language needed a Twitter hash tag like the English-language one that celebrates reading culture called #Fridayreads. To use a Turkish hash tag that suggested #Fridayreads had religious connotations, so after another false start I finally settled on #EnSonNeOkudun.

I know people will be enthusiastic about something they just read and share it with this hashtag 24/7. But, because Friday is one of the heaviest volume days on Twitter, our beginning community of readers will concentrate their reading celebration all on one day, Friday, every week. Someone looking for a good read for the weekend is sure to find one. Weekly rituals become just that, rituals!

I hope to create conversations about books, blogs, magazine and newspaper articles and help readers discover reading culture and just plain help people find great things to read. People tweeting using this hashtag won't be only using Turkish because there's a sizeable population of Turks reading in multiple languages. Plus, there's a whole expat community in Turkey who also wants to get in on the fun. They'll be tweeting in their native languages.

One of my very favorite things about the idea is that it brings people together, rather than polarizes them. Turkish folks could use some of that right now.

I have messaged friends and my tweeps I've never even met "Can you help me launch dun? Let's celebrate Turkish reading culture - tweet your read each Friday in Turkish or English. Thank you."

The response has been so touching. People say things like, "What can I do to help? Thanks for asking me to participate. I will ask my friends to do it too." Truly, it makes me tear up. I think the phrase "what can I do to help?" maybe even more of a set of magic words than please and thank you.  It's fun to build something together with people.

So I ask you, Turks and the Turkophile community: #EnSonNeOkudun? What are you reading lately?

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Gezi Park Turkish Protests: Where is a "Range of Opinion?"

Protesters doing yoga in Gezi Park
What a fascinating week in Turkey as my friends have risen up and demanded their Turkish democracy be inclusive of their lifestyles and opinions too. I say "my friends" because, like most expats, I have a few friends who support the AKP and hundreds who don't. Most of my Istanbullian friends are broadly secular, supportive of the ideas of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, and are internationally-oriented global citizens. So they are completely unrepresentative of the average Turk, and especially, the average Turk who voted in the AKP-majority government.
A Turkish friend who protests
In story after story about the protests, the range of opinions reported has been very narrow. It is very easy for Westerners in Istanbul to identify with the protesters, because they are asking for things that Westerners consider foundational for a democracy: respect for minority opinion, respect for diversity of lifestyle, respect for the variety of religious expression, and respect for freedom of the press. The protests started with concern about the pace of urban transformation and sense of loss for vital green spaces within one of the world's largest cities. All of these ideas that the protesters are demanding have been ably, bravely, and amply reported. The protesters' voices are heard in story upon story in the English-language press. But you'll notice, there isn't a big range of opinion there. The protesters seem unified around these thoughts.

The views of government supporters and of the government has been very hard to find. I've been trying to find those opinions, because as a library professional, my job and my joy and my mission in life is to share information on all sides of issues. While the protesters are organized in both Turkish and English on social media and are also available in the park for easy interviewing, AKP folks must be talking to themselves on Twitter and Facebook almost exclusively in Turkish. Journalists are flying in from all over the World to cover this story, but with today's news budgets, having a translator is an extra expense some news organizations may not have. I have read hardly anything reflecting the AKP view.
Six Turkish Newspapers
All With the Same Headline
Where is a "range" of opinion
(on either side)?
The Turkish media had six front pages all with the same headline in Turkish to reflect to Turkish people the 'official' government opinion when Prime Minister Erdogan came back from North Africa; this shows there is not much deviation in the AKP opinion either. Even worse for the AKP and its supporters, their opinions aren't being expressed in English.

Even at the friendship level we expats rarely hear these AKP opinions, simply because many AKP people have not taken the time to learn a global language so they can express themselves to the world.
Protest banner decrying police brutality

These narrow bands of opinion seem to be a Venn diagram of two circles, one labeled "protesters" and one labeled "AKP." The circles seem not to have overlapping parts. Because each side seems mostly to talk to like-minded friends there is also the danger of online filter bubbles.

I remember this kind of polarization in the Bush years in America. It's the kind of opportunity Obama walked into, rallying everyone around the center. I don't know if there is a center in Turkey, but it is unoccupied at the moment - unlike Gezi Park.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

My first Scrabble game in Turkish!

Look Ma!
I can play Scrabble in two languages!
 
