The moment I visited my local open air market and was handed a packet with fresh mushrooms instead of mini dumplings – my originally desired item – I realized it is time to start learning the Turkish language! Although this incidence had taken place a fair number of years ago – and written with all due modesty – by now your friendly columnist would probably fall into the category ‘lower intermediate’. Needless to say that I am still learning and will continue to do so as full intermediate is my ultimate goal one day in the distant future.

So how did I end up with those nicely packaged mushrooms? I had tried to put my language abilities to the test and of course at that time in the past was unaware of most spoken language varieties or similarities, respectively. The word mushroom in Turkish would read ‘mantar’ and should be pronounced with a soft ‘r’ whereas the word for dumplings (some say Turkish Ravioli although they are smaller in size when compared to Italian food) is ‘manti’ and would ideally be pronounced converting the Turkish ‘ı’ into an‘e’ yet spoken as in the English word ‘dozen’. Me however just mumbled along as I thought speaking fast would be a perfect tool not to create the impression that I am a total  beginner hence my ‘manti’ most definitely sounded similar to ‘mantar’ as I thought it cool not to fully pronounce the ‘r’.

Handing me the mushrooms the sales person soon realized something was not right and I shyly repeated my previous order. All smiles as he then knew at once what I really wanted: dumplings! Problem sorted albeit my face lost.

This episode made me think and in its aftermath come to the conclusion that living in a non-English speaking nation simply must come complete with speaking at least passable everyday shopping and socializing Turkish.

Granted – if we are on a fortnight’s trip away from home and no matter where on our shared planet we travel it is totally acceptable to rely on ones’ native language. All changes from the day onwards when hotel becomes home, when improvised turns into indefinite. If we now stay longer in this fabulous country and assuming that summers are simply fantastic and long, too, I do suggest that the best time of the year to start, or to continue, improving on ones Turkish is right now.

Early autumn and autumn are those parts of a calendar year when we start to look for something different, when we wish to explore the surroundings and of course an entire country as well. So we have just that extra bit of spare time on our hands. Home renovations will only take so long and we will not go on traveling – as enjoyable as it for sure is – for months on end. So no excuses here!

However, as one would assume that going to school or university is for most of us an activity vaguely remembered from years gone by – myself included as I graduated back in 1990 – suggesting to enroll at an intensive course spanning many months on more than one morning or night per week is something I am not sure about. What I do have in mind instead are two alternatives. First, to enlist the help of the internet and consult one of the many good quality online courses with some of them being without charge too; second, and if you are a good self-motivated learner, to buy a DIY language learners pack in a bookstore downtown. As long as this has one or more audio CDs as part of the package you are ready to get going.

How many words and expressions should we master? If we have a vocabulary of around 2500 words we should manage everyday situations perfectly well. Put this into the wider linguistic picture – an average full-size dictionary will feature around 40 000 entries. Most learners, and that includes those of us who really wish to dig deeper, would attempt to reach the 10 000 threshold. But that will take time. Let me give you an example. I am helping my daughter to learn German at the moment with Turkish her mother tongue and English the language of conversation at home and mostly at school, too. 20 new words per day five times a week makes 100. 400 words and expressions per month! Factor in two months school holidays when textbooks rest and we reach a magic 4 000 words each single year!

Now we only have to overcome one tiny problem. As our Turkish hosts and shopkeepers and neighbors and minibus drivers and so on and so forth are such a welcoming people they will try to help us out and answer in English whenever possible. It may take us a little while to convince them that while this is very much appreciated that we per return actually would like to practice our Turkish, step by step.

To end today’s story let me share with you another waterside faux-pas this commentator made. We all know that waffles which are so delicious in Turkey are referred to as ‘gozleme’. What I did not know initially was that there is a word which starts in a similar fashion but then ends differently: ‘gozluk’. No, no foodstuffs but the word for spectacles. I do not need to finish my sentence but you will understand what you will not get when you ask for specs in a gozleme shop J

May I wish all our readers a fine late season, enjoy!

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