Saturday, April 30, 2011

It’s time to learn Turkish

Now that you better understand your learning styles, you’ve created a study space that reflects your personal styles, you’ve found the time to study and your goals are set! Well, now you just have to roll up your sleeves and learn Turkish.

Which program is best for you?

Just like there is no perfect teacher, there is no perfect language learning program. Each book, audio program and computer program differs based upon the training, experience and teaching philosophies of the people who created these programs. Some writers have varying degrees of language teaching expertise upon which they draw when creating their programs. These writers made choices about how to present the material based upon their varying levels of understanding about learning styles and language acquisition. In the end, they decided how to present the material, which items they believed were critical to the success of learning language and which items could be omitted. For that reason, the best thing you can do is to look at what’s available and match the material as best as you can to your learning style and needs.
Inexpensive learning tools

I did a search for “learn Turkish” on YouTube and got 7,650 hits. I did a search for “learn Turkish online” on Google and got 891,000 hits. Many free and inexpensive sites offer opportunities to have Turkish learning at your fingertips any time of the day or night! Add those tools to the fact that if you are reading this article, there is a good chance you actually live here in Turkey, where the language spoken is Turkish. There are Turkish “teachers” on the streets and in the stores 24/7. With this knowledge in mind, you can understand how you could be a completely successful Turkish language learner without stepping foot into a traditional classroom.
Finding a Turkish learning partner

You may, however, thrive in a more traditional education setting and will therefore be seeking out a professional teacher or class.

When looking for a Turkish teacher, reflect back on your learning goals. If you want to learn how to read, write and speak Turkish, you may want to consider a teacher trained to work at the college level. If you want to learn the informal, colloquial language to socialize with your Turkish friends, you may want to practice out in the community. If you choose to work with a teacher, you will want to learn about the background, experience and focus of the teacher. How long has the teacher been teaching Turkish? How did this person learn Turkish and who trained this teacher? Reflect on the teacher’s teaching space, use of materials and goals to consider if it matches your own style or supports the way in which you learn. Some people choose more than one Turkish teacher to try out styles that are different from their own to see if a new approach might help them to learn Turkish more efficiently. Ultimately, finding a Turkish teacher is a personal choice. Focus on finding the teacher who supports your goals and personal styles, as well as one who helps you feel energized and excited about learning Turkish.

There are also several Turkish language schools in the market. Unlike a private course, these courses don’t have the capability to adjust their classes to each individual’s learning styles and personal goals. For that reason, it will be your job to interact with the materials provided by the program in a way that will honor your personal learning styles and goals.

Even though a classroom setting will probably not touch on each individual’s learning styles, it’s very important that you interview a potential school to get a feel for their educational philosophy (if any) and what you could expect from the class. Some sample questions could be:
What is a typical class like in terms of length and activities?
Do you follow a specific method of teaching Turkish?
How many years has this program been providing Turkish instruction?
What are the qualifications of the teachers?
What is the cost of the program and what options do you offer?
What is the timetable for the classes?
How do you evaluate a student’s success?
What makes this program different from your competition?
How much time do you expect students to work outside of class?

Having the answers to these questions will help you make the choice of program. Match the answers to your needs. For example, if you are a morning person and only one of the programs offers morning classes, that might sway your decision. Don’t just take the first course that you find -- shop around. These schools are careful to hire expert sales people who are masters at winning potential students over. Take the time to interview the representative carefully and take a couple of days to mull over the answers and compare them to the answers from the other schools before you make your decision.
The bottom line

All languages learned in adulthood are learned on purpose.

Take the time and effort to seek out learning partners, instructors, programs or other means of advancing your current knowledge of Turkish that match your goals and meet your learning style. Try out different ways of learning Turkish and keep a log of what works and what does not work for you. Learning a new language can be lots of fun. You will meet new people, stimulate your brain and increase your confidence in speaking Turkish. Enjoy learning Turkish -- kolay gelsin!


Sunday, April 24, 2011

Preparing yourself for success in language learning - Learning styles: a major key to learning

Success in learning a new language has to be carefully thought out and planned.

