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Turkish, sometimes referred to as Istanbul Turkish, is the official language of both Turkey and Northern Cyprus and is embraced as a mother tongue by 78.5 million native speakers. As the 19th most widely-spoken language in the world, Turkish gives voice to both a modern people and the culture of the ancient civilization of Ottoman Turks that spread across Eastern Europe and Western Asia. While the first Turkish ruins of the written language were found in 8th century Mongolia, the language is believed to have been in use long before then. Today, sizable groups of Turkish speakers now reside in Greece, Germany, Austria, Bosnia, and other European countries that share a border with Turkey.
As the most widely-spoken Turkic language, Turkish can be viewed as more accessible for beginning language learners because it uses the Latin alphabet. Turkish does have some quirks of pronunciation that can make it a bit challenging, including vowel harmony and subject-object-verb word order. However, it also has advantages like consistent grammar and a wide influence among both Europe and Asia that makes Turkish a practical and attractive choice to learn for both business, travel, and academic reasons.
Learning the Turkish language isn’t just about memorizing and regurgitating vocabulary words. It’s about understanding the Turkish culture and learning the language as it is used by native Turkish speakers. Rosetta Stone leverages a method called Dynamic Immersion® to create learning environments that get beginners speaking Turkish from the very first lesson, alongside audio and visual cues that stimulate deeper connections. Rosetta Stone has over twenty-five years of experience building successful language learning programs that get beyond Turkish language translation and grow your confidence speaking Turkish in real conversations.
The Origins and History of the Turkish Language
Ruins found in Mongolia by Russian archaeologists date the origins of the Old Turkic language, which gave rise to modern Turkish, back to the 8th century but many linguists believe Turkish was used as an oral language long before then. Through the middle ages as the Ottoman Empire expanded, so did the influence of Ottoman Turkish throughout Asia, the Mediterranean, and large swathes of Europe. Ottoman Turkish, however, was a mixture of Turkish, Persian, and Arabic that is entirely different from the modern language. While Ottoman Turkish was used in much of the literature at the time, the everyday language, whose vocabulary sounds quite different, forms the basis of the modern Turkish language.
The Turkish language underwent a revolution of sorts that continues today as new Turkish words are coined to capture technology terminology from the English language and other modern concepts. When the Republic of Turkey was established, the Turkish Language Association, whose charter was to restore purism to the language, officially replaced many Ottoman Turkish loanwords that had been derived from French, Arabic, Persian, Greek, and Italian with modern Turkish words.
Which Countries Speak Turkish?
Turkish is the native language of Turkey and spoken as a first language by 93% of the population, but it’s also spoken in over 30 countries by Turkish minorities, especially areas that were previously part of the Ottoman Empire. More than two million Turkish speakers live in Germany, with other significant Turkish-speaking communities in Iraq, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Macedonia, Romania, Austria, Belgium, The Netherlands, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Serbia.
The Turkish language enjoys official status not only in Turkey but also in Cyprus, several municipalities of Kosovo, and two republics in North Macedonia. There are several dialects of Turkish, but standard Turkish is based on “Istanbul Turkish” (İstanbul Türkçesi).
Rosetta Stone understands that the goal of learning to speak Turkish is to feel comfortable using it in real-world conversations. That’s why our immersive Turkish lessons emphasize pronunciation and encourage beginning learners to speak the language out loud.TruAccent®, a patented speech recognition engine built into every exercise, compares your accent to that of a native Turkish speaker and provides real-time feedback. This innovative tool lets beginners hone Turkish pronunciation until they can say it like a local and gives language learners the confidence to speak up in unscripted situations.
Learn how to say "Excuse me, where could I find the best Baklava?" (En lezettli baklavayı nerede bulabilirim?) from a native Turkish speaker.
Turkish Pronunciation for Beginners
The Turkish language is sometimes framed as difficult because it has distinctive elements of pronunciation like vowel harmony and the subject-object-verb word order can feel unfamiliar. There are, however, characteristics of the Turkish language that make it more approachable like the lack of grammatical gender and the use of the Latin alphabet on which English is based. Let’s discuss some of the challenges of Turkish pronunciation and how you can leverage language learning strategies to overcome them.
1. Turkish pronunciation is consistent
Unlike some other languages like English, Turkish pronunciation avoids confusion by being incredibly consistent. The Turkish alphabet has 29 letters and each letter only has one pronunciation, making the language phonetic and relatively easy to read. The letters q, w, and x that you find in the English alphabet are absent in Turkish and are replaced by the letters ç, ğ, ı, ö, ş and ü. Because there are no confusing double consonants, most words are pronounced exactly the way they are written.