My Turkish teacher is so clever. Just when she can feel her class of students running out of steam, she brings out a Scrabble game. Instantly, the men in my class sat up at competition. They had never actually played a Scrabble game before; they didn't even have the context of Scrabble in their native language to get them started on this beloved word game in Turkish. I, at least, had played the game plenty of times with enthusiasm in English.
 
Here is my very humble list of Turkish words in my first Turkish game: lale, maç, tel, kır, taksi, genç, kez, dolu, kanat, aşk. A Turkish as a Second Language speaker has to start somewhere!
 
 As I was silently lamenting that I couldn't put an 's' on the end of a word and make it plural, I thought, "wait a minute, Turkish is a language of agglutination. It is suffixes upon suffixes - that should make for super easy Scrabble." But my Teacher said "no, that would be too easy. You can't use past tense either." There were other "rules" differences too. She didn't score a word both up and down if you made one that had that possibility.
 
My score was 83. In English, I average over 300. No one got a triple word score. Turkish doesn't have a 10-point Q, but it does have a J worth 8 points and a Z worth four points. My Arabic-speaking friends wanted to next try the game in English, their second language.  I wondered if there was Scrabble in Arabic. Can you imagine?
 
So I can score better and faster, I'd like someone to create a backward dictionary in Turkish so I look up words by what letters they end with, not start with.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

"I am Listening to Istanbul"

"I am Listening to Istanbul"
by Orhan Veli Kanik
I had a young Turkish teenage friend who was supposed to be learning English from me, but he was just as much the teacher, as he delighted in bringing me weekly linguistic treasure from his culture. We fell into the habit of each bringing each other one masterpiece from our native language every week. Of course, while his authors were Turkish, I had to read his offerings in English.

If you want to deepen your love of your own culture and language, try to narrow down your favorite creations to one masterpiece a week. It's hard! I shared Rudyard Kipling's poem "If" and my young friend said "If -- playing on the title -- If -- you believe there are men like that, you'll be single forever!" I had to laugh.

Then I shared another favorite: Teddy Roosevelt's "In the Arena." He liked that one. And yet another wonderful poem to share was "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost because my friend felt such delight when he instantly understood the metaphor at the end. "Invictus" by William Ernest Henley with its famous last two lines, and "Ozymandias" with its sly message against pride were hits. It was especially fun for me to pull out as many inspiring masculine poems as I could find and still I hadn't even yet cracked open the poetry books of Robert Service or shared Jack London's short story "To Build a Fire." 

One masterpiece he shared with me from Turkish culture was the poem by Orhan Veli Kanik, "I am listening to Istanbul." My young friend read it to me in English. Now I think I know enough of the original language, I am going to try and learn it in Turkish. Maybe there are other poems I should try. Is there a more beautiful context for learning language?

"I have come to love English." my student said at the end of our time together. We ran out of weeks before I ran out of masterpieces.

The time we get to share with someone is so short, whomever it may be. I am so grateful for that experience.

Whom are you sharing with that brings you joy? Be grateful to share this moment. Appreciate it with enthusiasm, even if only to yourself.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Turkish baklava, the male kind

Like the box says:
Turkish baklava
One day, my Turkish teacher explained to our class that if a man had a beer belly, it was affectionately nicknamed "Turkish muscle" or "Turkish balcony."
 
Later, she told my class that if a man had a prominent six-pack on his abdomen, it was "Turkish baklava." I didn't quite get the metaphor until I say this photo. I can just imagine all of the movie scenes: "would you like to come back to my place for some baklava?"

Monday, January 7, 2013

Five Most Popular Posts From 2012 for the 'Empty Nest Expat' Blog

I didn't get to blog as much as I wanted last year because I devoted many hours of my time to learning Turkish. Still, I increased my number of posts from the year before. Here are the top five most popular posts written in 2013:
"Hürrem," the leading character
 of the show 
 
1. Ready to Try Some Turkish TV? Watch one episode of "The Magnificent Century"
This soap opera is must-watch TV in Turkey and surrounding countries. The Turkish Prime Minister has threatened to ban it for focusing too much on the Sultan's bedroom, and not enough on the Sultan's time on the battlefield. The Prime Minister's threats of censorship, of course, just increase popular interest.
Maiden's Tower on the Bosphorus
 
2. Time Out for Turkish
This post shares my Turkish language journey and some of the internet resources I have used along the way in my early days of learning. The irony is, now that I've finally paid to attend a traditional classroom, my learning is exponentially faster! It turns out you can't beat a real teacher walking you through the grammar.
 
