Taking Turkish Classes at TAA, Language Weaknesses

Yesterday I started Turkish classes at TÖMER‘s main competitor.  Having gone through sometimes less-than-inspiring TÖMER classes in Kyrgyzstan, I was ready for a change.  And after a month of feeling like I was making more mistakes than correct sentences, ready to work on my Turkish again.

I’m completely baffled by my Turkish level.  I’ve read almost every textbook out there, so I understand a decent amount.  But, because most of my language study has been on my own (and I haven’t always had someone around to correct my mistakes), I don’t always produce correct sentences.  Sometimes my words get extremely jumbled and I feel like I have no idea what to say. And then, because the majority of the time I’m speaking Turkish with family or co-workers (in a small office where everyone is on familiar terms), I way overuse sen (the informal “you”), which is a bit awkward when used, say, with people I don’t know on the bus or in a shop.

And yet, according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFRL), my Turkish level is C-1, which is advanced. Ha. I somehow feel that advanced Chinese or advanced French was way harder – and I was able to say much more, and say much more correctly before I got to that level.

[If you’re interested in finding out your – supposed – language level, or have no idea what the CEFRL is, I have a few language level test links at the top of my Turkish Language Page; Scroll to the bottom of this post for a full explanation of all the levels]

As the Turkish American Association is not offering C1 courses this term, and the book I’m currently going through (Hitit 2) is labeled B1, I signed up for B2-level courses (all of their courses here).  Way too easy.  So, after 45 minutes I switched to C2-level courses.  Which is ridiculous, because C2 is pretty much the end of the line – and yet I have so much more to learn.  Now we’re in the middle of Hitit 3, and yet class is still not so difficult.  We have class but twice a week for three hours each time (one reason I didn’t choose Tomer: my mind just numbs after about the 3rd hour of class, which makes 20 hours a week unbearable to the point of unproductive), and yet the young teacher assigned one piece of homework.  Considering the size of the class (under 10 students; the B2 class I sat in on had 4), there’s also a surprising lack of student-student interaction.  We sit in a semi-circle facing the teacher, and most of the action happens on the whiteboard.  When I was taking classes with 20+ students in Bishkek this was to be expected, but… with just a handful of students?  There’s no reason the classes couldn’t be more interactive, focused on situational language use, or varied in their activities.  To be fair, the teacher is quite good at what she does and makes sure that everyone comes up with at least one example for every exercise.  But there’s still so much more we could do – and so much more I need to learn.

Why does it seem like so many English classes are advanced, and yet classes for other languages all hover around intermediate and beginner?

There’s no way my Turkish is at C2 level… and yet…?

Taking Tömer Turkish Courses vs. Self Study

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

yeni hititOpinions 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.



What Language Should I learn for Living in Kyrgyzstan?

Peace Corps volunteers learn Kyrgyz with a smattering of Russian (links are to free PC language material downloads), most Bishkek expats opt for Russian, plenty of Turkish expats  get by on a Turkic creole.  So what language should you learn?  And which language will be most widely spoken – and understood?

First, let’s start with the languages:

Kyrgyz is a Turkic language closely related to Kazakh and characterized by it’s agglutinative nature (“extra information” is added to the word root in place of prepositions, etc…) and strict internal vowel harmony.  If you’ve ever studied Turkish, or another Turkic language, the structure and vocab of the language should not be too hard.  However there are very limited resources available for learning Kyrgyz.  Apart from the Peace Corps materials linked above, there’s this SRAS student-created phrasebook, a reader from Indiana University the Lonely Planet Central Asia Phrasebook, a Kyrgyz vocab list, and another ‘Kyrgyz’ phrasebook that claims to teach the reader Kazakh (?). There are more local Kyrgyz materials in Russian, but if you already know Russian then you probably aren’t reading this post. Google translate does not support Kyrgyz, and I’ve yet to see an English-Kyrgyz dictionary.  AUCA and The London School both offer Kyrgyz Language Instruction – if you make arrangements in advance.

