Having finally completed the last Tömer Turkish exam at the university, I thought it might be useful to write up an overview of the courses – and what I’ve learned from taking classes (Sep-Dec 2015) versus studying Turkish on my own (Jan 2014 – Sep 2015).
First, which route is better for you really depends on two factors: your self-study habits, and the quality of instruction available. For Turkish there are actually a lot of resources available, both online and off, at least when compared to other local languages. If you utilize resources like italki/speaky/other language partner website along with textbooks, podcasts, and writing exercises, then it is possible to create for yourself a complete self-study program – provided you’re motivated, good at addressing your own weaknesses, and reasonably competent at curriculum development.
The Pro’s Of Self-Study
- Study at your own pace
- Choose exactly what you want to study, and tailor your learning to your needs
The Pro’s of a Structured Course
- There’s actually a teacher on hand to explain grammar points or those strange vocabulary terms you can’t find in the dictionary
- If you have a skilled teacher, then they will probably push you to learn more than you would on your own
- Constant audio immersion (as long as your teacher sticks to the target language in class)
- Having to study even when your motivation is lacking
- Not having to hunt down supplementary material
- Having your essays and exercises corrected by a competent native speaker
Opinions on the Tömer program: It’s really going to depend on your teacher. One of ours started out enthusiastic, the other genial. They soon got pretty tired of the chatty, semi-focused students, around the same time the students hit mid-semester lull. Class quality from there just went down. One of our teachers even seemed to come to classes without a class plan, which certainly didn’t bode well on those days. But if you have a great teacher, and students who are truly invested in learning the language (and don’t always try to substitute a distantly-related Turkish tongue) it could be a much better experience.
On the Curriculum: Compared to all other Turkish books I’ve gone through, the Tömer Hitit books (pdfs here) have a much better introduction to the language – generally pragmatic subjects, clear grammar lessons and related practice, plenty of examples, and a good mix of reading, writing and listening. There are some useless topics and not a few useless phrases. I’ve also come to believe that the textbook writers are generally tenured and underpaid middle-aged workers who despise Ankara traffic, hold a pessimistic and pragmatic view of the city, and are somewhat misogynistic just from the number of exercises and example sentences complaining about the commute, wistfully dreaming of a country home, griping about stress at work, featuring housewives who spend all day beading and cooking, or make such statements like, “women are lucky because they can always prepare their own food”, and men always say, “I’m hungry, what’s for dinner”. Not the most modern in outlook…And we probably could have skipped the mythology sections, as I doubt I’ll use that much when walking down the streets of Ankara.
**On gender roles in Turkey: while it’s true that less than 30% of women are engaged in the work force, with many women either acting as homemakers or working unofficially in the agricultural sector, a decent number of university-educated women do successfully pursue careers. And while women to all the housework in some homes, on Saturday we had a single male guest who insisted on washing all the dishes after dinner. Like most countries, it’s impossible to make broad sweeping statements.
What I learned: I love studying on my own, but do need to incorporate more immersion and real-time practice. The first few weeks of the course were great for me as everything was in Turkish – yet at a pace that I could actually follow. This definitely prepared me for much more difficult conversations during my last two-week stay in Ankara. I also learned a lot from doing grammar-based practice tests and having written compositions minutely corrected. Before starting the course I could produce but a fraction of what I understood; now my abilities are somewhat more balanced.
However, I did find the course pace quite slow and far from as intensive as it might have been. This is in part because the course wasn’t very interactive (i.e. not a lot of small group work or dialogue creation, and a much heavier focus on going through the book or listening to grammar lectures), and in part because the instructors grew a bit indifferent around the beginning of November. It’s also pretty difficult to keep two dozen teenagers (as most of my classmates were) focused for four hours straight. I found I generally didn’t miss out much if I skipped out before the last hour. Spending several hours a day in class also meant I was less likely to practice non-class words on memrise or go through other material at home.
Takeaway: I’m glad that classes are over and I no longer have to numb my tush on those unforgiving hard wooden chairs for hours every morning. I will use the two months before I return to Ankara to study the second Hitit book, review all the vocab I’d like to be actually able to learn, and practice on DuoLingo. In Ankara I do plan to take Turkish classes 2-3 days a week for a total of 6-9 hours/week at the Turkish American Association, which is reputed to have higher standards. Around 10 hours of in-class time per week is actually much more productive, as it leaves time, energy and desire to practice more outside of class.