3. Breaking the Silence on Street Harassment in Istanbul
Single women travellers are one of the largest growth segments in travel. I tried to point out the cost to countries and local businesses when women don't feel safe on their streets.
Here we are discussing Murakami
 
4. Discussing Books with the Global Minds Book Club
When I explain the idea behind the Global Minds Book Club as people from around the world discussing books from around the world, everywhere I go, people get excited. They love that idea! And once you've discussed a book with an international group, it can seem a bit tame to only discuss a title with only people from your own country. Challenge your thinking!
Global activist Eve Ensler
She doesn't look away
from the world's worst situations
 
5. VDay 2013: One Billion Women Rising Globally & .... Dancing!
In 2012, I acted in my first play "The Vagina Monologues" to support Eve Ensler and her amazing, amazing work on behalf of ending violence against women. I loved the experience, the time I spent with the women in the cast, and I look forward to doing my part in Eve Ensler's next big project: #1billionrising which happens next month. I hope you'll participate too.

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You might enjoy:

Most popular posts for the 'Empty Nest Expat' blog for 2009

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Eve in Istanbul, Turkey

Singing "Silent Night"
a candlelight Christmas Eve Tradition
all around the world
There were also beautiful soprano and alto solos
and a jazzy saxaphone
Last night I went to the candlelight services of Union Church in Istanbul. It's the oldest Protestant congregation in the city and has been meeting in the cozy Dutch chapel attached to the Dutch consulate on Istiklal Caddessi since 1857. There are as many as 20 nationalities there on any given Sunday: Americans, Brits, South Africans, Netherlanders, Madagascarans, Kenyans, Nigerians, Congolese, Germans, Russians, Slovaks, Moldovans, Australians, just to name a few countries that achieve critical mass in the congregation.

This was an English-language service, although there are also services in Chinese, Turkish and English bilingual services, and another service for the East African community.

Tourists come from all over the world and find weekly services there via the Internet or via the little sign out on Istiklal Caddesi inviting people to English-language church. One week I enjoyed meeting Coptic Christians from Egypt and the next week it was the director of the Fallingwater architectural site in Pennsylvania. It's so interesting to see the variety of people who seek out the church while in Istanbul.

I remember the first Christmas Eve service I celebrated here. The mayor of the Beyoglu neighborhood where the church is located sent plants to all of the churches. I was stunned by how much that signal of acceptance meant to me in a 99% Muslim culture. It made me realize how much just a smile and acknowledgement of someone's right to exist can make to someone who is completely different than me and outnumbered culturally. It is a really, really healthy experience to feel what it feels like to be a minority. 

A particular local gem of candlelight services last night was "The Lord's Prayer" sung in Turkish with Turkish music and rythms. I found it incredibly haunting and powerful. We also sang favorite English-language hymns that would be recognized around the world.

Merry Christmas to all.
Peace and good will to all human kind and our planet.

You may enjoy these other posts from expat Christmases past:

A Neighborhood Christmas

Finding a Church Home in Prague: St. Clement's Church

Come Join Us for Coffee

Photos courtesy of Pastor Benjamin van Rensburg of Union Church of Istanbul

Friday, November 2, 2012

Meeting the Kilners: a visit to the home of the U.S. Consul General in Istanbul

 American ladies arriving at the entrance.
 
Jennie Toner, far right and front
with eight colleagues.
Every year, the Professional American Women of Istanbul are invited to the home of America's Consul General in Istanbul. The title of Consul General refers to America's highest diplomat in an important city that isn't the capital city.

I had no expectations of what it would be like but, I was especially looking forward to this, as I have two friends who have served as America's Consul General around the world. One friend served in Perth, Australia, and another friend served in Mumbai, India. I was never able to visit them while they held those posts so I thought my visit to the Kilner's residence might give me a feeling for what my friends' lives were like when they served. Now one of my friends has become an American ambassador, but he's in a country so off the commercial beaten path and expensive to visit, he's going to retire without me ever having visited him and his family in their country of service.
 Hope Mandel and her friend Christy.
Hope is here in Istanbul
working for the Nielsen Company
as a Client Business Partner.
 