In Short: probably the easier of the two to learn, but crippled by a definite scarcity of materials.

kyrgyz grammar

It’s a toss-up: complete vowel harmonization in Kyrgyz, or gender and complex declensions in Russian

Russian is a Slavic language with absolutely no relation to Kyrgyz save Soviet-era Russian vocabulary introduced into the later.  Having studied Russian both in Bishkek and back in the states, I can say that it’s definitely difficult for native English and Romance Language speakers (and plenty of people agree).  There’s [an excessive] use of prepositions for everything, declensions, gender, and five thousand forms for the genitive plural.  Russian is hard; it will take you two months to even have a basic conversation. However,  there are plenty of materials available in Russian both online and off, and it’s quite easy to find a professional Russian language tutor for about $5 an hour.

And apparently not everyone believes Russian is (so) hard:

Quora: Is Russian Hard to Learn? Yes and No

Fluent in 3 Months: Why Russian isn’t as Hard as you Think

Languages Comprehended: For many ethnic Kyrgyz who completed their schooling in or just after the Soviet period, Russian was their only language of education. They might speak Kyrgyz at home or even on the street, but feel unsteady discussing more academic or professional topics in their native tongue.  Likewise, most other non-slavic ethnic minorities (Uyghurs, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Chechens, Tatars) received and still receive, all of their education in Russian.  I’ve met maybe three Russians who can speak Kyrgyz, and all of them attended Manas University (where both Turkish and Kyrgyz are compulsory subjects).  However, once you’re out in the countryside it can be a completely different story, especially in the southern half of the country.  Many rural Kyrgyz  did not receive education in and may not understand Russian.  So if you will be spending your time in a village where Russian does not dominate, Kyrgyz may be a better bet.

Language Mixing and Code Switching: Decades of Russian language instruction and use of Russian among Turkic ethnicity peers in work and school mean that the Turkic languages are rarely spoken in their pure form in urban centers, especially among younger people who still receive education in Russian.  It’s not uncommon to hear a person start a sentence in Kyrgyz and end it in Russian.  I haven’t found anything on this in Kyrgyzstan, but for an interesting comparative exploration of the way one language creeps into another see “Bulgarian Turkish: The Linguistic Effects of Recent Nationality Policy“. What this means is: if you are living in an urban setting and know Kyrgyz, you might still struggle with comprehension when chunks of conversations erupt in Russian.  Russians, obviously, do not code switch with Kyrgyz, and the only words they seem to borrow are those related to national foods or traditional Kyrgyz clothing.

Language Directed Towards You: If you live in Bishkek and look vaguely Russian, Korean or foreign, people will most likely address you in Russian.  I even see Kyrgyz addressing each other in Russian when they are out shopping or speaking to someone they don’t know on the streets.  Not understanding Russian could lead to some unpleasant situations or just general confusion.  However, plenty of Turkish citizens get by without any Russian – though, to be fair, the headscarved Turkish housewives with their middle-class small-city-folk Muslim overcoats do look distinctly Anatolian.  Outside of the cities most people will probably try to address you in Russian unless you address them first in Kyrgyz.  At the same time, if you do speak Kyrgyz (or Turkish with some Kyrgyz thrown in), ethnic Kyrgyz may give you a much warmer reception.

Learning Turkish with DuoLingo

A very brief overview of DuoLingo: Duolingo is an online learning practice that makes extensive use of reading, translating and dictation to teach grammar and basic vocabulary as you progress through “skill sets” and earn points.  The English-Turkish version has just been released in Beta. Also accessible through the Free App. A good review of the Duo program (not just Turkish) can be found here.

DuoLingo for Learning Turkish: For the past two months I’ve been running through the DuoLingo Turkish course to review and finesse my Turkish skills.  I’d actually waited about…only a year… for the Turkish for English Speakers course to come out in Beta and, when it did, I was rather surprised.

