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Finally finished Turkish tree (4 years): Long post

Today I finally finished the Turkish tree (earning 152 crowns so far). Considering I started when the course was released back in March 2015, it sure took a long time! (I've finished 11 or 12 trees in total on Duolingo.This was by far the most difficult of the lot. Even Russian was far easier.)

This long, rambling post collects a few of my thoughts about the Turkish language and the Duo course for it.

First, a brief overview of Turkish:

Turkish (with about 76 million native speakers and about 88 million L1+L2 speakers) was fascinating to study as it’s the first non-Indo-European language I’ve delved into further than the simple surface basics, and it’s the first non-Indo-E tree I’ve completed (not counting constructed languages), and thus presented new challenges and rewards. Writing: Not much difficulty there. Latin alphabet of 29 letters (the letters q, x, w are not used, but in exchange we get six fancy new letters: ç, ş, ğ, ı, ö, ü), and since it’s largely phonemic (things are written as they’re pronounced and vice versa), learning to read and write is a low hurdle, as opposed to, say, Japanese or Chinese, or even French or English, for that matter.

Vocabulary: There are a few words borrowed from French, English, and Italian (as well as from Arabic, Persian, and Greek, but those didn’t help me much)—Wikipedia says 14% of Turkish words are of foreign origin. Overall though, it was much harder (for me) to learn Turkish vocabulary than, say, French or German, because the majority of words are not related to those of other languages I use.

Additionally, here in the US, we’re pretty isolated from Turkish. What I mean is that virtually everyone is exposed to some Spanish, French, German, etc., and even if they never study those languages, they have heard and know several words of each language. Things like “hasta la vista,” ”auf weidersehen,” “voulez-vous coucher avec ma ce soir?” Hearing numerous words and expressions from the major European languages sort of primes the pump for eventual learners of these languages.

But I don’t recall ever hearing any Turkish words or phrases gaining currency here the way words/phrases like “adios, cerveza, dinero, amigo, donde està el baño?, etc.” have.

This means there’s no head start in learning Turkish. Even basic words like yes and no (which most everyone knows in French, German, Spanish, Italian, and even Russian) are unknown.

Grammar: Hugely different from that of the Indo-European languages (Turkish is an agglutinative language), but that made it fun. I’d go so far as to say Turkish grammar is quite elegant, and once you get used to it, it’s not all that difficult, but it’s certainly not something you’re going to learn overnight. Or probably not in a year, either. Spoiler alert: suffixes and lots of them! Several glued on to word stems. And these suffixes modify (change) consonants and vowels (in predictable ways). Also, the word order is different from that of Indo-European languages (SOV), but it quickly starts to feel normal, and, like I said, the overall effect is one of elegance and logic.

(The Wikipedia article on the Turkish language provides more details for those interested.)

Bottom line: I’d definitely recommend Turkish as a great language for someone looking for an important non-European language (a large number of speakers, a large culture) but yet still reasonably accessible.

The Duolingo angle:

First the good: The tree is well-developed, fairly long, and seemingly pretty complete. The audio is complete, and I think it’s quite good (from the perspective of not knowing Turkish before), clear, audible. The earlier lessons follow the familiar Duolingo pattern, and are pretty effective. There doesn’t seem to be any problems with poor-quality translations or rejection of good English responses. In other words, they’ve done a good job programming in a lot of variables for the responses so you’re not locked into learning and remembering one particular phrasing for the right answer.

Now the bad: I found it almost impossible to learn much from this course (notice how long it took to finish the tree). Admittedly, I got frustrated a number of times and took two or three breaks from the course for weeks or months over the years, but I did spend the vast majority of the past 4 years slogging through it.

The problems as I see them: The Duolingo “system” works pretty well for the familiar European languages, but seems to consistently fall short with the more “exotic” languages.

In particular, learning earlier lessons thoroughly doesn’t always help with later lessons. Some things aren’t adequately explained, and some lessons are so freaking long, with seemingly endless huge long sentences full of unknown words to slog through. It became an ugly chore, not fun at all. Worse, I’d finish a single 15-minute lesson feeling I’d learned nothing. I know I need to redo those lessons, but I can’t bring myself to face them again (too long, too difficult, plus if I review them, then I’ll add another heart and get even harder ones!).