It's hard to see in this photo,
but this was a lovely view of the church
in the background.
Weekends in Istanbul have been spectacular this fall, that Saturday morning was no different. The U.S. Consul residence is in the Arnavutköy neighborhood. I haven't explored this neighborhood yet, but need to do so soon, as a simple walk through one day told me it was adorable. The streets give an old Ottoman feeling of close wooden houses with overhanging second stories. At the windows of many homes are beautiful flowers. About twelve of us American ladies met that morning and took a taxi from Besiktas to the residence and it was quite an adventure finding the home in Arnavutköy and getting there.
 Me, stopping to take a picture
 in celebration of the peaceful feeling
of the grounds
A view of the back of the house.
A lawn like this
is a very rare thing in Istanbul.
 Enjoying brunch and conversation
on the back porch
A lovely place to sit in the back yard
and enjoy the view of shipping traffic
passing through the Bosphorus.
 
I find it impossible to tire of watching the ships
go through. They are magnificent.
 U.S. Consul General Scott Kilner
and Vanessa H. Larson,
managing editor of the new global start-up
Culinary Backstreets.
The both speak fluent Turkish, being experienced Turkophiles,
but here they are speaking English.
Enjoying the morning
Me with Adrian Hodges,
writer of the blog "Postcards from Istanbul."
Adrian is a newlywed bursting with joy.
Helene Bumbalo is just beginning her expat adventure.
She is quickly becoming an expert on teaching
"Aviation English."
We had fun and were inspired!
Mrs. Kilner welcomed us to her home and I made a point of thanking her for her service to our country. I think it is important to acknowledge the service supportive spouses give America when they are married to people who serve America professionally, because those spouses do so at considerable sacrifice to their own careers. They don't often get to choose where they will live or how long they will be there. A simple acknowledgement of this gift they give us seems like an important thing to do, don't you agree? I think it's important to say to military spouses and children too.

Everything about the morning made me so proud of my country and American values. I appreciated that the house was grand, like my nation, but our representatives were wonderfully down-to-earth and approachable. I appreciated the two Marines who were present to invite us to their annual Marine Corps ball. I loved the helpful attitude of the consular staff as they worked to answer questions about voting issues and general safety issues. I appreciated how deeply knowledgeable our Consul General is about Turkey and how much time the Kilners have in the country having served in three different posts: Adana, Ankara, and Istanbul.

When I was telling one of my Turkish girlfriends about our morning at the Consul General's house, she said, "I would have to get my hair done for that and get a new dress. It would be impossible to go without maximum effort." I think she was shocked to learn that many Americans felt comfortable going in jeans. It was a Saturday morning, for heaven's sake! I like that we Americans don't always feel the need to dress to impress and could just enjoy each other as authentically as possible.

Sometimes though, Americans can take casual too far. Ninety-five of us R.S.V.P.ed and said we would come and only 55 showed up.

Istanbul is an especially intense post, maybe one of the most intense in the world, due to Turkey's strategic position and regional issues. I believe the Secretary of State has come to Istanbul four times over the past year on business, which doesn't usually happen at consular posts.

After we had enjoyed brunch, Mr. Kilner gave us a 20-minute overview of issues affecting the region. I think there is an etiquette rule that if you go to the White House, you shouldn't repeat everything the President said, otherwise he or she never feels free to talk. So I will extend that same courtesy to Mr. Kilner, as his office has incredibly complex issues in their hands regarding Syria and surrounding international tension. I am sure that "sober" is a word that is completely overused in diplomatic circles, but I felt reassured, as best as an ordinary citizen can feel reassured, that my government is approaching these issues with thoughtful sobriety.

After we left that day, a bunch of us were riding the bus back to central Istanbul, and one of the ladies who had been a foreign service wife told us that before 1970, foreign service wives used to be rated on how much charity work they did, on their entertaining, etc. Imagine! They weren't even paid or held a position, but the U.S. government felt free to rate them.

People like Mrs. Kilner who support their spouse in representing our country are now a disappearing species, as many spouses choose to have their own career.  I'm grateful for both the Kilners and appreciated the opportunity to see how my beloved nation is represented in Istanbul.

Several photos courtesy of Hope Mandel.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Ready to try some Turkish TV? Watch one episode of "The Magnificent Century"

The ensemble cast
of Süleyman's Ottoman Court
Hollywood is so dominant in entertainment, it's easy for Americans to think no one else in the world produces quality movies and TV series. In fact, Turkey has created soft power for itself with a stream of TV shows which home viewers from the Balkans to the Arabian Sea enjoy. "More, more, more," they clamor.

My Turkish isn't good enough to watch a series in the original language. Fortunately, one of the most popular Turkish TV series subtitled their first episode so that English-language audiences could decide for themselves if they would like more international selection on their television.  I've watched the first and second episode. You don't need that much language as the story is universal: boy meets girl.