If you dive into it without thinking about it, your language learning endeavor has a strong possibility of falling to the wayside to join the ranks of started diets and paid-for gym memberships. An often overlooked, yet vital aspect, of success in learning new information is understanding one’s personal learning style.

Learning styles (sometimes also called strategies) refer to the way an individual processes new information. There is no one-size-fits-all way of learning a language. Most of us utilize several learning strategies when we encounter new information.

Volumes have been written about this subject, but for our purposes, we’ll look at some of the key aspects. As you read about the learning styles and strategies mentioned here, take a moment to think back about the things you have learned over your lifetime. Try to remember how you best processed the information. Then imagine you are about to learn something new and difficult and slowly mull over each of the following learning styles -- which one describes you? Note your response and refer to it in the subsequent articles in this series about learning languages.

The five dimensions of learning styles we will consider for this article are:

1. Perceptual – how the brain receives information

2. Processing – how the brain processes information

3. Environmental – how the surroundings affect learning

4. Physical – how the body feels while learning

5. Emotional – how the mind feels while learning

The perceptual dimensions of learning are visual, auditory, kinesthetic and tactile. We generally use all of them when we are learning something new, but most adult learners have a favorite.

Visual learners need to see information before they can remember it. They notice visual details and can easily discriminate between words that look alike (yine/yeni). A visual learner usually says, “I need to see it before I can remember it.” or “Can you write that down for me?” If you are a visual learner, you may want to make sure you carry a pad and paper around with you at all times. Or you may want to take pictures of the language you see around you.

Auditory learners recall information much better after they have listened to it a few times. They can easily discriminate between words that sound similar (hesap/kesap). An auditory learner might record lectures and listen to them again on an mp3 player to better understand new information. If you find you recall information better after listening to it, consider buying a recording device much like journalists use for recording interviews. They can be found at Teknosa for about TL 100. You may also do better with an auditory method of learning such as the Pimsleur method.

Kinesthetic and tactile learners usually need to write down what they are learning a few times before it sticks in their mind. They also like to have physical contact with the information. Kinesthetic/tactile learners usually say, “I have to write it down before I can remember it.” They also do very well with flash cards, which they make themselves, and board games.

Processing dimensions of learning refer to left/right brain orientation. While many of us live somewhere in the middle, for learning new and difficult information we tend to favor one side over the other.

Left-brained learners love details. They want to know the rules, spelling and sounds. They love lists of words and conjugations. They prefer to study difficult words before reading a text and like to continuously monitor their progress. Left-brained learners also tend to want to know the methodology of a technique or approach for a learning task before undertaking it.

Right-brained learners tend to be spontaneous and creative; they are happy to dive right into a learning activity and get to the details later. They are comfortable with learning whole phrases such as “yoldayım” (I’m on my way) without being bothered with the grammatical rules that make up the utterance. Right-brained learners also do well with learning through songs and poems.

Environmental dimensions pertain to the set up of the learning environment in terms of lighting, sound, temperature and furnishings that ideally should match your unique learning style. Some people like a little background music when they study, for example, while others need absolute silence.

Physical dimensions refer to when and how a person best processes information. For example, you may be a morning person and therefore would be better studying in the morning. Additionally, some people like to sit in a soft comfy chair to study, while others need to sit at a desk with a straight-back chair. Also, a restless person might want to build in frequent breaks in the study process.

Emotional dimensions refer to each learner’s motivation. How self-motivated a person is can play a large role in the final outcome of learning a new language. If you think of learning Turkish as a chore or an impossible task, your brain will give you fight or flight chemicals. This may cause you to try to fight through the learning or to find ways to avoid studying Turkish. In either case, you will not achieve optimal learning. However, if you approach learning a new language as fun or interesting, you will receive the brain chemistry to match those thoughts – your brain will be fully engaged.

The next article in this series will be about how you can apply your personal learning styles to creating a study space and a practical schedule.