DuoLingo is rather different than other online language websites and apps in that it is entirely translation-based. There are no “lessons” or vocab lists.  Every course is created by non-employee volunteers (for the Turkish course this was a Turkish linguists PhD fellow and a few native English speakers fluent in Turkish).  And it’s run like a game, with fun sounds for every correct answer, points for completing skill set components, and a green cartoon owl which you can deck out in fun costumes once you rack up enough points.  Continue reading

Intermediate Turkish Textbook Unrecommendation

coverReview of Yabancılar için Türkçe, Book 2

I picked up this book at the Kızılay branch Dost Bookstore in Ankara. It is, unfortunately, one of the only intermediate-level Turkish textbooks I’ve found at bookstores in Turkey.  As on Amazon, most Turkish books for foreigners are either travel phrase books or beginner texts.  If you have, however, breached the intermediate level and are studying Turkish on your own, I would recommend using Modern Turkish and going through a Magazine (I currently have Istanbul Life), kids book, kids TV program, or the news, unless you have a better book to recommend. I would not recommend buying this book.
Here’s Why:

  1. Absolute Lack of Explanations: The book is completely in Turkish, which could be good – if there were also explanations in Turkish.  Instead they just give a few examples of each point, often without enough context to fully understand grammatical nuances.
  2. dialogue pageIrrelevant Material: Most of the material in the book is boring and inapplicable, fake ‘scenes’ conjured up by textbook academics: platitudes about the strengths of motherhood, outdated discussions about the pros and cons of online shopping, and introduction to the history and character of Anatolian kangal shepherd dogs. Applicability: approaching zero.
  3. The Exercises: I bought the book because it had more exercises and came with an answers key.  However, the exercises are generally repetitive, boring, and non-skill building (like filling in the blanks directly from the text, matching words, answering dozens of True/False, and using the same pattern to write twenty sentences).  In many chapters, a slew of grammar points are introduced, but only one or two of them are tested in the exercises.
  4. Errors: It would appear that some substantial changes were made to the texbook after the finalizing of the answer key, as some page numbers don’t correspond between the two and even answers for whole sections of exercises are missing from the answer key.

In short, it’s not a very helpful textbook.  After forcing myself through thirteen chapters I’m not sure I learned that much – and I certainly didn’t enjoy it.  For a better list of Turkish resources, visit my Turkish page.  Unfortunately, I’m still looking for good intermediate material.  However, while trying to find an online link to this book, I did find free downloadable copies of several other textbooks (though all elementary-high beginner)

Other textbooks: I just found a (Free!) PDF of these books online:

Istanbul Turkish for Foreigners (A1)

Istanbul Turkish for Foreigners (A2)

Istanbul Turkish for Foreigners (B1) (just the first chapter unfortunately)

Açılım Türkçe Ders Kitabı (1)

Açılım Türkçe Ders Kitabı (3) (first 40 pages only)

Izmir Turkish for Foreigners (A2) (excerpt only)

FSI Turkish courses, 1 and 2 here.  While I’m rather put off by the impossible to read typewriter set, I will check out the second book and write a review post.

Speaking Turkish, Teaching English

Last weekend we bumped into a university professor while doing the groceries at Beta 2 because, well, Bishkek is small and we bump into people we know everywhere.  In that sense, it’s not unlike my hometown of 20,000.

As they didn’t have a car, we offered to drive them back to the university.  Along the way I talked to the wife – in Turkish, as she doesn’t speak much English.  Like many wives at the university, she doesn’t work (but was flattered when I asked).  When I walk to the university to have lunch with E or meet him after work I almost always see head-scarf-clad women covered in the great shapeless coats or black gowns of conservative women out walking their kids.  But not all conservatives are alike I’m learning. Emine was lively, colorfully dressed, and was immediately excited when she learned I was American.  She asked if I gave courses (I don’t, as it’s not a career for me, and no one in Bishkek pays enough to make it worth the time and effort to prepare and teach). Her family had previously stayed in Canada for a year, but she was afraid her kids’ English level was slipping, especially her daughter’s.  They sent them to courses in Bishkek, but the courses were not very good (true).

