Turkish for English Speakers: A Review
I finished the Turkish for English speakers tree on Thursday evening (a short while after NohTaebin became the first non-mod, non-native speaker to conquer the course), and so I thought I'd write about my experience. Hopefully what I have to say will persuade those who haven't started Turkish to give it a try, encourage those who have started to stick with it, and provide some helpful feedback for the amazing Turkish moderators who are working so hard to perfect the course.<h1>My Background in Turkish</h1>
I'm a post-doctoral researcher working on the history of western Turkey in Greco-Roman antiquity (so ca. 800 BCE - 600 CE). As a result, I spend quite a bit of time traveling round rural parts of Turkey where not much English is spoken. In the past, I have somehow muddled by without much Turkish beyond "antik kenti nerede?" and "İngilizce biliyor musun?", greatly helped by how friendly and helpful Turkish people are.
I finally decided to do something about this last March. First, I got a month subscription to the Babbel Turkish course. However, it was very basic and the learning style was rubbish compared to Duolingo - I dumped it after a fortnight. Then I did the Hacking Turkish course on Memrise (created by ProwlingParis, a mod for EN<--TK). The material is excellent, but the limitations of Memrise began to really irritate me (e.g. it can't deal with typos), so I gave up on that after two months. Eventually, I took the plunge and did the EN<--TK course on Duolingo. Even though it isn't set up for teaching Turkish to English speakers, it was by far the best thing I tried. I got about 2/3 through the tree by the time TK<--EN came out, and just on the basis of this I was able to do the first four of the six checkpoints in TK<--EN without encountering any unfamiliar grammar.
In the past I've completed the Dutch, French, German, Italian, and Spanish trees. However, Turkish is so different to all these languages that knowing them gave me no real advantage (unlike when you do e.g. Spanish after Italian and so on).<h1>Is It Going To Be Fun?</h1>
Yes! 1) The contributors have gone to great lengths to personalize the course, and so I never had that feeling of déjà vu you often get with the original courses where the same sentence appears in five different languages. 2) The skills have been kept short - never longer than six lessons, and more often only two to four per skill - so that you build up a real sense of momentum and never feel bogged down in ten lessons of present tense verbs or whatever. I really hope this is maintained for the extended tree. 3) Above all, I think the team have succeeded in making a notoriously difficult language feel doable - this is no mean feat, and it gives you a great sense of satisfaction to discover that you are making real progress in a language you assumed would be impossibly hard.
The love bombing of Duo - never has a course mentioned Duo so often and in such an inventive range of ways (Duo gibi kuş, İstanbul gibi ev yok!).
The numerous Game of Thrones references (Kış geliyor, buz ve ateşin şarkısı, kış rüzgarları, hiçbir şey bilmiyorsun, Jon Snow!).
The Science skill, which I know was a labour of love for Selcen_Ozturk. It's great fun, and includes some excellent forthright declarations on science (bilimsel gerçeklere inanmıyorsan, bu senin sorunun), painfully accurate insights into the life of a post-doctoral researcher (her gün en az on saat laboratuvardayım), and the odd sentence that ought to have a trigger warning on it for fellow academics (neden o kitabı siz yazmıyorsunuz?).
The torrid love affair (between who?!) at the heart of Infinitives, lesson 2, which reads like an episode of Days of Our Lives - "He/she wants to buy everything!" (her şeyi almak istiyor), "I do not want to love you" (seni sevmek istemiyorum), "I hate loving you" (seni sevmekten nefret ediyorum), "I want to forget you, but I do not want to hate you" (seni unutmak istiyorum ama senden nefret etmek istemiyorum), "To love is to leave sometimes" (sevmek gitmektir bazen), "To eat and to drink is to forget" (yemek ve içmek, unutmak için), and finally the moral of the story, "Everyone wants to find a pink island" (herkes pembe bir ada bulmak istiyor).
