They say that Turkish is easy to learn because it is so logical, there are few exceptions, no gender and neuter forms to master. So it must be easy to learn?

The grammar is logical and there are very few exceptions to any of its syntax rules. There is no gender, no masculine, feminine and neuter forms to master, so it must be easy. And so they say thus: the Professors, the Teachers, and especially native Turks themselves.

They say it is ‘so’ easy. “Why?, Doesn’t a Turkish child learn to speak its mother tongue at a very early age?”. You may have noticed that the professors, the lecturers and the native speakers state that this facility is so; however you may go on to notice that this list does not include Turkish Language Learners. Ask any of them, or should I say ‘any of us’, and for the most part you will receive an answer quite to the contrary. A resounding “No! Turkish is so difficult, I’ve learned the rules but I still cannot understand or make myself understood!”.

So the learning road is littered with fallers by the wayside, triers to the man, but despite their industry it is all to no avail and so another well intentioned learner disappears into the distance, consumed by disappointment and their lack of success. They took their courses, they went to their classes, they watched their videos, they listened to their sound tapes and at the end of it all your friendly “Merhaba nasılsın” is met with a blank stare of misapprehension and you can see panic setting in in their eyes. So why is it so?

Let us try to give an explanation not only to ourselves, the poor misunderstood Turkish Learner but also to the all the Professors and Teachers and Native Turkish Speakers who say that as Turkish is so logical then it is therefore so easy to learn.

An Analogy Explained

Well, in these days of computing and programming, let us give an analogy, (a similarity between like features of two things, on which a comparison may be based). How many of us in our forays into computer programming, be it Visual Basic, Java Script or any programming language which is built on logic and which has its own syntax rules, have spent more time debugging our efforts to produce a successful result than actually being able to use our programming “skills” naturally and with ease?

Even when we have learned the rules of syntax of any particular computing language we still meet the stumbling block of logic. Consequently, until everything is in its rightful place our program will not flow and run successfully. In our debugging trials we often have to take the way of seeking examples, be it from a book, from the world-wide web or maybe we enroll for some course or other in order to increase our ability in our endeavour.

We know that each computer language has its own dialect. Visual Basic cannot understand a Java Script programme, it does not know what to do as it is unintelligible and gobbledygook. It does not ‘compile’, it does not ‘run’. Similarly we come against a difference in vocabulary in Turkish, we can take an “educated guess” at a word in German and the Romance Languages, but the Turkish vocabulary stumps us; it is completely alien to us and we can gather no clue to the intended meaning. We can learn some of the dialect; and we need to learn this new vocabulary by heart, but even then after applying all the rules and knowledge that we have absorbed about it we find that we still have further problems with the actual logic of the language. We can always find an example that will show us the way to surmount our difficulties, and we can only say to ourselves – “I would not have thought of doing or saying it like that, myself!”

The Problems of Learning Turkish

This was the situation that I found myself in when I went to Turkey to work in the late seventies. I did not know a word of Turkish, and at the age of forty-five I had to start somewhere. I bought a grammar book and tried to learn the rules, Vowel Harmony, Consonant Change, Affixed Post-positions (agglutination), Verbal Nouns etc. We realize that rules can be learned, but as in computer programming it is their application which becomes difficult especially when the logic of the Turkish Language is so different to that of our own mother tongue English. Moreover we are trying to apply these rules and logic to a completely different dialect. This is why Turkish is very difficult for us English speakers.

Think Turkish? Think Again

Yes, the Professors, Teachers and Turkish Speakers are right; Turkish is an extremely structured and logical language, as proven by the fact that Turkish children learn to speak it very early in life, but it is this internal structure of the language which defeats us foreigners in our learning attempts. We just cannot “think Turkish!”. We never learned how to, and probably many of us never will be able to think with Turkish logic. So even after many years of trying to learn Turkish we are labelled as speaking ‘Tarzanca’ in the manner of the film hero ‘Tarzan of the Apes’ as only the best we can do is akin to “Me Tarzan!, you Jane!”.

After 34 years of learning I can tell you all that Turkish is very difficult.


John Guise – Manisa Turkish