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Is Turkish Hard To Learn? Actually, It's Very Easy and Here is Why.

Updated on September 11, 2018

Learning a language is an investment so it is normal that people want to know how much time and energy they will have to invest in learning Turkish before they will be able to communicate in this language. According to Foreign Service Institute's School of Language Studies, Turkish is a difficult language to learn for people whose mother tongue is English. This assumption is mainly because Turkish and English belong to diverse language families. English belongs to the Indo-European language family and is related to most of the European languages. Turkish, on the other hand is a Turkic language, related to the languages of the Central Asian contries and these languages originated somewhere in the present day Mongolia. Of course, it is logical to assume that a language that is completely unrelated to English should be hard to grasp but here, I will list five points that actually show Turkish is an easy language to learn, not specifically for an English speaker but for any person in general. Now, let us the five things about Turkish that make it not such a hard language to learn.

The Turkish Alphabet has 29 characters. You already know most of them.
The Turkish Alphabet has 29 characters. You already know most of them.

1-) Turkish Alphabet Is Absolutely Straightforward

I can think of no other language that has a more effortless alphabet than Modern Turkish. Turks use a Latin-based, phonetic alphabet that includes absolutely no variations in pronunciation of characters or spelling of words. Anyone who is able to read this sentence, should have no major issues learning the Turkish characters as they are basically the same ones we use in English with a few additions such as "Ü", a "U" with an umlaut. What makes the Turkish alphabet even easier to read is the fact the phonetical value of each character is fixed no matter where it is in the word. To make clear what I am talking about, let us take the English words "rat" and "rate". The letter "a" is these two words is the same letter but it is pronounced quite differently in each case. Another example could be "dice" and "dictate". The "c" in each word is pronounced in a completely different way. Personally, I don't remember how I learned to read English words and I never had to worry about the rules because I simply learned it as a kid but someone who wants to learn English in adulthood could find it somewhat confusing and this is why dictionaries have to include the pronunciations. In Turkish, there is no such variation. The Turkish "a" sounds like the "u" in "sun", no matter where it is placed in the word and wherever you see the Turkish "c", you know it sounds like the English "g" in "genetics". When you see a new Turkish word, you will have absolutely no doubt about how it is pronounced and you can confidently write down a Turkish word with correct spelling even if you hear it for the first time.

2-) Turkish Grammar Has Zero Irregular Stuff

Some people consider French an easy language to learn for native English speakers but I think this view is incorrect. You could definitely read and understand a simple wikipedia entry in French because there are so many cognate words in English and French but when it comes to learning to make grammatically correct sentences, French is one of the most difficult languages, whatever your mother tongue is. I mean, it is like every verb has its own unique set of grammar rules. Indeed, irregular verb conjugations are the norm in most European languages and add to that the virtually random gender that has to be memorized for every noun. Now, the good news! Turkish has no grammatical gender and no irregular verb conjucations. There are strict rules for adding suffixes to verbs to tell when and who did it and these suffixes are the same for every imaginable verb. You don't have to worry about finding past participles of verbs, either, because they are also regulated by strictly uniform suffixes. Finally, there is no he or she in Turkish. There is only "it", which makes things in even more simple. When you learn a new Turkish word, you do not go check its gender or how it is conjugated to some past perfect infitive or something. You just start using the word.

Some basic Turkish words...
Some basic Turkish words...

3-) Turkish Does Not Have A Large Vocabulary

For centuries, Turks took a massive amount of loanwords from Persian and Arabic and at the beginning of the twentieth century Turkish language was heavily saturated with foreign vocabulary. Then, they decided to purge the language of foreign influence and removed most of the Arabic and Persian words. The result is the Modern Turkish language that has, in most cases, one single word for every concept and two at most. For instance, in English, there is "demand", "request", "solicit" and others that simply mean "ask for". But in Turkish there is only "istemek", that means both "to want" and "to ask for" and there is the rather formal "talep etmek", which means "to demand". The English words "difference", "divergence" and "discrepancy" have their nuances but they could all only be translated as "fark" to Turkish. This is not necessarily good news for Turkish language but it is definitely good news for learners of Turkish because before long, you will be able to memorize every single word in use and dump the dictionary.

4-) Turkish Has A Ton Of Words That You Already Know

Turkish began taking French loanwords in 19th century and process of borrowing Western vocabulary continued non-stop up until now. Some words you should immediately recognize are "istasyon" (station), "tren" (train), radyo "radio", "televizyon" (TV), "alerji" (allergy), "enfeksiyon" (infection), "otomobil" (automobile), "stadyum" (stadium)... You can view some other Western words in Turkish here on BBC website. This is good for you if you want to learn Turkish because instead of learning some completely foreign word, you need to learn a word that is similar to its counterpart in English. And there will be the morale-boosting instances when you suddenly figure out the meaning of a sentence that you thought would be impossible to comprehend.

The Turkish used in the media is virtually identical to the Turkish used in daily life.
The Turkish used in the media is virtually identical to the Turkish used in daily life.

5-) Turkish Is Not Diglossic And It Has No Unintelligible Dialects

Arabic is probably one of the hardest languages in the world and what makes it so hard is the fact that the written and spoken forms of Arabic are sort of different languages and are in most cases mutually unintelligible. You should be prepared to come across a similar linguistic situation in India and China. Spanish has the Latin American varieties and French has the African French. Even the most established language of the world, English has Geordie. In other words, no matter what language you learn and how proficient you become in it, you can always run into a situation where you will fail to understand what natives are talking about and you might find yourself sounding artificial and ridiculously formal. Well, Turkish is not like that! It is one of the few languages where the official written version is almost completely the same as the spoken version. Modern Turkish is based on the dialect of Istanbul, the economic and cultural hub of the country and it is this same version that is used in an academic paper, in a TV broadcast or in a bargain in a small town marketplace. In fact, Turkish is mostly spoken in a single country, that is the Republic of Turkey and there is little room for the rise of different dialects. In the countryside, you might come across local pronunciations but the language itself is still one hundred percent intelligible and speaking the standard version is not going to make you sound weird. It is only going to make you sound like you have an urban background or you're well-educated. Of course, this is great news for those who aspire to learn Turkish because they only need to learn one language while the learners of many other languages would have to master the written version and then struggle to find out how people actually speak it.

How hard do you think it is to learn Turkish?

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© 2018 Linguist

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