Well, yes and no. I found some aspects of Turkish to be mind-bendingly difficult, whereas others were much simpler than in the other languages I know. However, what really matters is that the contributors have created a really well-thought out course which guides you through the grammar in a way which I found to be clear, logical, and intuitive. A lot of hard work obviously went into totally re-doing the tree, but I think the effort definitely paid off.
Here are some of the difficulties, beginning with things which actually weren't nearly as hard as I thought they would be and progressing to things which I found (and still find) genuinely challenging.
1) Vowel Harmony and Consonant Mutation. I think the point at which a lot of people decide Turkish may not be for them is when they first learn that the vowels in suffixes have to 'agree' with the vowel in the preceding syllable, sometimes according to '4-way' harmony, sometimes according to '2-way' harmony, and that, depending on the vowel or consonant with which a suffix begins, the preceding consonant may 'mutate' into another consonant.
However, because vowel harmony and consonant mutation are things you use in most sentences (often multiple times in a single sentence), it quickly becomes second nature. By now, I have probably encountered it thousands of times. In the course, it's introduced in the Tips & Notes to the fifth skill (Accusative), then reiterated whenever relevant in later grammar notes.
2) Unfamiliar Vocabulary. According to the Turkish Language Association, 86% of Turkish words in use today are of Turkish origin and 14% are of foreign origin. Of that 14%, the top three are Arabic (6,463), French (4,974), and Persian (1,374). However, French speakers shouldn't get their hopes up. French loanwords tend to be limited to nouns referring to quite specific (often technical) things. By contrast, Arabic and Persian loanwords are commonly encountered as nouns, adjectives, and adverbs and score highly on vocab frequency lists. It's therefore understandable that people have been finding this difficult.
But, while I have found that acquiring Turkish vocabulary definitely takes longer than I am used to, it does happen so long as you keep practicing. So I would consider the vocabulary issue a speed bump rather than a real obstacle.
3) Unfamiliar Grammar Concepts. The Subject - Object - Verb word order will feel quite strange to beginners, but it's worth remembering that actually lots of European languages use SOV on a small scale, so it's probably something which is less alien to you than you might initially think (see the examples here). However, Turkish isn't just a SOV language some of the time, but all of the time, and this has ramifications (both large and small) for all sorts of other grammatical concepts (there's a quick explanation of typical differences in full-blooded SOV languages here). In addition, there are also a few concepts which have no real equivalent in European languages (e.g. evidentiality, discussed in more detail in this podcast) which just need to be learned as new ideas, and also some concepts which look similar to grammar concepts in European languages but actually do slightly different things (e.g. the accusative suffix conveying an idea of 'definiteness' as well as 'objectness'). This stuff is just hard and will take some work - there's no avoiding that.
However, I found the way that the course led you through these concepts worked very well. There was a good 50/50 ratio of vocab skills to grammar skills throughout the tree so that I never felt too overwhelmed by new grammar. Individual grammar skills were also never too long, and often split into multiple skills at different points in the tree so that you were never covering too much in one go (e.g. this is the case with Questions, Time, and Negation). The Tips & Notes are still a work in progress, but I found that in the later skills when I didn't have them I really missed them. They will need to be proofread (there are a lot of typos) and expanded in some places (e.g. the notes for Possessives do not explain the difference between a sentence like benim ördeğim var and ördek bende which is important for lesson 3 of this skill). However, I know that the contributors are already hard at work on this and the issue will be resolved very soon.