While I really don’t want to pour my time into teaching again, especially as I’ve just started another web-based project,  I could see that this was really important to her.  She might be covered in conservative trappings, but she wanted her teenage kids to have the workable English that would allow them access to better universities and the larger world. So I said that maybe I could come over once a week, for an hour before E gets off work, to practice conversation with her kids.

Yesterday afternoon I showed up at five, after a busy day of meetings and re-designing pages on the new blog, to find her drying her hair after a swim.  I expected to talk with her kids right away, but we sat down and discussed practicalities – could I come four times a week? weekends? No, I could not, especially as I have everending meetings every Thursday afternoon and sometimes actually do go into the office instead of working at home.  But twice a week I could.  And then she mentioned something really odd – though her two children are enrolled in the Turkish middle school attached to the Turkish-Kyrgyz university (which gives diplomas valid in both Kyrgyzstan and Turkey), they will be regarded as foreign students when applying for university back in Turkey, and thus must take the SAT to gain admission.  Yep, the American test.  I’m not quite clear if this is for all universities, or just the better universities (top universities in Turkish offer instruction almost exclusively in English).  Either way, it does seem a bit odd, and would explain her anxiety and enthusiasm over helping her kids improve their English.

I later talked to her fifteen-year-old son – who looked like any Canadian teenager, and spoke with an accent so convincing that you could only catch it in the hesitations.  His English – at least his natural command of the language – is certainly better than what’s taught at Bishkek language schools, from what I’ve seen so far.  We went over a few online resources, as I think it’s more effective to have students find the material they need, and just use my time for feedback and practicing areas they find more challenging. Memrise, DuoLingo, Vocabulary.com (great for SAT/GRE vocabulary – I used it 15 minutes a day for 2 months and got 167/170 on my GRE verbal), italki, ego4U. Memrise, Duolingo and Vocabulary.com all have phone apps and are set up like games, with points and levels. The mother had this glow in her eyes after I showed her son the sites, “I can use these too!” she said [in Turkish].  For while they had lived in Canada for a year, she stayed primarily in the Turkish community, and never developed more than rudimentary English. We chatted a bit more, and I left at 5:45 with plans to come on Friday.

I hadn’t realized how far my Turkish had progressed. I can’t use all the vocabulary or grammar structures I’ve learned, but I can carry out a detailed half-an-hour conversation filled with polite negotiations.  I can speak.  While I was still stumbling out sentences the last time (last two times…) I was in Turkey, most of the time they now flow.  I’ve read enough, listened enough, that my mind can predict what needs to come next and [rather] smoothly fill in the following phrases.  Sometimes I still falter with verb tense (“It was supposed to have been completed by August” was a bit tricky), so I know that’s an area I need to work on.  But I can speak. It is possible to learn a language on your own, without a course, without even a language partner. I do have E to correct my writing and give feedback, but one could also find a partner on italki, or write journals on the site and have them corrected by native speakers (for free). You need a variety of grammar exercises, vocabulary practice, and lots of listening – listening to natural speech helps cue your mind to the next jump.

So yesterday I learned two things: It’s possible to train yourself in conversational Turkish (and probably any other language), and not all conservatives are the same.  I know E is really skeptical of Turkish conservatives, but (as a historian) I think it’s important to see all perspectives, to understand who people are behind their garb, to understand the mechanics behind their take on current events. I also think it’s positive to introduce them to new perspectives and ideas in a neutral setting – demonstrate that not all liberals are so demonic.

Also, the cats are nodding their heads onto their chests as they sleep, and it’s kind of adorable.

15 Activities to Vary Your Language Learning

It’s easy to get into a rut when you set a routine studying languages, especially when self-studying.  So here are a few exercises I’ve found that you can use to mix up your routine and re-motivate yourself (let me know if you have more ideas in the comments section!).  I think the important thing is to be willing to try new methods, or use materials (including material aimed at children) that you wouldn’t normally use for yourself in your native language.  If you expand what you are willing to work with, you will find that there are a lot of resources out there, even if you are learning a less-commonly-taught language.