Ah yes, the nasty heart levels. I nearly gave up on Duolingo (at least for Turkish) altogether when they changed to the heart level system. Prior to that, I could go back and repeat the exact lessons (maybe colors, numbers, or professions, for example) and go through the basic pictures/words over and over to try to memorize some of the vocabulary.

The heart system took that away. I no longer had a choice of what sub-unit of each lesson to do. Plus, I could no longer access the basic lessons to review, because the system awarded me 3 hearts on some of the lessons I’d already done (probably because I’d done them so many times). The result was, that after a few months away from a particular lesson (reviewing other lessons or trying to make new tree progress), I’d come back to colors, for example, and be faced with a 15-word sentence in Turkish, 13 words of which I didn’t really know. Or, an equally long English sentence to translate into Turkish. And it would take so long to go through the 20 or 25 sentences that it really turned me off.

What I needed was to review the basic color words, for example, but Duolingo took that away from me.

I never would have been able to finish the Duolingo tree had I only used Duolingo to learn Turkish. My salvation was Memrise. I find the Memrise method far superior for learning vocabulary and basic grammar.

(For example, they teach short bits such as “I like, I don’t like, you like, you don’t like”—seeing them all presented one after another and repeated over and over really helps you absorb the grammar. Duolingo, unfortunately, didn’t give me that opportunity to actually learn basic points of grammar because too much was thrown in at once, buried in long sentences, and without the compare and contrast exercises that would allow me to really pick up the patterns.)

A week with Memrise was more valuable (and more fun) than months of Duolingo. I won’t go on about Memrise here on Duolingo, but the point is that Duolingo just doesn’t cut it for learning languages (other than the main European ones) without further sources.

To be honest, I probably knew (or should have known) that from my sad experiences with Duolingo Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Swahili, Hebrew, etc., but I guess I was stubborn. I kept thinking that if I just kept plugging away and giving Duolingo a chance, it would all eventually “click.” Had I simply accepted the fact earlier that outside resources were necessary, I would have learned more Turkish sooner.


As I learn more Turkish through Memrise (they have a superior 7-part course, so I have a long way to go there), I’ll continue to try to return and redo the final Duolingo units, because, honestly, I learned nothing from the final ¾ of the tree except that I don’t like the course!

I’m hoping that as I learn more vocab and grammar, I’ll be able to get through those long, complicated Duo sentences and finally understand and retain some of it at long last. Maybe in another 4 years, I’ll be able to read a Turkish newspaper!

Happy language learning, everyone!

March 17, 2019



Es impresionante y admirable el tiempo que le has dedicado al aprendizaje del idioma turco. Yo por mi parte espero poder leer por lo menos los diarios en ese idioma. Por otro lado, creo que voy a adquirir tu libro y después, si gustas, hablaremos sobre él. Saludos.


¡Sí, me gustaría mucho!


Congrats on finishing it:)

I think the Turkish course is a bit too steep. It needs a section added in the middle to give you more practice with easier sentences in order for it to become more familiar before jumping to those long complicated sentences in the last few sections. I too find them difficult to face even though the language is probably my favourite. I loved the course but going back to it each time takes determination.

Another part of the problem is that the course is divided into a lot of short sections and the duolingo algorithm increases the difficulty with each section. If some of the sections were combined it would probably help a lot.

I find the reverse trees very useful for extra practice and have become better at producing Turkish since working on them. I also like the Memrise course. Turkish is one of my main focus languages but I am very patient with it because it is so very different and so more challenging than others.


Having each skill consist of fewer lessons should make the same content come around more often as one works on a skill. In general, it should also mean there's less to learn in each skill than there might otherwise be (e.g. 20.8 words/skill in Turkish vs. 26.7 words/skill in Russian).


"This was by far the most difficult of the lot. Even Russian was far easier."

Really ? I am very surprised because I am learning Turkish, and I don't think it is a very difficult language. I have made the original tree from English, level 25, and the reverse tree until level 24. I stopped since the change of points with key tests. Otherwise, I would have finished the reverse tree. English is not my native language.

Perhaps the biggest difficulty in Turkish is the order of the words in longer sentences.

I am now learning Turkish by articles of Posta and BBC Türkçe, and videos on youtube. I just do a lesson a day on duo. I began to learn it on november '17.