4) Agglutination. To begin with, agglutination seems like a total nightmare because you encounter words like değiştirmeyeceğim and you want to cry. Then, you learn (by the time you have passed the fourth of the six checkpoints) that this is really değiştir- (verb root: "to change (something)") + -mi- > -me- (negative suffix) + -ecek- > -eceğ- (future suffix) + -im (1st sing. personal suffix) = "I will not change (something)" - easy! Then, you hear this word said in a sentence of average length where it is just one of several agglutinative words, all spoken at 100 mph, and you want to cry again. A huge amount of often crucial information is being conveyed by these tiny suffixes - for example, I learned just the other day that the difference between "I do not understand" (anlamıyorum) and "I cannot understand" (anlayamıyorum) is just two letters. The Turkish course can help you with this by drilling you in all these suffixes - how to use them, where to expect them, and so on - but ultimately I think you just need to speak a lot of Turkish and listen to a lot of Turkish being spoken to master this. The TTS voice is a lot better than I expected it to be, but definitely has its limitations, and so the listening exercises only help you get the hang of unpacking agglutination to some extent.<h1>Summary</h1>
Turkish is an amazing and very beautiful language, but also one with many inherent difficulties for learners coming from a background of European languages. What I really like about this course is that it makes learning Turkish feel both enjoyable and doable. If you haven't tried it, try it! If you're currently trying it, keep at it!
The course is barely a week into beta, so there's still a huge amount to do to make the course all that it can be, as the contributors are well aware. I've mentioned that the Tips & Notes aren't quite ready, and as you can imagine the later skills are still missing a lot of alternatives simply because very few users have got there yet. My only two minor quibbles are that, late on in the tree, I think there might be a problem with the If (Conditional & Subjunctive) skill (I think the sentences are maybe a bit too elaborate and so perhaps encourage wrote learning) and the When (-ince) skill (I think there might be a recurring problem with the sequence of tenses in the English sentences, i.e. not using pluperfect in the subordinate 'when' clause before a main clause with a perfect tense verb). However, these are minor quibbles which, realistically speaking, aren't going to be encountered by most learners for many months, by which time they will probably have been resolved (NB - mods: I'm happy to elaborate on these two criticisms, which may well prove to be unjustified in the end, in the comments below).
However, what I really want to emphasize is that I think the fundamentals of this course are very strong. Turkish is not a straightforward language to 'Duolingo-fy', however I think the team has been successful because 1) they re-did the tree from scratch, 2) they've kept the skills short, 3) they've put lots of care and attention into coming up with new and interesting sentences, and 4) they're putting a lot of effort into moderating the course and promptly replying to queries (I've already learned a lot from Selcen_Ozturk, AlexinTurkey, LadyNurrington, and several non-mod native speakers).
Thanks for an interesting read and considerate appraisal! What will you do now to continue your Turkish?
Well, I'm not going to have time to go to Turkey anytime soon and I have a hectic work schedule which means that joining a Turkish class isn't really an option just now, so for the moment my focus is on consolidating what I know:
- 1) I'm revising all the skills as they weaken (and they are weakening FAST because I did the tree so rapidly).
- 2) I'm targeting skills I still find really difficult and going through them carefully with my grammar book in hand (I'm using Turkish: An Essential Grammar which is pretty useful as a reference work).
- 3) I'm trying to help out in the forums - I find taking the time to explain the grammar to others helps me understand things better myself.
- 4) I'm going to complete the reverse course - it's so completely different to the TK--EN that this is actually a really good challenge once you've completed that tree because you really aren't just seeing all the same material again and it has a lot of different vocabulary.
Oh great! Thanks for helping out in the forums! By the way is there any chance I could convince you to do some occasional history posts? :) I studied/taught history, but this isn't my specialization. Turkish history seems massive. :) But I understand if knowing as much as you do, and in such detail, it is hard to turn it into bite-size nuggets. ;)
When I visited Alanya a couple years back I went to a nearby site with ancient Greek ruins, but the name is escaping me. Hope to see more ancient sites when I am in Turkey in a few weeks. :) Tebrik ederim!
Evet! It was Side! It was wonderful. :) The whole area around Alanya is wonderful. I hope to some day be able to spend extended periods of time and away from tourist areas in Turkey. :) You are lucky to be studying it!
Great write-up! I know the contributors have put a lot of hard work into this course. Thanks again, Team Turkish! At the moment, Turkish is a bit too overwhelming for me, but I'm definitely going to take this course once I have a bit more time and energy.
Thanks for this -- I'm taking it much slower, and have been trying to decide whether to keep plugging away. The roadmap helps :)
I'm learning it, and I'm in love! This is a great course for sure! I'm grateful!!!