Saturday, April 16, 2011

Living in a Turkey less travelled

Ph.D. student Bridget Purcell has a unique expat experience living in Turkey’s Southeast. Here to research modern pilgrimage and faith tourism, Purcell talks about her expectations about Turkey before coming here and life in Urfa

Even though she wouldn’t describe herself as adventurous, Bridget Purcell, a 26-year-old Ph.D. student from the US, is as intrepid as they come. Turkey wasn’t her original destination, however, and she tells us about how she’s come to research modern pilgrimage in Şanlıurfa and also shares her experiences of living in the Southeast of Turkey as a foreign woman.

A roundabout route here

Bridget was living in Damascus when she first discovered Turkey. “That was in the summer of 2008, and I’d been planning to do fieldwork in Syria,” she tells us. “One weekend I crossed the Hatay border with a couple of friends and was instantly drawn to that region, with its mosaic of sociolinguistic and religious communities. I decided pretty quickly to learn Turkish and move my research site here.

“I first chose Antakya; that was a pragmatic choice because I could speak Arabic while learning Turkish. There, I stayed at an interfaith guesthouse for pilgrims run by a German nun called Barbara. My conversations with her and with pilgrims passing through -- many were on the way to Jerusalem -- inspired me to study pilgrimage in Turkey. Because I was more interested in Islam than Christianity, I came east to Urfa [Şanlıurfa] to study its Abrahamic holy sites. At that point I noticed the rapid rise of faith tourism as a development strategy.”

Before coming to Turkey, she had few strong or well-defined expectations. “In general I think Americans don’t really know what to think of Turkey,” she points out. “For them it’s part of the ‘Middle East,’ but -- unlike Syria or Egypt -- it seems to partly escape our media-constructed image of the region. For instance, nobody back home asks me about ‘terrorism,’ which was a constant refrain when I was in Syria. Most of the expectations and stereotypes I’ve encountered have been regional stereotypes within Turkey.”

But isn’t it difficult dividing time between the US and Turkey?

“Yes, partly because I’m just not very intrepid as a traveler,” she admits, adding, “In fact, part of what drew me to the topic of travel and pilgrimage was a desire to know how these solitary ‘gezginler’ do it.”

Ins and outs of researching modern pilgrimage

Urfa, as we all know, is famous for being the birthplace of the Prophet Abraham. What we may not realize, however, is that its holy sites -- mosques, gravesites and sacred carp pools -- are as popular today among pilgrims as they have ever been. For her Ph.D. in anthropology at Princeton, Bridget is studying how pilgrimage is being taken up and reframed in contemporary Urfa as “faith tourism,” as part of a state-backed cultural development initiative in the region.

“I’m focusing largely on emerging tourism schemes in Urfa that bring together various interests, such as state representatives, local religious figures and international participants, and asking how they mobilize Urfa’s history and material environment,” Bridget points out, and continues: “The tourism sector in Urfa is really developing: mosques and traditional houses are being restored, there are inter-faith and inter-cultural festivals, and there’s also a burgeoning infrastructure for faith tourism. Yet while there’s a steady stream of tourists, Urfa seems to be expecting a flood: two new hotels -- a Hilton and a Sheraton -- are going up now. Perhaps the philosophy is: If you build it, they will come.”

But what does her research actually consist of? “I do a lot of walking and talking,” she explains. “My project is about Urfa’s physical space -- its history, social life, decay and development -- and I explore that by doing ‘interviews’ on the move. I walk through Urfa with locals as well as visiting pilgrims and tourists, trying to get as wide a cross-section of perspectives as possible. I also volunteer with a home stay tourism project by being an intermediary figure -- doing everything from helping with administrative tasks to developing walking routes with visitors or helping train local teenagers. I get a close-up view of the dynamics of these projects.”

If you wanted to be an anthropologist, it wouldn’t do to be shy, but how does Bridget go about interviewing total strangers in a foreign language in a different culture? For many of us, language would be an issue, but Bridget studied Turkish for a little over a year before going to Urfa, and it’s improved a lot since then. But isn’t her Arabic an advantage? “Although it used to be very good, it’s now utterly submerged by Turkish,” she notes. “My modern standard Arabic also helps me very little with the dialect of Arabic spoken in Urfa. As for ‘interviewing’ people, that might be a little misleading to describe what I do. Lots of social science consists of entering a social field, guns blazing with ready-made questions and surveys. But anthropology is more protracted and perhaps more passive; I try to first learn what’s important to people and allow my questions to emerge from that.