2. Turkish uses vowel harmony
The Turkish language is one of the most widely-spoken languages that uses the concept of vowel harmony, where the vowels of suffixes change to harmonize with the preceding syllable. Turkish has two notable pronunciation patterns when it comes to vowels— twofold and fourfold. It’s also worth noting that compound words and loanwords don’t follow the rules for vowel harmony. Some vowels like “i” are articulated at the back of the mouth in a sound rather unique to the Turkish language while other vowels like “o” are rounded in the front of the mouth and have a pronunciation that will feel familiar to other language speakers.
3. Learn Turkish words in context
Rather than struggling to apply rules for pronunciation, Rosetta Stone teaches language learners words and common phrases in the context of the situations in which they occur. This allows even beginners to associate natural pronunciation patterns with audio and visual cues and connect to language learning on a deeper level.
Here are just a few Turkish words and phrases beginners may learn in their first lessons.
Merhaba (Hello) Evet (Yes) Lütfen (Please) Teşekkürler (Thank you) Güle güle (Good-bye)
The Best Way to Learn Turkish
While Turkey may come from a different language family than the one you speak, creating a relationship with the language is easier than you think. One of the best ways to learn Turkish is to focus on the similarities and the ways in which you can immerse yourself in the language. The Turkish people are friendly and hospitable, and they very much reward those who make an effort to connect and speak the language.
The speed and effectiveness with which you learn any language is about the time you’re willing to commit to daily practice and the quality of the language learning program you use. However, there are some tactics you can employ to accelerate learning Turkish and help yourself feel at home more quickly in the language.
Start with cognates
Turkish has a rich history of influence from other languages, including thousands of loanwords from English, French, Arabic, and Persian. Many of the Turkish words for technology are borrowed from English, although they might have slightly different pronunciations. By focusing on the words you know, you can scale gradually towards adding new Turkish vocabulary to your repertoire.
Immerse yourself in Turkish
One of the most pleasurable things about language is the wealth of experience it can provide. Immersing yourself in Turkish while you’re still an ocean away may seem challenging, but there are ways to incorporate Turkish culture into your daily life. Listen to Turkish music or radio or watch Turkish movies with the subtitles off to pick up patterns you might otherwise miss. Study Turkish history, from Roman baths to ancient ruins or the endless stalls of the Grand Bazaar and spice markets. Turkish cuisine is also a great place to begin enjoying the language, from ordering traditional Turkish coffee to preparing baklava using a Turkish recipe on YouTube.
Don’t get stuck on Turkish grammar
Many linguists have described Turkish grammar as logical, but the word order may throw beginning language learners for a loop. Because the verb comes at the end of the sentence, the unfamiliar structure takes some getting used to for English speakers. It’s important to have some familiarity with Turkish grammar, but not to get stuck on things like complicated conjugation tables. The most important aspect of your daily language learning practice is to speak Turkish in the context of the real-world conversations you’ll encounter in everyday life.
Benefits of Learning the Turkish Language
Almost half of the world is bilingual, so learning another language can make connections that might help your career and open the door to exploring other cultures. Many adults hesitate to learn a new language because they worry they won’t be proficient, but Rosetta Stone sees learning Turkish as a journey and not a destination.
Whether your motivation is personal or professional, learning Turkish can be an asset for several of the following reasons.
Learning Turkish can help you learn other languages
Many Turkic countries speak languages that are similar to Turkish, so learning one language can create a bridge to another. Turkish is part of the Altaic branch of the Ural-Altaic family of languages and is said to be closely related to Mongolian, Korean, and even Japanese.
Speaking the Turkish language is good for business
Turkey has a newly industrialized economy that is flourishing in areas like textiles and food production. There are also many firms that have a rapidly growing presence in Turkey’s private sector and because so few non-Turks speak Turkish, knowing the language can be a significant advantage in business.
Learning the language helps you appreciate Turkish culture
Turkey has a unique culture that is a result of the meshing of two very different continents. For a long time, Turkey straddled both eastern and western traditions, and the echoes of that can be felt in modern Turkish life. Knowing the language helps you better grasp and enjoy the nuances of this cultural connection and dissonance in Turkish cinema, cuisine, music, architecture, and literature.
Learning Turkish is helpful for travelers
Turkey has lots to offer travelers from Mediterranean coastlines to bustling cities. If you want to experience the ruins of the Ottoman Empire or the famous Turkish bazaars and markets, speaking the language will help you connect with locals and have a more authentic traveling experience.
Try Our Award-Winning App
Surround yourself with Turkish whenever, wherever with the Rosetta Stone app.
Download a unit and knock it out on the train or a flight. Select a 5-10 minute lesson and sneak it in while you wait in line or for your ride to show up. And explore dynamic features, like Seek and Speak, where you can point at an object in the real world and get a translation.
The best part? You don’t have to choose between app or desktop. Both come with your subscription and sync, so you can switch between devices seamlessly.