Local historians lift their nose at this show decrying that it has as much historical accuracy as a Phillipa Gregory novel, and that may be true. Do we really know if Roksalana's beau went to heaven or hell when he was killed? The details may be embroidered but the broad outlines of the story are true.
German-Turkish actress
Meryem Uzerli
as Hürrem

Besides the theme of boy meets girl, another added delight of this series is the Ottoman costumes, headgear, architecture, and interiors. The Ottomans really did wear the hats in the series that look like waste paper baskets and Jiffy Pop poppers.

The caftans! The divans! The carpets! It's all so evocative of a lost time when the "Orient mystique" of the harem intruiged all Westerners who came in contact with Turkish culture.


How popular is this series? It's credited with increasing Arab tourism to Istanbul by 50% this year. Here's the Wikipedia background on the incredible story of Süleyman and his beloved Roksolana, whom he nicknamed Hürrem, "the cheerful one:"
The "Magnificent Century" of the Ottomans refers to the reign of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent , and the series dramatizes the intrigues of his harem and court. Most of the incidents and actions occurring are based on fictional stories of the Ottomans specifically Sultan Süleyman and his harem but these actions take place on the fixed time of this reign.
 Is it universal that
all heroes arrive on a white horse?

Actor Halit Ergenç
as Sultan Süleyman
At the age of twenty-six, when his rule began, Sultan Süleyman sought to build an empire in this world more powerful and more extensive than Alexander The Great of Macedonia and to render the Ottomans invincible.

Throughout his 46-year reign, Sultan Süleyman became known as the greatest warrior and ruler of the East and West. The young Süleyman ascended to the throne after receiving the news of his crowning at a hunting party in 1520. Unaware that he would be embarking on a reign that would later be considered the pinnacle of Ottoman rule, he left behind his consort Mahidevran and their son, little prince Mustafa, at his palace in Manisa, and, accompanied by his close friend and companion Pargalı İbrahim, took the road to Topkapı Palace in İstanbul.
While they were on route, an Ottoman ship sailed off from Crimea across the Black Sea, bringing kidnapped Christian female slaves as gifts for the Ottoman palace. On this ship was Alexandra La Rossa, the daughter of a Ukrainian Orthodox minister, who saw her father mother, and fiance being killed while kidnapped. This young girl, who had been kidnapped from her family and sold to the Ottoman palace as a slave, would become Hürrem (Roksolana), the consort who so captivated Sultan Süleyman that he took the nearly unprecedented step of making her his wife. She would bear his sons and rule his empire together with him through bloodshed and intrigue.
As Sultan Süleyman ruled his empire, he allowed his great passion for Hürrem a heavy influence in his court.
The television series focuses on the relationships between the members of the imperial household, especially the romantic entanglements and rivalries. The animosity between Hürrem and Mahidevran, and Hürrem's rise as Süleyman's favorite while pregnant with his son, her fall from favor after her son's birth and her eventual return to grace, provide the main subject matter of the series. Significant subplots include the affection between the Grand Vizier and one of the ladies of the royal household and the tension between Christian Europe and the Ottoman Empire. 
For your enjoyment: episode one of "The Magnificent Century" with English subtitles. After you watch it, tell me if your TV choices would be enhanced by more shows from other countries, such as the Turkish tale contained in "The Magnificent Century." After all, there are many times in our lives when we can't travel. Why not make 'travel' come to us?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

A Review of LiveMocha.Com : The Internet's Largest Language Learning Website

This review originally appeared as a guest post on the Everyday Language Learner's Blog. Thanks to language coach Aaron G. Myers for his encouragement! You can go to the original review on Aaron's blog for additional user feedback on LiveMocha.com. Do you have experience with LiveMocha.com? I'd love to know how it has worked for you!


I’m an American expatriate bursting with enthusiasm to get out and experience our globe! When my two children graduated from high school, I saw that as my opportunity to see and hear the world from alternative points-of-view by moving overseas. I sold everything and moved to Prague, Czech Republic. Now I’m living in Istanbul, Turkey. I enjoy it so much I’ve decided to put down some expat roots and learn the local language.

As Aaron G. Myers is also an Istanbul, Turkey resident, it wasn’t long before I ran across his Everyday Language Learner’s blog. Aaron coaches people from all over the world on self-directed language learning. I started his free ten-week journey of emailed inspiration, resources, and advice on how to do just that. In Week Two, he recommended a resource for language-learning that was new to me: LiveMocha. Since LiveMocha billed itself as THE largest language-learning website on the internet, and it was free to boot, I immediately started an account.