  1. Podcasts [rather obvious] For Turkish, I love Turkish Tea Time.  If there aren’t very good podcasts in your target language (I find them to be beginner-heavy for all but the most popular languages), then listen to BBC news podcasts in your target language. You won’t understand all of it; pick up what you can to attune your ear to the language as spoken at a native pace.  Radio Free [Asia/Europe/etc…] also broadcasts in a number of less-popular languages (like Kyrgyz and Khmer)
  2. Make Your Own Podcasts! Use a Youtube Video-MP3 converter (like http://www.youtube-mp3.org/) to generate MP3 files from videos, news broadcasts, or anything else in your target language on Youtube.
  3. Watch Dubbed Disney Movies Blockbuster Disney movies have been dubbed in hundreds of languages,
    usually somewhat professionally (meaning not one guy reading the script in monotone).  You’re probably already familiar with the plots and can predict the dialogue, so watching it dubbed in your target language is a really easy way to ease into watching films in the target language. Also, subtitled disney songs…

  4. Watch Dubbed Classics Like with Disney films, you will probably find the language fairly predictable and easy to understand.  The choice of voices, however, may be totally different than what you would have imagined for those characters.  Chinese dubbing on awful 80’s American movies (and old bollywood flicks) makes them fantastic (in a ‘it’s so bad it’s good’ kind of way) and horribly hilarious.
  5. Watch Foreign Movies with Subtitles in the Target Language All Chinese films and TV shows have Chinese subtitles (due to regional difference in dialects); with languages like Turkish, we’re not so lucky.  It’s really hard to find Turkish material with Turkish subtitles.  But…there are plenty of foreign (and American) films with Turkish subtitles.  Pick a popular film in a language you don’t know and watch it with subtitles in your target language.  Because you can’t understand what the actors are saying, you will have to rely on the subtitles (along with visual clues). 
  6. Watch Kids Cartoons These usually use simple language and sometimes have subtitles in the target language.  If you can stand the saccharine, watch sing-along songs. If you can’t, just stick to regular programs, or cartoon series made for language learning. BookBoxInc has cartoons for a few random languages; Muzzy is a great classic (we used to watch it in French class); Peppa Pig (and here) is a modern-day Muzzy.
  7. Watch the News For beginning-intermediate learners, the news usually uses a predictable set of words and subject headlines across the bottom of the screen – which you can use as ‘cue words’ – making it far easier to understand than a full TV show.
  8. Random Writing Exercises (1) Randomly pick a word from the vocab list in the back of your book and write as much as you can about it – describe it, write about a related memory, write about a thing you associated with the word.
  9. Random Writing Exercises (2) Write down a series of cues or situations.  Stick them in a cup and pull them out one prompt.  Write a dialogue or a short story based on the prompt. Your prompt is oranges? Write a dialogue with people haggling over the prices of oranges.  Write a narrative of how an orange got from tree to table.  Write about a memory you have that involves eating an orange.
  10. Summarize a Plot This can be verbally or written – think of a book you just read or a movie you watched, and create a short summary (depending on your language level) of the main story.
  11. Write Strange Stories I used to do this when creating reading comprehension exercises for my 7th graders in China – it’s surprising what you can create with a first-year vocabulary.  Blue sheep stealing taxis and driving around the city, flying giraffes acting in films.  The more ridiculous it is, the more vocab you can use, and the easier it is to remember.
  12. Story Telling from Photos This is something I used to do with my university students in Urumqi. Choose 3-5 photos or pictures (they don’t necessarily have to be related). Look at each picture and describe it in as much detail as possible.  Then try to create a story from the pictures, linking each to the others.  Again, the stories can get pretty far-fetched and ridiculous, but as long as you’re putting your language into use, it doesn’t need to be logical. 
  13. Translate Magazine Stories If you can, grab a bilingual in-flight magazine (they’re usually labeled ‘complimentary’, so it’s OK to take them). The articles may be insipid, but they usually cover a comfortable array of topics and will provide a lot of new vocabulary in context.  If you get stuck, you can also look at their English version of the article. Turkish Airlines has all of their magazines available online here. If you can’t grab a bilingual magazine, try finding a middle-of-the-road magazine (like “Life” or a travel magazine) online – one that will expose you to a lot of new sentence structures and vocabulary in context but isn’t filled with a lot of jargon (or worse, international names in indecipherable translation).
  14. Read Childen’s Story Books Kids books are great because they’re usually very descriptive of action and will help you build a natural foundation in dialogue.  Classical story books will also help you get a cultural bearing in the language. As your language skills increase, you can move on to young adult novels, which generally have plenty of description of culturally relevant daily events and activities.
  15. Watch Commercials, Read Advertisements These teach you as much about cultural values and desires as they do about the language.  They are also a great medium for learning colloquial language, but in short bite-sized snippets.
  16. (ok, so 15 +1) Memorize Poems Find a recording online, listen to it and read, and repeat until you have the rhythm in your head.  This is great for practicing intonation, word stress, pause.