“In general, people are incredibly cooperative and patient with my never-ending, poorly formulated questions. One might expect some sort of wariness on the part of my interlocutors, but I almost never approach total strangers, and if someone appears uncomfortable with my questions or project, I generally beat it. I also find that as I incorporate people into my research project, they’re simultaneously incorporating me into their own projects and goals, and I can be helpful in ways such as teaching or translating English or helping a researcher access articles through Princeton databases.”

A few myths dispelled

If you haven’t yet visited Urfa and are unfamiliar with what being in the Southeast may be like for a Westerner, Bridget’s experiences of living there are enlightening.

The question on the tip of all our tongues is, of course, about what it’s like to be a Western woman based there. “It’s not particularly harrowing, but nor is it an easy or obvious fit,” she explains, noting, “Whilst learning the ropes I’ve made countless errors, such as sitting in the wrong part of the restaurant or the wrong place on the bus or even gulping water from a plastic bottle in public, which I’ve been told is unseemly.”

And does she feel safe there? “That’s an important question, as I do,” she tells us. “In fact, I’ve experienced almost zero harassment or unwanted attention. I have become interested in the local conception of Urfa as a ‘safe’ place, a zone of public decorum and the social relationships and norms that sustain that conception. Partly it’s that ‘everyone knows everyone,’ and thus, one is never really alone in Urfa. Whether one experiences this as an attentive community or an oppressive paternalism depends upon one’s perspective, and these perspectives vary widely at the local level.

“For instance, one evening, on my way home, I started jogging because I simply felt like it. I immediately got two phone calls, saying: ‘We saw you running! Are you OK?’ I could give you 12 stories like this off the top of my head. Whether or not one welcomes this sort of social vigilance depends on the individual and to some extent on factors like gender, generation and one’s place in the social structure.”

Doesn’t she feel isolated as a foreigner? “I know one other Westerner who’s not just passing through: Alison Tanık, a British woman who lives out in Yuvacalı village, 60 kilometers northeast of Urfa. She’s married with children and runs the home stay project -- Nomad Tours -- that I’m volunteering with. She’s super helpful and has been a source of advice, humor and sanity. I’ve also made many more Turkish friends in Urfa than I did while living in İstanbul, partly because there I was ensconced in the Boğaziçi University expat world. Here all of my friends are ‘locals’ -- farmers, doctors, librarians and students. Halil and Pero, with whom I stay in Hilvan when volunteering on the home stay project, and their three children, are perhaps more than friends: It’s there that I really feel sort of at home and looked after. Socializing here is so different from home: the activities, venues and numbers, but I guess the human function of friendship is the same,” according to Purcell.

So what does the future hold for her? “I’ll be here until September, and after that I’ll go home and have to step back, rearrange, and figure out how my fieldwork all fits together,” Bridget explains. “I imagine I’ll then go on the US academic job market.”

Thursday, April 14, 2011

US students performed in Turkish at 3rd Turkish Olympiad Finals

American students competed in Turkish songs, poetry and folk dancing at the 3rd Turkish Olympiad finals held in Washington, D.C., on Saturday. The event was attended by Turkey’s Ambassador to the US Namık Tan and Senator Chap Petersen.

American and Turkish students put their knowledge of Turkish cinema, song, dance, poetry and culture on show at the 3rd Turkish Olympiad finals held in Washington, D.C., on Saturday.

The event, organized by the American Turkish Friendship Association (ATFA) and the Mid-Atlantic Federation of Turkic American Associations (MAFTAA), brought together American and Turkish crowds in the US capital. Attended by Turkey’s Ambassador to the United States Namık Tan and Virginia State Senator Chap Petersen, the event saw students ranging from 12-18 years of age selected as finalists from seven states surrounding Washington compete in categories of song, poetry and folk dancing.