I agree that Turkish isn't terribly difficult per se, what I was trying to express was that Duo's Turkish tree was much harder to finish (for me) that their Russian tree. What I didn't mention in my original post was that I'd studied some Russian years earlier, so I had some basis to work with, which was lacking in Turkish.

Congrats on your success with Turkish!


Ok. Thanks. I agree with you : the end of the Turkish tree is hard because the sentences are long. I mean that it becomes hard suddenly enough.


I'm still trying to learn Turkish (currently on hold because I don't have the time) and I made a similar experience. I use Memrise a lot to learn the vocabulary and also some other resources for grammar. Also I read blogs for questions like "why are there two words for 'man' and what's the difference between them". I try to write my own sentences like the ones in the Duo lesson and repeat them over and over in my head. I also write down a few new things about each new lesson, so I can repeat it without Duo.

I've never done so many things for other languages. Turkish is quite complex and different and so I never expected it to be like Portuguese. The really good thing with Duolingo is that it's my basic resource and my biggest motivation to keep going. (That is, in half a year or so).


I'm almost a native Turkish speaker. I finished the Turkish tree with 67 crowns (all skills at the first level) in a few days.

I agree with you, for anyone who knows nothing about Turkish it is very difficult to learn Turkish. I am taking Turkish lessons for those who speak English. Because I want to improve my English. I've even used google translation to write this comment, although English is much easier than Turkish.

I congratulate you and wish you continued success!


Wow, I'm impressed with your dedication to learn languages. Agree that learning non-European languages and languages in different scripts is difficult on Duolingo. I started Japanese, but gave up as I realised that I would need to start a classroom course to get anywhere with it.


Aún estoy aprendiendo Inglés, por lo que utilicé el traductor de google para poder comprenderte. Muchas gracias por tus observaciones, alguien me habló de memrise, estoy pensando seriamente en suscribirme para apoyarme, me gusta el turco y tus apreciaciones son muy importantes para mí, he decidido avanzar primero en inglés y después sumergirme en turco, ahora ya se que debo de apoyarme en otra herramienta como memrise para poder lograr aprender. Admirable lo que lograste aprender, admirable y buena suerte espero poder saber finalmente que lograste hablar, entender y escribir correctamente en turco. Felicitaciones y gracias por tus consejos, muy buen artículo.


Gracias a ti por la respuesta tan amable. (Puedo leer español sin muchos problemas, pero no lo puedo escribir muy bien. Por lo mas, estoy traduciendo da italiano en mi cabeza) Una cosa que quiería decirte es que no tienes que suscribir (pagar) para utilizar Memrise. Hay una functionalidad gratis que incluye los aspectos necesarios. De todos modos, buena suerte tambien a ti con ingles y el turco en el futuro!


very good of you to tell us your experiences. very inspiring. I'm over half way and i hope I make it too.


I like your nickname. (I'm an Oregonian.) Are we neighbors?


I congratulate you wholeheartedly my friend!


I found Turkish to be a challenge, almost giving up. Somehow, I also managed to finish the tree, but I am afraid my fluency in Turkish is pretty low, compared to Spanish or French. Still, I am glad I was exposed to the language and hope to practice the language in a trip to Turkey.


I have started learning Turkish 18 days ago and I finished about the third of the tree.

I am a native Arabic speaker and fluent in English. I also know some French and Spanish.

I found the SOV sentence structure confusing and the agglutination to be overwhelming at times.

I have seen a good amount of loan words from Arabic and French. I think that helped a little.

I am hoping to finish the rest of the tree in about another month.

Thanks for mentioning Memrise, I will use it to improve the vocabulary.


Well written article about the Turkish tree.

In my case: I started learning Turkish almost the same time as the others, but not taken as a serious effort. My motivation to start Duolingo was to remember my school French and learn Italian, a language that I wanted to learn for all my life.

Turkey is a neighbor to my country, Greece, and my grandpa knew this language, even though he had died when I was born. So it is an honor to his memory to learn it. Little by little Turkish became my challenge! I finished the tree late, after almost 2 years, but it was good effort! It was a great pleasure, it is quite different language, parts of the speech are mixed together, verbs and nouns, verbs and adjectives, agglutination, and this vowel harmony seems quite beautiful to me. If I had something to say that is my conclusion about Turkish is that it is a language of "least energy" when one speaks it, vowel harmony makes it so.