Recommended Book for Self-Study Turkish

I’ve bought almost every Turkish textbook available in Dost and D&R that isn’t awful. There really aren’t a lot of good textbooks available in Turkey, and the ones that are available seem to be strong in one area, but weak in others.
If you want a simple, comprehensible, and rather complete understanding of Turkish grammar – a good base for learning the language – then I would recommend Orhan Doğan’s “Modern Turkish: A Complete Self-Study Course for Beginners”.
It lays out grammar and the structure of the language in a much clearer format than I’ve seen elsewhere.

It does not, however, have a lot of conversational language or dialogue practice. Thus, if you want to both understand grammar and learn spoken Turkish , a good companion would be Starting Turkish (Orhan Doğan’s again, Milet Publishing), which conveniently lacks almost any grammar explanations (but does a great job of introducing lively dialogues and presenting common spoken usages).


Free Online Turkish Book!

I just (randomly) found an online copy of the “Teach Yourself Turkish” book. You can find the entire book (and download it in PDF form) here.

This was the second Turkish textbook I used (I have a collection…). I wouldn’t use it as a first textbook for learning the language, and some of the content is rather eclectic, but it does a good job of clearly explaining and connecting different parts of Turkish grammar. And now it’s free! (though perhaps pirated?)

Teaching on italki

First, I have to be honest: I’m not sure it’s worth it. It depends on your goals, your time, and your residence.

If you aren’t familiar with italki, it’s basically a community-centric online platform that allows language teachers and language learners to find each other for lessons over Skype. Students can also tap into a wide range of resources: finding language exchange partners, starting discussions, writing notebook entries and having them corrected by native speakers. Most features of the site are free, but to sign up for a class students have to purchase “italki credits” with a credit/debit card or a paypal account. After each lesson the credits are transferred to the teacher’s account and, when they withdraw them with *their* paypal account, transferred into their local currency (minus a 15% site commission). The site has professional teachers (who must have and upload a teaching certificate or related education degree) and community tutors, who can only offer informal tutoring. All-in-all, a pretty smooth operation with minimal room for error and complications.

The pros are pretty obvious: as long as you have a decent internet connection you can teach anywhere you want – at home, in a cafe – and travel time is basically eliminated for both parties. You have access to students from all over the world, across all time zones, so you can decide when you would like to offer lessons (instead of having to schedule them after the work day or on the weekends). If students cancel last minute or don’t show you still get paid, or you can decide at your discretion with the student to reschedule. You can offer only the classes you want to teach (which means you can also experiment around, or develop certain specialities) and look at students’ profiles before accepting a scheduled lesson. For linguist students, it would be a great way to test theories or see first-hand how adults actually learn language. For people trying to break into teaching, it’s a low-stress way to gain more experience and build your resume.