With students performing traditional tunes from Adana, Burdur and the Black Sea, the sound of the Turkish kemençe and the rhythmic tunes of the Black Sea region were awarded first place. Yeşilçam (Green Pine) Turkish Cinema also made an appearance at the Olympiads, with two American students enacting a famous comedic scene from a film of the seminal era.

Referring to his recent 10-day trip to Turkey, Senator Petersen said he attended the event wearing shoes that he had purchased from İstanbul’s Grand Bazaar and described the importance of such events in bringing people together. He added that Turkey and the state of Virginia were very similar in terms of their natural beauty and resources as well as tourism. “We can form a positive friendship together,” he said.

Presented with a plaque as a token of appreciation for his support, Tan noted the success of the students in putting the Turkish language on show and spoke of the importance of the Turkish language on the world platform. “[The students] presented the Turkish language -- the language of love and the heart -- with great success. If you were to travel from here all the way to China, the Turkish language will not let you down. It is a powerful language shaped from a far-reaching culture and history,” he said.

Tan reinforced the importance of language learning for children, inviting participants to the Children’s Day celebrations to be held at the Turkish Embassy in Washington on April 23. “[Through such events] the event’s organizers realize another aspect of diplomacy. Bring your children and let us celebrate together our children’s festival, the likes of which do not exist anywhere else in the world. Let us also voice our Turkish language there,” he said.

Drawing attention to the fact that more than 250 million people worldwide speak Turkic languages MAFTAA President Mahmut Yeter said students in 155 countries, including the United States, currently learn Turkish as a second language in high schools and universities. MAFTAA’s member organizations teach Turkish in 13 cities across the Middle Atlantic states.


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tips on mastering a second language (2)

Tips on mastering a second language (2)

Culture is designed to meet human beings’ basic needs and language is the expression of it. Living in a global world, it is essential to understand culture and be able to communicate with each other.

In my piece “Tips on mastering a second language” (March 26, 2011) we explored some of John H. Schumann’s eight social variables that affect the progress of a student studying a second language.

Let me just point out that Schumann refers to the location of the native speakers as the target language community. The eight points include social dominance, assimilation and adaptation, enclosure, cohesiveness, size, congruence, attitude and even intended length of residence. We will continue here by picking up with the fourth point:

Schumann says the fourth social variable is cohesiveness. Have you ever wondered when studying a second language just how you would progress if you really gave it your all and spent all your time in and with the target language group? Unfortunately, many English language learners, when they go to America or England or Australia or wherever, remain separate from the target language group. The same happens here in Turkey as foreigners try to study Turkish at the local language school but then do not have the opportunity to mix with the Turks after class. The result is minimal language practice and exposure to culture and more time with other students studying Turkish.

Linguists have been debating how far social distance can explain variation in the degree of language acquisition. To get around the dilemma of not having access to mix and mingle with the target language group, I have noticed more and more private schools in İstanbul, particularly preschools, are doing everything they can to create an effective English language learning environment for their young students. If you cannot live in the target language group community you must create an environment that is the next best thing.

Cohesiveness influences the level of success the student will have in learning the second language. You can find communities in every country that are cohesive. If you are in an English language learner group that has chosen to be cohesive, since it tends to remain separate from the target language group, the students will find it more difficult to reach proficiency. An example of this are the many Turks living in Germany who often do not learn German well because they are cohesive -- remaining in the Turkish communities for their social life, shopping and work.

The remaining social variables deal with size, congruence, attitude and intended length of residence. By size, Schumann explains that if the English language learner group is large, the intra-group contact will be more frequent than the contact with the target language group. This can hinder progress in your language acquisition. A Turkish friend of mine who lives in California now had her mom come to visit for three months. Mom, who was in her 40s, loved being with her daughter; however, she did not like being in America because she could not speak the language and did not make any friends while visiting there.

Schumann’s research indicates that congruence is key. The more similar the two cultures are, social contact and learning the second language is potentially more likely to happen. Our social and cultural access and process in everyday life is a necessity. Schuman states that language will come more naturally if you share common interests and places.