But what is the problem: Turkish tree is not so much extended. Some parts are quite difficult, as you go further, deep in the tree. I was even forced to stay in one phrase for 15 minutes and study a lot of comments to decipher a phrase whose the translation sounds odd. The last part is very brief and difficult. I also noticed that there is no supporting Turkish team anymore. A real new tree is necessary. I used many videos to help me master some grammatical phenomena, but there are not enough in the web. I recently visited Istanbul. This tree helped me somehow, but I am not sure the Turks I was speaking with understood me well. I don't feel sure that I can speak some good Turkish without having the sense of unsafety.


I studied Turkish on Duolingo under a different account last year and enjoyed it immensely. Now I am reviewing it on my new Duo account. I agree with you that a difficult language is quite interesting to study. I find that being familiar with Germanic and Romance languages, I can become bored with them fairly easily and so I switch to Turkish or Irish or Polish for a challenge That being said, congratulations on all your hard work!!!


Interesting perspective. I haven't taken up the challenge of Turkish, but I am doing Hebrew. The course is excellent. I started my mother and sister on it, having no experience with the language aside from only recently learning the alephbet; they progressed strongly. All the points you hate appear to be things I like. Things like Memrise are too simplistic to me and ultimately fail to adequately portray any language a realistic context that can afford me thr opportunity to really get a foothold on the language. This can only be done with an adequate amount of vocabulary and those long sentences. I log syntactic structures as I progress through a course as well as making notes, it has proved invaluable and I was able to begin expressing myself quite well very early on. This has been true of German, Hebrew and French. I think it comes down to approach and making the most of what's available. Learning vocab isn't the best experience on Duolingo, I'll concede that, hence why I produced a document for Hebrew to help me drill those words for each unit - more for memorising gender or binyan etc.

Turkish being a fairly easy language as far as grammar is concerned intrigues me. You seem to confirm for me that this course will be what I want it to be.


I think it's important to recognize that the methods that have served one well to learn one language may not serve one well for a different language. I'm glad you're finding Memrise useful. Its staff-created Turkish course looks pretty much like the 7-part (not very long) course made up mostly of context-less words and short phrases it offers for most languages, so I don't think it can conceivably get one very far in active use of the language.

I honestly don't think it's fair to draw sweeping conclusions about Duolingo for unfamiliar languages when the basis is extensive experience with only one, and one you didn't happen to like all that much. To learn a language like Turkish, I think one can reasonably expect to collect at least the lion's share of possible crowns in the process of getting the material to stick. And if one has to collect every single crown (335 for Turkish) and spend a lot of time on review at level 5, that'd be far from out of the ordinary.


Wow good i would like to have you motivation to learn language I barely can with english xD


Tekrar yapmaktan korkma .. :) Ayrıca sizi tebrik ederim..


I started learning turkish 3 months ago, it was one of my new year's resolutions, and I am half way through the tree. English is not my native language, and this is a sort of disadvantage. Anyway, I want to share with you, what I am doing to learn Turkish alone, without a teacher. First, I read the tips and notes section in the beginning of each course. When I have time, I like writing down some notes too, but usually I don' t have enough time. Then, I start the lesson. After every exercise, I read the comments. There are some incredibly useful explanations and hints there. You can't imagine how much it helps. I reach level 1 of each skill, and then I go to Memerise "Duolingo Course", because it helps to memorise the new words I learned. And finally, I am watching to relevant Youtube videos. Then, I come become to Duolingo and try to reach Level 2 of the skill.


I must echo a lot of your sentiments - I had NEVER heard Turkish spoken here in the US until Netflix decided I had watched enough historical dramas and International shows that maybe they should suggest to me to watch a Turkish program - and I binge-watched my way through The Magnificient Century - and now am a full-fledged Ertugrul fan, even watching Season 5 (which is airing now in Turkey) when they drop on Youtube even without subtitles! But this language and I are in a wrestling match at present - I have restarted the course once because there is a tipping point when suddenly Duo thinks it has covered the basics so it throws more stuff at you a little too fast, often without sufficient explanation.

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