Huh. Well I'm glad it worked out! How did they change the template to make it work better?
Best ask Selcen or Alex that, but I would guess that the major issues were that 1) some of the grammar points in the old tree were irrelevant (e.g. future perfect, imperfect, pluperfect), 2) some were dealt with in way more depth than was necessary (e.g. subjunctive, conditional), 3) some weren't dealt with in nearly enough depth (e.g. negation, relative clauses), 4) some needed to be dealt with in brand new ways (e.g. modal verbs), 5) some topics which naturally went into a single skill in the old tree needed to be dealt with completely separately (e.g. adverbs), 6) some topics weren't dealt with at all in the old trees (e.g. evidentiality).
This is an excellent review! Thank you so much for the advice and finishing the course. sorry about the typos...I was working at a really fast pace trying to get as many Tips Notes as possible before the course was released. Kolay gelsin! I hope you continue with keeping your tree gold and using material from outside of Duolingo to strengthen your Turkish!
Great review! Thanks! I wish I could drop everything and do this tree right now!
Nah she is learning too many languages and Igbo is on her list so she has to learn that before Turkish :)
Hah! If only my brain could do 5 at once! But I can almost read in Spanish now, so I have to stick with it for a while longer! Then comes Russian and Arabic and then I can finally start Igbo!
Thanks for writing such a detailed review for the benefit of all of us!
Adding an agglutinative language such as Turkish is certainly a big step forward for Duolingo!
I really enjoyed your review! I regret deleting my progress in Turkish, but you convinced me to start again. Thank you!
This is beautifully written--an extremely accurate and well-thought-out assessment of the Turkish course! I share all of these sentiments with you even as a neophyte in the realm of Turkish. As you said, Selcen_Ozturk, AlexinTurkey, LadyNurrington, and the other mods have created an exquisite course in which all of the care and attention to detail is definitely evident. This course is not for the faint of heart, but definitely much more approachable than I could have ever imagined.
Thank you so much for the shout-out at the beginning too! You really didn't need to do that, but I sincerely thank you for all the motivation you provided me on that last grueling night. I wholeheartedly look forward to our continued friendship through this wonderful website and I wish you the best in your post-doc research and language-learning journey! :)
BIN KERE TEŞEKKÜR EDERIM, AJCEE7!
I also share his sentiments, especially about the "if" lesson. It's extremely hard and maybe needs to be moved further down in the tree. Or there should be some badge of honor for anyone passing it without smashing his pc into pieces.
I appreciated reading this review! Thank you for taking the time to share your experience. While I'm a bit entrenched in the courses I am in, I fully intend to tackle the Turkish course soon and this was a great insight into the awesome job the team did!
A very comprehensive review! And a great way to thank the course creators for all their work - by giving such detailed feedback and promoting the course to other potential users :)
A fantastic review of a fantastic course. I just need to finish my Dutch tree and consolidate what I have done so far then I can see for myself the rest of the joys you describe. I have been greatly impressed so far by how doable it is. It is extremely satisfying to move so quickly to being able to understand quite complex sentences.
I enjoyed reading this immensely amazing post! Thank you so very much for uploading this! :)
Thanks for the course review. Although Turkish is not on my 'list' any time soon, the posting was a model of clarity and concision. I hope it will inspire other to write similar reviews of future (or current) languages.
Having struggled in my, increasingly distant, school days to tackle multiple languages simultaneously, I am trying to bring my French up to a fair level before starting another. Having been married to a Russian speaking girl for over 16 years and with a five year old son who speaks better English then his mother and better Russian than his father, honour indicates which should be my next language (once it comes out of the Incubator)!
Thanks! I may do something similar when Greek eventually comes out, and if I have the time spare I'll do Russian and Hebrew from scratch when they arrive, as I think it would be interesting to write about what it's like to first encounter whole new language families like Slavic and Semitic.