Attitude is crucial. It helps if the English language learner and target language groups have positive attitudes towards each other. If you can speak another language you can often earn a better salary. In China many Chinese have not studied English because they wanted to but their motivation was to receive a scholarship from the government or a better salary. The language learning experience will be good if the language learners have a positive attitude towards the target language group. On the other hand, if the student has a negative attitude towards the target language group, this can be a hindrance.

A final factor that determines progress in learning a second language is the intended length of residence. The longer the second language learner plans to remain in the target language environment, the more motivated he usually will be.

You can learn the second language if you develop a “can do” approach and maintain a positive attitude about learning the language and the target language group.

Note: Charlotte McPherson is the author of “Culture Smart: Turkey, 2005.” Please keep your questions and observations coming: I want to ensure this column is a help to you, Today’s Zaman’s readers. Email:


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Tips on mastering a second language

Tips on mastering a second language

Are you wondering if you will ever master a second language? Disillusioned that you have not made more progress in your language study than you have by now? Believe it or not, language learning is not all about going to class and doing your homework.

I came across some interesting research that may be helpful for you if you are studying a second language. According to second language acquisition researcher John Schumann, who has conducted research on those studying English as a second language in the US, there are eight variables that affect the language acquisition of the student. Let me just explain that Schumann refers to this group as the English language learners and refers to those whose mother tongue is English in the US as the target language group. Let’s just look briefly at the eight social variables which he claims affect the quality of contact that English language learners have with the target language group:

Social dominance is the first social variable. Schumann states that when English language learners, such as an Arab or Japanese person learning English in the US, are politically, culturally, technically or economically superior to the target language group, which is in this case Britain or the US, then it tends to hinder learning the target language. In his research he also points out that on the other hand if the English language learning group, such as Cubans or Mexicans in the US, has a lower socio-economic status than the target language group, they may resist learning the target language. You can see that in either case, there is resistance to learning English well. This is not to say that English is never learned well when this is the case, but to illustrate the fact that attitudes affect progress in language learning.

Using your communication skills, whether it is orally or silently, you can command social dominance. Every culture has its own form of body language. Perhaps you have noticed some of these in your dealings in social settings where you are. For example, one very common signal is learning to listen and not interrupt when another person is speaking. However, in some cultures interrupting another person is not considered rude, and the one who speaks the loudest earns the right to be heard.

Other signals associated with language and communication is to understand how people in another culture tend to listen. Do they lend a sense of attention and perhaps lean forward?

Giving the correct greeting in another culture is one of the best sources to help you gain some sense of confidence and social dominance. A cheerful and smiling greeting (as culturally appropriate) can win the heart of your community. Also different cultures use their eyes to communicate in different ways. For anyone learning English and speaking with an English speaker, you will usually notice that eye contact is important with a normal amount of blinking. Also native English speakers do not tend to make a lot extra arm, body and leg movements.

Assimilation, preservation and adaptation are another social variable. Schumann says if a person chooses assimilation as a way to integrate, it means he gives up his own lifestyle and values and adopts those of the target language group. Similarly, reservation means that the English language learning group maintains its own lifestyle and values and rejects those of the target language group. Adaptation means that the English language learners adapt to the lifestyle and values of the target language group, but maintain their own lifestyle and values for intra-group use. Each of these variables can involve personal choice. If you really want to “fit in” with the target language group and develop your knowledge and ability to speak on different topics with confidence, you need to adapt, be motivated and work hard. The question here is how much do you really want to “fit in”? Why is it important for the English language learner to learn English, or we could ask how important is it for the foreigner living in Turkey to learn Turkish?

Enclosure is the third social variable. Enclosure refers to the degree to which the English language learning group and target language group share the same social constructs such as schools, religious places, clubs, recreational facilities, crafts, professions and trades. If the two groups share these social constructs, enclosure is said to be low and second language acquisition is more easily facilitated.

We have considered the first three points and can look at the other factors -- cohesiveness, size, congruence, attitude and intended length of residence -- in my next piece.

Note: Charlotte McPherson is the author of “Culture Smart: Turkey, 2005.” Please keep your questions and observations coming: I want to ensure this column is a help to you, Today’s Zaman’s readers. Email:



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