“Turkçe biliyor musunuz?”  This is a question that is asked a lot…by me!  It’s a simply a must.  For all those yabancilar, you cannot go forward learning the language by being comfortable or procrastinating.  You must build up your studies, and then break yourself down in different situations, where you reflect on the vocabulary and sentence structures that worked and didn’t work.

Going to Turkey for the first time in 2008, I returned with a clear goal.  I was determined to learn Turkish and return to Turkey having a respectable awareness of the language.  I remember explaining to a few people about my desire to study Turkish, but it was met with a lot of skepticism.  The response would start with a wince, followed by statements like “It’s too difficult”, “Turkish is not a language that can be learned”, and “Why bother? English is enough”.

These were statements that I did initially find discouraging, and to another degree offensive.  Was Turkish that difficult?  Was it that alien that I wouldn’t be able to learn it, and even more importantly, use it? I discovered through the course of my travels that it had a lot of shared vocabulary with European languages, but being from Central Asia, it was very different in sentence structure and comprehension.

But I brushed off any negativity there was and went full speed ahead into taking Turkish language classes.  The moment I returned to the US, I quickly searched for “good” classes or schools online, and came up with an amazing teacher that changed my life forever.

After a few weeks of learning the basics, I put my new found skills to the test and used them with my Turkish fiancé.  It worked!  I had sentence structures and vocabulary going!  I made it a point everyday to study for at least 30-60 minutes, ingraining everything I was learning into my brain.  It definitely helped to have someone to speak it with, but it soon wouldn’t be enough…

Now, to those who have gone to Turkish classes or are currently studying the language, you may hit a plateau where you think you’ve learned “enough”, or convince yourself that you don’t need to learn anymore.  Please do not succumb to this mentality, because it will suck you in and keep you from growing.  One shouldn’t forget the reason why they opened themselves to learning.  The world will do whatever it can to keep you down and keep you from accomplishing a dream.  Always protect your dream and try to make your experiences memorable…

During my stays in Izmir, I dared to push myself to the limit.  I wandered through the streets and stores, pushing myself to speak with as many different people as possible.  It was important to hear the different voices speaking the language, as I had gotten used to my fiancé’s voice.  I ended up in one situation where I sat down with the owner of a cafe in downtown Izmir. Around 80 years old, he spoke with me about his life and the café’s  history.  I can’t say I understood everything he said, but it was an experience I will never forget.  It kept my passion alive!

When in the US, I did my best to immerse myself in Turkish events, listening and speaking with others.  Not everyone may have this luxury, but if it wasn’t for the consistent practice in my early days with the basics, I wouldn’t have been able to make it past “Merhaba”.

It’s now been two years since my first lesson, and I am at a level with Turkish that I didn’t think possible.  Amid all the negativity and skepticism, I am returning to Turkey this month with my head up high.  And if someone asks me “Do you speak Turkish”, I will proudly reply “Tabii biliyorum”.

posts by Valantis