The best thing about the site is its intuitive design. There is no mystery to how to work the site, everything is clearly labeled and easy to figure out. When I logged in, I could immediately switch the site to English and choose between working on my language courses, exploring the culture of my new language, or practicing Turkish with native Turkish speakers. Livemocha offers over 38 possible languages, with 12 million registered users, from 196 countries. The website itself is just five years old!

The genius of the design is using social networking to help people learn languages. Native speakers of one language grade the work of people trying to learn their language. That favor is reciprocated when the ‘teachers’ become students in the language of their choice! Native speakers will not only grade each other’s work, they will offer tips to understand the grammar, and practice speaking live.

LiveMocha courses are divided into three sets of five lessons. I like this. It reminded me of marathon courses. Marathon runners don’t like one long, linear course instead preferring short distances with lots of turns that add up over time. It helps the runner visualize not the entire path, but just the next step. I chose as my first course, Turkish 101, on March 7, 2011 and finished the entire 51-set of Turkish lessons in four courses on January 24, 2012. I was always excited to see what the next lesson would be and to finish a set. Those steps, repeated over and over, made it all seem so doable.

Each individual lesson began with up to 40 Turkish words or phrases. The large number of new phrases and words surprised me, because I had been taught in my TEFL teacher’s certification course, that a language lesson should never be more than eight words, as eight is the maximum a student can remember from each lesson. Maybe online lessons are different, I don’t know. I remembered them.

First I would learn the words devoted to a theme, say “clothing,” and then immediately get quizzed on them via a review session, a listening session, and a reading session. Frequent quizzing has been shown to aid short-term retention. I liked getting all of those answers right! Each lesson required me to do a writing and speaking sample. I would always put that off because they were harder to do. Finally, to complete the lesson, I would take the quiz on that individual lesson. It was fun to take the quiz multiple times and track my improvements in time. How quickly could I finish it?

I can think of four very easy improvements to the site. I was asked by users to be friends in language-learning, but finding someone to grade your samples and be possible language-learning partners seemed so random. Sure, other users would rate us on our teaching ability (I had quite a bit of ego in my 100% useful rating) but toward the end I happened upon a teacher whose answers were truly more complete and educational than others. Sure enough, his profile showed he had been recognized as a Top 10 Teacher in Turkish. Why doesn’t the site show us exactly which teachers are rated highest so we can pick them? I found my favorite teacher when I was on my last five lessons. Finding him earlier would have increased my trust of the site.

Another feature I would add to the site is to not make students guess at the pronunciation of a passage. While I would learn terms or words in a lesson, for the speaking practice attached to each lesson (usually a whole paragraph), I would often have to go outside the site to figure out how I should pronounce the words. It would be so easy to have other users actually create a sample hand-crafted audio for us to mimic. Instead, I inputted my sentences into Google Translate to figure out how to say them.

Users could criticize a phrase in a useful tip left for those learning. This was not always helpful. The lesson would try and teach a phrase and the sidebar featured someone saying, “we don’t say that!” When someone has a specific criticism of the lesson, I think site administrators should use that criticism to change the ‘slide’ and then delete the teacher’s tip. It would be one more way to create a friction-free site.

One area that I did not explore well because I didn’t see the benefit of it was flash cards. Why would I use a flash card set, when there existed a beautiful lesson with visual and audios that I could access again and again? Why would I even try someone’s top-rated flashcard set? Since we all had the exact same opportunity to create flashcards based on the lesson, I couldn’t see how someone’s flash cards could be more interesting than the lesson itself. That was not self-evident.

Lastly, I would ask LiveMocha to put verb work closer to the front of the courses. Even after 51 lessons, I could occasionally pull off a small conversation. However, I would characterize what I knew as words and phrases that were the building blocks of future conversations. I believe if verb work was closer to the front, people would be able to make sentences faster.

I remember the weekend I started to understand the signage around me. I remember the weekend I had my first 10-minute conservation with someone at the bus stop. It’s exciting to become more comfortable in a second culture and examine new ways of thinking about my world in a second language. Thank you, Aaron, for the recommendation. Thank you, Live Mocha, for getting me started in Turkish. I was sad to finish my last lesson and I wished for more and more lessons.

What better recommendation is there than that?

You may also like the post: Time Out for Turkish

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!
 
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