Monday, May 2, 2011

[Learning Turkish] Setting goals and using materials

When learning Turkish, it’s important to have goals set out like a road map so that you can make sure you are heading in the direction that you want to go. When you set every action, activity and study material next to your goals, you will know immediately if that particular activity will keep you going in the right direction. Prior to setting your goals, consider what you want to learn and how long you want it to take.

It’s a good idea to be as specific as possible. “I want to be fluent” is very ambiguous -- what do you mean by “fluent”? Speaking correctly? Speaking quickly? Having a reduced accent? It may be more helpful to say, “In six months, I see myself having a conversation with a native speaker comfortably.” You could even narrow that down to “having a conversation about (fill in the blank).”
Long-term goals

Long-term goals are those you set to attain six months or a year. Set them, keep them in mind, but don’t obsessively dwell on them; staring at the top of a huge mountain can be very unmotivating, whereas planning to tackle the mountain one day at a time will make the task less daunting. When it comes to undertaking something as huge as learning a foreign language -- especially Turkish with all of its postpositions -- consider taking on the learning one short-term goal at a time.

For example, if your goal is to have a comfortable conversation with a native speaker, you’ll want to make sure that every step you take will lead you to that goal; that is, you’ll need it keep it in mind. However, if you compare where you are now relative to the end goal on a daily basis, i.e., dwell on it, it can feel like an impossible feat and lead you to give up.

That is why it’s important to set the end goal and then immediately set short-term goals that will lead you step-by-step to the fluency you desire.
Short-term goals

Short-term goals help you take the baby steps you need to inch toward your long-term goals. Today you might set the goal of memorizing a few common phrases or even pieces of phrases that you could use when speaking with others.

For example, it might be enough for one day to learn how to say, “On Monday, On Tuesday, etc.” (pazartesi günü, salı günü, etc.). Later you can expand that to “Pazartesi günü ne yapıyorsun?” (What are you doing on Monday?)

At your next study session you might decide to watch part of a favorite movie in Turkish to practice your listening skills. Again, it’s not necessary to understand every utterance. If you can understand one sentence or phrase -- that’s great. Listen to it again and again until it becomes second nature to you.

As you expand your vocabulary into phrases, try using them in a variety of different situations to practice them. Ultimately, having a repertoire of common phrases will lead to your long-term goal of fluency.

The next thing you need to do is to make your learning more interactive. There is nothing more boring than trying to do grammar exercises in a book or to memorize vocabulary that you will never use.

As you work with language books, take the time to jot down the phrases that seem most applicable to your daily life -- that is, those phrases you feel are useful. Keep in mind that we communicate in phrases, not individual vocabulary words. So, if you see a vocabulary word that you think will be helpful, try putting it into a useful phrase so that you can use it more readily.

For example, the word “tuz” (salt) can be very useful. But can you imagine a conversation in English where you pointed at someone and said, “Salt.” They would probably get the message, but it would feel awkward and may even be misinterpreted. However, “Tuz alabilir miyim?” (Can I have the salt?) would work perfectly.

If your vocabulary doesn’t come pre-packaged in little phrases, check with a native speaker to see how you can use it. As you become comfortable using that phrase, play around with it. Ask for a fork or a knife or a glass -- the combinations are endless.

If you are an audio learner, ask your native speaker friend to record the sentences you want to say. Listen and repeat as often as you can.
Audio recordings

Some Turkish language programs come with audio recordings. First, listen to these recordings as they were intended. Did they come with an exercise? Try to do the exercises as they were written. When you go back to the same material (remember, it is repetition that will help you on the road to fluency more than anything else), try making it into a dictation practice where you try to write down exactly what you hear. Practice spelling difficult words out.

For more advanced spelling practice, pretend you are spelling the word on the telephone. Much like we say, “That’s C as in Charlie, E as in echo,” etc., Turks use cities. So if you want to spell out your name (as I often do), you need to know that Brooks is “Bursa, Rize, Ordu, Ordu, Kayseri, Samsun.” For the complete alphabet go to (By the way, I have also heard, “Bursa’nın Besi, Rize’nin Resi,” etc.)

When listening to conversations, try to copy the intonation of the speaker as well as the pronunciation. (Again, investing in a recording device can come in handy here.) There is a song to every language and, believe it or not, many native speakers process the song of the language with equal importance as the words themselves. News and weather broadcasts offer real-life examples of dramatic Turkish pronunciation. Another way to learn the music of Turkish is to listen to your favorite English speaking movie dubbed in Turkish. Because you know the storyline, it will be easier to focus on the intonation patterns rather than the translation. Finally, listening to Turkish music allows you to practice intonation patterns with the assistance of music that will guide your pronunciation while reinforcing vocabulary terms.

Once you know what you want to accomplish over the next six months to a year, and break the goal into smaller steps, consider the materials you have. Use the ideas and examples presented in this article to help get you on the road to your language learning success.

The next step is to find learning partners, instructors, programs, or other means of advancing your current knowledge of Turkish. It’s so easy to learn Turkish without spending a lot of money -- a great deal of language-learning resources are at your fingertips. Next week, we will explore some of those resources.



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