Congratulations! Here is my comment and I preferred to write it in Turkish :) Tebrikler, okudum ve çok güzel bir yorum, gerçekten. Bu kadar kısa sürede alışabildiğini hayranlıkla izledim gerçekten. Gözlemlemelerinden çoğuna hak verdim ve inan bana ilk defa bunları böyle alt alta görüyorum. Tüm bu yazdıklarının dil eğitimi açısından önem arz ettiği bile söylenebilir! Çalışmalarına devam et lütfen. Çok iyi sonuçlara varacağına eminim! İyi günler bol şans :)
Hi I am native Turkish and I understand the difficulty of learning a language from different language family. Your Turkish is really clear, just some minor corrections I want to make;
We don't use "gerçekten" that often. It is mostly used when you say something and people don't believe you or that thing is really effects you or really strong feeling. Too much for this context, one "gerçekten" is enough I guess. And also there is "inan bana" which is quite similar meaning.
not "Gözlemlemelerimden" it is "Gözlemlerimden". "Gözlem" is already coming from "gözlemek" and ading -le and -me makes it double, so it looks unnecessary and odd.
Other than those it is just native things, I believe key to learn this is just speaking with Turkish. Such as "Tüm bu yazdikların" can be "Tüm yazdıkların", "önem arz ettiği" can be "önemli", "sonuçlara varmak" can be "sonuçlanacak" or "sonuçlar sağlayacak", "hayranlıkla izledim" can be "hayran kaldım" (this one actually little more odd because you didn't watch him while he was doing it) etc. But it is completely understandable and clear. Great effort.
Don't take this wrong. I'm native and your post is kind of feels weird. There's nothing wrong, but it's too obvious that a non-native wrote that :T Grammaticaly it is NOT wrong. Don't you worry :T (By grammaticaly, I mean it sounds OK to me :T)
By the way, you mentioned frustration with Memrise's inability to forgive typos. If you continue using it for Turkish or anything else, here is a good one that forgives typos. It can be kind of glitchy, but it works pretty well. There are instructions and other useful scripts on the Memrise Users Wiki. I can't link directly to it because there's an ampersand in the URL, which apparently causes problems, but you can find the correct page by searching "Memrise Add-ons & Scripts" and selecting the first result.
Wow as someone who does not know anything about Turkish or its environments (me) I have to say I'm amazed by your detailed review of the course, and also congratulations for that so early golden owl!
I almost feel envy for the opportunity they had to redo the whole course because they were able to escape from some "problems" other trees have like repetitive sentences sometimes and the amount of lessons and vocabulary not adapted to the "from" language. I have not develop interest in the language by my non existent contact with it, but I have to admit the flag in the profiles is the most beautiful!, is that a good start? hehe.
Thanks for this review. I hope you convinced many of Duo learners to start learning Turkish. My wish for knowing Turkish became even bigger after reading this. ;)
i am a native turkish speaker and i would just like to say hats off to you man, i couldnt even imagine the pains of learning turkish from scratch!
This course is a great tool for learning Turkish and is really helping me consolidate and develop my language learning between visits to Turkey and face to face lessons with native Speakers My problem is that I've hit an error with the translation options offered in one of the later sections on "while and when" where the only answer available for selection is rejected even though it is declared to be correct I've reported the problem repeatedly over several days but had no response Frustrating as I can't complete the course till this blockage is fixed!
Hope this will be easy for me. I am learning Turkish through English which is not my native language.
How many levels are there in the course? I have recently completed the tree (although in a very colorful state) but have been in level 11 for awhile now and can't seem to move beyond it... Thank you so much for a wonderful course and project!! I am so impressed by the whole Duolingo project!
The levels are purely based on the XP you have, not on how far through the tree you are. For example, on my profile you can see that my highest level is in German, because that's the one I did the most work on, but I've actually completed the Ukrainian and Esperanto trees, whereas I'm maybe halfway down the German tree??
All the languages have 25 levels, but the levels are quite divorced from your actual progress through the tree. As you continue to regild and revise, your levels will rise, although the later levels have more and more XP before you level up.
Does this help? :)