But the cons: I probably get twenty “can you teach me for free?” or, “will you be my language partner?” messages a week, despite having quite clearly at the top of my profile “I am on italki *as a teacher* and not currently interested in language exchange”. If your native language is English, you will get spammed pretty bad (or at least it will feel like it). Finding students takes a bit of time, as does arranging lessons and answering questions, at least at first. You have to provide all you own material, and thus preparing for class also takes time. But you can’t really factor this time into your rates because there is a decent amount of price competition on italki, at least for the more popular languages (like English). There seem to be a lot of experienced US and UK teachers on the site charging $16-20 per hour for classes – which isn’t really a living wage in those countries. Community tutors generally charge around $12-15 per hour – which I guess is good-ish money for a college student, or a teacher residing in a country with lower wages. So basically, price competition and the global aspect of the site favor teachers from regions with lower incomes (for example, local Russian teachers earn $3-6 an hour, but the average for a Russian teacher on italki is around $8-12, so basically all Bishkek Russian teachers should just quit their jobs at the London School and work online), and disadvantageous for teachers with more experience and from higher-income regions. If you are a native or near-native speaker of a less popular language, then you can basically take monopoly of the market – for example, there are eleven Turkish teachers, and all of them charge $20-35 per hour, which is more than they would earn in Turkey, and not bad for a country where that covers a nice dinner for two.

Some people teach on italki as a full-time job, other people just a few hours a week. I do see some teachers charging much more, but for specialized classes. If you happen to be versed in computer programming, finance, real estate or some other sector *and* have a teaching certificate *and* be located in a region where wages are lower or you are currently unemployed, then italki would be a great option, as there are a lot of professionals on the site looking to improve their English for international business.

I signed up for italki planning to do mostly editing and college guidance counseling (two features they are thinking of building into the site). But most students aren’t on the site looking for those things. I do some editing (conference paper abstracts, personal statements for grad school), but most students who contact me really just want to work on their speaking skills for work in international companies or academic exchanges. Interestingly, I’ve ended up with mostly Russian and Chinese students. Even if we only speak English to each other, they are more comfortable working with me (and found me through the teacher search tool) because I speak their native language. I’ve also ended up with a lot of academically-oriented students, perhaps because I emphasize that in my own profile. However, I’ve taught a lot in the past, but it doesn’t feel like development for me, and prepping for different classes takes time away from other things I’d value more. So once I’ve built up a certain level of experience on the site, in a month or two, I think I’ll limit my classes offered to only editing, college guidance counseling, and teaching through the book that I just wrote (a great way to work out the kinks!).

In short, if you have both a teaching certificate and some kind of academic or professional speciality, or if you are residing in some out-of-the-way region where there isn’t a lot of part-time work or the salaries are too low or people aren’t interested in paying for it, or if you want to build up your teaching experience for a long-term career, then italki could be a good option.
Kyrgyztsan doesn’t really have a local-international community forum and online classifieds section, so if you want to teach or work part-time here, it’s going to take a lot of networking, or you might be lucky and just happen to know someone who knows someone who needs exactly what you’re offering (which is how I ended up teaching private classes to the head of international affairs and editing English correspondences at a university for a wage I can deem legit). Most NGOs won’t/can’t pay for short-term work due to the extremely complicated system of payments and permits, and a lot of programs are winding down anyway. There used to be a lot of free programs for English learning and educational exchanges abroad, so most people aren’t willing to pay much for English teaching (I knew a college student at the London School who was offered $4 an hour to tutor). So, yes, if you’re residing in Kyrgyzstan as a language student or traveler or research fellow and would like to make above the minimum wage in your home country, then italki is a good idea.

So, if you do decide to teach on italki, some notes:
– When you create a profile, include all the languages you know. This is how almost all of my students found me.
– Find a niche or a speciality. Choose one to three things you can offer and that you are interested in working on. Discussing politics and the news? Academic editing? Business English for Marketing professionals? Pronunciation? Teaching Kids through storybooks and videos?
– Decide: do you want to create a standardized curriculum (more time at the onset), or plan every class as you go along (more time overall)?
– Create a fall-back list of discussion topics and activities to use during a lull in your lesson.
– Be really firm. You will get a lot of requests to do language exchange or give away your services for free. If the person offering is a teacher with the same experience as you, then maybe. But some college kid who’s never taken a course in linguistics, much less taught – probably not.