Simple English ~ Nicola Prentis

Thoughts on ELT, English and whatever else comes into my head

Teaching, or learning, Turkish for Beginners

In 2008 I was living in Istanbul and really wanting to leave. I was bored, not sure why I was there, in a relationship that the unfolding future of terrified me and not really working enough to have a sense of purpose. The only good thing was writing for Time Out Istanbul which was enough to keep me there. I should have left at that point but I kept not deciding to. Big mistake.

Anyway, one of the things I did to give myself something to focus on was start to develop a course and materials for teaching Turkish. It wasn’t that my Turkish was good enough to teach anyone, but my teaching was a hundred times superior to the available dershanes (academies).

I’d attended two courses – both APPALLINGLY, scarringly bad. I never got the impression there was anything better than them on offer. The quality of tuition was especially painful and galling for me because I had TEFL training and ideas about how learning best occurs:

  • communicatively not endless grammar exercises
  • games where the student has enough language scaffolded into the activity to be able to play
  • guided discovery of grammar rules
  • a syllabus based on functions not grammar but with grammar built in when and where it was needed and in the order it made sense
  • topics that were learnable and useful
  • recycling earlier lessons
  • damnit FUN!

I can’t say I learnt nothing because I did, mostly just through the fact that being a beginner is the easiest place to see progress from, partly because I organised my notes into something meaningful and memorised vocabulary along with little mnemonics for that purpose. Turkish is unintelligible through guesswork compared with Latin based languages so you have to create tricks.

For example (God, this list reminds me I am a geek!):

  • şişman means fat, şiş kebab is a type of kebab, if you eat too many şiş kebab, you’ll get fat. Zincir means chain, incir means fig so imagine a chain of figs instead of links.
  • There are also tons of place names around the city that meant something, plus people’s names usually have a meaning: Bakırköy-copper+village, Çiğdem-crocus.
  • There are cool links within the language too e.g. gün-day, Günaydın!-Good morning!, güneş-sun, güneşli-sunny, güneşlenmek-to sunbathe, güney-south.
  • I got really into learning lists of words with similar sounds e.g. yatak-bed, yanak-cheek, yasak-forbidden, yaşak-life (as in çok yaşa-Bless you! after a sneeze). I can see that one might not be for everybody.

I knew I could do better in designing a course so I began to design a 20 lesson beginner course that would also work for people like me that weren’t true beginners but who couldn’t speak because their heads had been filled with grammar and every sentence had to be built from scratch, word by suffix loaded word.

I abandoned it because I got bored and didn’t have enough Turkish and because the next step was finding a venue, advertising for customers (that would have been easy) and finding a teacher (and maybe co-writer) that would do exactly what I told them in my lesson plans. I couldn’t face the hassle of all that; running a business is just not where my interests lie. But drawing up the syllabus and making materials – that was the beginnings of an interest in making what was out there better and today means I am making inroads into the professional side of that in EFL.

I just remembered all this stuff is here on my laptop. I’m putting it up with a HUGE, bigger than HUGE, MONSTROUS caveat…it’s going to have lots of mistakes in it. I never got as far as finding a Turkish teacher to proofread it for me. Methodology wise, it has not been directly tested out in a classroom either.It’s not complete so many lessons would need finishing/making.

I put it here as a kickstart to anyone that might be interested in taking it further or just running their own classes with a collective of people who’ve reached saturation point with all that grammar being forcefed into them in the crappy language schools. You could use the materials just as practice sessions and correct each other, or hell, sod the mistakes, at least you’re speaking which, in my experience, was not part of the Turkish classes I paid for. If you do either, I only ask that you’re open about where the material came from and, if you can be bothered, you correct errors and send the files back to me or let me know how the course so far works out for you.

If you want to take it on and finish it, drop me a line, we can be joint authors.

You can contact me on Facebook or Twitter @NicolaPrentis

Syllabus/course outline syllabus plan

Lesson 1 lesson plan and materials lesson 1 & lesson 1 profiles

Lesson 2 lesson 2

Lesson 3 materials and lesson plan lesson 3 commands resource  & Lesson 3

Lesson 4 Lesson 4

Lesson 5 (incomplete) lesson 5

Lesson 6 (very incomplete) lesson 6

Lesson 7 (very incomplete)lesson 7

Lesson 8 (very, very incomplete) lesson 8

Lesson 9 (no plan, only Target Vocab) lesson 9

Lesson 10 (Target vocab and dialogue only, no plan) lesson 10

Lesson 11 (Target vocab, very incomplete) Lesson 11

Lesson 12 (no plan, only Target Vocab) lesson 12

Lesson 13 (so incomplete it is barely an outline!) lesson 13

Lesson 14 (ideas and partial lesson plan) lesson 14

Lesson 15 & 16 – not even started

Lesson 17 (dialogue for half lesson only , no plan) Lesson 17

Lesson 18 (dialogue for half lesson only, no plan) Lesson 18

Lesson 19 & 20 – not even started


2 comments on “Teaching, or learning, Turkish for Beginners

  1. Adam
    January 20, 2015

    Hi Nicola,

    I guess I have the knowledge and experience for this project (15 years in Istanbul), but not the time at present (Masters degree in full swing at the moment).

    We could talk about taking this project further at some point if you wish, though. I’d be very interested in working on it with you.

    • Nicola
      January 20, 2015

      If you’re at IATEFL this year, we should make sure to meet up.

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