Learning the basics of Turkish language can be extremely useful for anyone living in Istanbul, even if you are only planning to live here for a few years. Although most people in Turkey have English classes in high school only a very small part of the population is actually able to hold even a simple conversation in English. Taking a taxi, communicating with store personnel or your doorman can be so much more effective once you have mastered some basic Turkish words and phrases.
From my own experience, I can say that Turkish is by no means an easy language to master. I have been living in Istanbul for about 12 years now, and even though I am now somewhat fluent, I still make the necessary mistakes and haven’t been able to lose my accent. If this is your first time learning a foreign language you may wonder where to start.
Buy a phrasebook
My phrasebook is what got me started. I would advise the Lonely Planet phrasebook but you may as well be able to find one that translates from your local language if English is not your native language.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes
Many people, including myself, are afraid to make stupid mistakes when they start speaking a foreign language. Don’t let this fear to make mistakes stop you from talking to people. Yes, you will probably make some very funny mistakes, and yes, some people will probably laugh! But keep in mind that locals greatly appreciate your efforts to learn their language, no matter how many mistakes you make.
I remember myself once asking for a Flower Milkshake (Çiçekli Milkshake) instead of a Strawberry Milkshake (Çilekli Milkshake) at McDonalds. The girl behind the counter looked at me with big eyes until she finally realized that I meant a strawberry milkshake.
Find locals to practice with
The best way to learn a language is to actually speak it. Find people that don’t speak English and just start a conversation. It can be another mother that you meet in the park, the wife of the doorman or the cashier at your local supermarket. Especially if you are going around the city with a baby or toddler you will find that many locals will approach you to tell you how cute your child is. Grab this opportunity by simply asking them a simple question, such as for example if they have children or grandchildren.
Sesli Sözlük was one of my favorite online dictionaries when I first moved here. Basically, Sesli Sözlük is a dictionary that also allows you to listen to the pronunciation of a word. Really useful!
Learn some grammar
If you want to go further than just a few phrases you will need to learn the grammar rules of Turkish. Although there are many many rules, the rules are pretty consistently applied, without too many exceptions. If you are into self-study then I can advise the book written by A. Sumru Özsoy named Türkçe Turkish.