Our guide to Turkish
Hotcourses Editor

Our guide to Turkish

First published date November 15 2013 Amended date November 15 2013

Turkish is a rewarding language to learn. You could say that it’s a language that’s having a bit of an identity crisis, with influences from Arabic, Persian, French, Hungarian and English (from which Turkish has borrowed many technological words). It even used to be written in Arabic script, but has used the Roman alphabet since 1928. It’s the official language of Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. It’s spoken in pockets throughout Eastern Europe, Iraq, Greece and in former Soviet republics. Germany has the largest Turkish community of any country in Europe.

Turkey itself is a massive draw for travellers and holidaymakers, from the bustle and energy of Istanbul to the beaches and resorts on the Aegean coast, not forgetting ancient ruins, mountainous regions and stunning geological formations. Learn Turkish, and it’s all yours for the taking.


Reasons to learn Turkish

A course in Turkish is a good investment if you want to travel in Turkey itself. In more remote places, you may not easily find English speakers. And why not take a Turkish cooking course while you’re there? You won’t need to spend a fortune on cuisine, though: Turkish street food is cheap, plentiful and among the tastiest in the world.

Istanbul itself could be motivation for learning Turkish. A hybrid of Ottoman and Byzantine heritage where East meets West, this fascinating place culturally (and geographically) straddles Europe and Asia. It’s got a plethora of world-famous sights (more on that later), but venture into Istanbul’s back streets, chat to the locals and you’ll get a richer sense of this many-sided city. Flea markets, beautifully preserved places of worship (Istanbul is proudly multifaith), bookshops, hammams, tiny museums and neighbourhood teahouses abound.


What to expect

Group classes and private tuition are available. You can specialise in Turkish for business, work towards a qualification in Turkish, such as an A level – or just learn enough to get by on holiday in Turkey.

French speakers have a slight head start when it comes to vocabulary. Turkish uses many loan words from French (including medical, political, economic and fashion terms) and pronounces these words in the French way. For example, kriz (‘crisis’) sounds almost identical to the French equivalent, crise.

Courses will start on the basics and consolidate learners’ pronunciation before moving on to more complicated language work. And talking of pronunciation…


Turkish sounds

There’s a (false) perception among some English speakers that Turkish is a difficult language to learn. Panic not: it’s not necessarily harder than many others. But this preconception might be to do with the fact that, to native English speakers, words seem to use lots of letters with accents. Once you know the sounds that these letters stand for, pronouncing Turkish words doesn’t seem quite so formidable. Here’s a rough guide:

c = ‘j’ (as in ‘jump’)

ç = ‘ch’ (as in ‘choose’)

ğ = silent (like the ‘k’ in ‘knife’)

ş = ‘sh’ (as in ‘ship’)

ı = ‘schwa’ (not to be confused with a capitalised letter ‘i’. So really we should be spelling Turkey’s most famous city İstanbul).

ö = sounds like the ‘i’ in ‘third’

ü = sounds like ‘ew’ as in, ‘grew’. If you speak German, it’s the same sound as the umlaut ü.


Turkish delights

There’s much more to Turkish food than the famous Turkish delight itself (called lokum). For those with a sweet tooth, baklava is a must, as well as desserts using pumpkin, quince and rose. Then there are pistachio nuts, salted cucumber on a stick, Turkish pizzas and, of course, the famous döner kebap (doner kebab) and şiş kebap (shish kebab). Fans of baked goods should try simit (sesame seed bagel) and pogaça (pastry filled with cheese, dill, potatoes and olives). Turkey has embraced tea but a cup of strong (and often very sweet) Turkish coffee is more traditional.


Careers using Turkish

Knowing Turkish may open doors for you in areas including tourism, hospitality and law. Interpreting and translation are always options (including literary translation).


Turkey’s top 10       

Inspiration for what to see and do:

·         Blue Mosque, Istanbul. Clue: the name refers to the blue of the tiles inside this serene, architecturally stunning building.

·         Hagia Sophia, Istanbul. Massive basilica-turned-mosque-turned-museum.

·         Ephesus. Huge Ancient Greek and Roman archaeological site.  

·         Covered bazaar, Istanbul. A bazaar par excellence where you’ll almost certainly buy things you never thought you needed.

·         Pamukkale. Otherworldly geological site with white terraces of carbonate minerals left by flowing water. Called ‘cotton castle’ in Turkish – and if you go, you’ll see why.

·         Basilica cistern, Istanbul. The city’s largest underground cistern, this huge ‘sunken palace’ is accessible to the public. Concerts are even staged there.

·         The rock houses (‘fairy chimneys’) and caves of the Cappadocia region, central Turkey.

·         The view from a boat tour on the Bosphorus. One of the best ways to see Istanbul.

·         Whirling dervishes. You can see performances (which are really acts of worship, so remember to be respectful) all over the country.

·         Last but not least – books! Ok, not quite a ‘sight’ as such, but Turkey’s leading authors Orhan Pamuk and Elif Şafak are worth reading. 


By Kate Wilkins

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