How to rapidly improve your foreign language after knowing the basics

Once you feel like you got down the basics of a foreign language down (simple grammar, basic words), it’s time to move into conversation phase.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve increased the amount of (online) chatting in Turkish. The more I chat, the better I feel I can keep the conversation going without constantly looking up the meaning of different words. This is not surprising, considering the fact that the more you practice, the better you are at it.

How to find Turks to chat with

I use a site called LiveMocha. You can find variety of people speaking different languages who are also looking to learn other languages. You can filter for people who speak Turkish, and just start chatting with a simple “merhaba” and “nasilsin?”

How to keep a conversation flowing

Usually I start by telling people that I’m a beginner at Turkish and why I would like to learn. “Türkçe oğreniyorum, ama Türkçem iyi değil” (I’m learning Turkish, but my Turkish isn’t good)

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Sürpriz, an energetic song

Found a Turkish song I really like today while just browsing through the PowerTürk top 40 songs.

It’s called Sürpriz, by Gülben Ergen, and is extremely catchy! (I can already hear myself singing it). I intend to listen to this over and over again until I have it memorized it. This is the second Turkish song that I memorize; I wrote about the previous one here.

Of course, you should pick a song that you really like, just so you don’t get tired of hearing it over and over again.

Lyrics:

Sürpriz

Ne parada ne pulda aklım
hep sende
Yanımda ol yeter gözüm yok
yükseklerde
Bir kerecik vapura binip
bir çay içsek
Martılara simit atıp biraz
dertleşsek
Bir kibrit çaksana ça ça çaksana
Yıldızlar kayarken
bize bir dilek tutsana
Bir güzellik yapsana
ya ya yapsana
Elaleme inat kalkıp
elimden tutsana
Sürpriz…
Adımızı göklere yazdırdım
Aşkı da arasına kondurdum
Üstüne yıldız çaktırdım
Sürpriz sürpriz sürpriz aşkım

Translation here

Türkçe’yi seviyor musun (Do you love Turkish)?

I stumbled onto an inspiring video about success today, and it encouraged me to push my Turkish learning even further.

The speaker, Eric Thomas , argued in a lecture to Michigan University students (video part 1, part 2) that in order to be successful at anything in life, you must do the following (watch the video, it puts the quote into context).

“When you want to succeed as badly as you want to breath [underwater], then you’ll be successful”

I revisited all the reasons I wanted to learn Turkish in the first place: immersion into a completely foreign culture, traveling to Turkey alone with no English, make friends, experience the Turkish hospitality (I’ve heard they’re REALLY welcoming to foreigners who know their language).

So now every time I open a book to study, or go chat online with a Turk, or just passively listening to Turkish radio, I want to think about all the reasons that make me want to learn Turkish so badly. I want it as badly as breathing itself.

(p.s. not related to the post, but I found a great channel that shows Turkish drama 24/7: Canal D. I usually listen passively to Turkish audio as I work)

 

önemli değil (not important)

High school teachers are wrong.

One thing I dislike the way mainstream language learning in school operates is the focus on grammar. The dislike comes from my principle that language learning should be natural rather than artificial, that is, focus on getting your idea across rather than speaking with perfect grammar. I spent 6 years learning French in high school, focusing on practicing grammar and speaking without mistakes, and yet my French is worse than my Spanish, which I spent only 4 months learning.

When just starting a new language, learn the simple grammar and sentences structure, and focus on getting your points across quickly and fluently. Speaking fluidly without pause and getting your ideas across makes you sound MUCH MORE like a native speaker than someone who takes many seconds trying to think of correct conjugation. 

A lot of times when I’m chatting with a Turkish native,  I may occasionally make a few grammatical mistakes, but they will understand me. (Onlar beni anlıyor)

In other words, learning a language is a mean to an end. You learn so you can communicate with people, not because  so you can speak the language perfectly. Therefore I ignore all but the most basic grammar when I learn a language.

This is, after all, how babies learn languages: prioritize on making themselves understood first, then proceed to fix nuances later when you can already speak confidently

(ps. I must say Turkish grammar is extremely logical. There are only few rules you have to follow, and are consistent, unlike Spanish/French/English grammar!)

Fill unproductive time with Turkish audio

Listening is extremely important during language learning. Not only is it the hardest out of the four skills, practicing listening also helps you learn the language better in general.

Research has shown that people who listened to foreign languages frequently learned much faster than those who didn’t, even if they don’t understand what they hear.

“When we are trying to learn new foreign words we are faced with sounds for which we may have absolutely no neural representation. A student trying to learn a foreign language may have few pre-existing neural structures to build on in order to remember the words.”

How and when do you listen?

I try to fill all my unproductive time by listening to Turkish news. When I’m just browsing randomly, checking Email, playing games, etc, I would just passively listen to Turkish.

Some great sources to Turkish news radio can be found here: Turkish talk radios

Working full time doing programming this summer, I have recently decided to listen to these news when I’m working. So that adds up to almost 8 hours of passive listening per day.

Düşünün ve çalışmayın (think and learn) – how to form sentences with your new words

While learning any language, vocab building is inevitable. The one problem I’ve with vocab building is not that I can’t memorize them… it’s that I can’t retain them.

Sure, anyone can sit down for 30 minutes and memorize 20-30 new vocab words, but how long would those words last in your memory? An hour at the most? Even those words you do manage to retain, would you immediately recognize them when seen in context? Would you use them at will when you want to?

A good way I found to retain vocab is use them in a sentence. But forming one sentence per word takes way too long, and you end up with sentences that uses the vocab in irrelevant places. So I came up with a good approach, to use two vocab per sentence instead of one. Whoooowwwww, genius! Right? Using two new words in a sentences really forces you to think about how your using the words, and not just the definition. When placed in context, the words are much more easily retained.

How to get started?

To start memorizing the vocab, I download Pauker flashcard program along with 1000 most common Turkish vocab for Pauker, cortesy of an user on Turkishclass.com.

(of course, you can use any flashcard program such as Mnemosyne  and Anki , but I used Pauker because the 1000 most common words were already nicely formatted for that program, ready to download) Pauker is nice in that it takes into account of your long and short term memory when it comes to repeating words. I won’t explain it here, just try it and see if you like it.

After memorizing the first 50 words, I waited a few hours and went back at it again. The next day, I use the Pauker’s built-in randomize feature to mix the words up, and started forming sentences in pairs (for a total of 25 sentences). I then posted these phrases to LiveMocha and Lang-8 to get corrected. Below are the corrected sentences that I formed:

  • En iyi olmak istiyorum
  • Bu masada ne kadar çok şey var?
  •  Kadın herkesi seviyor
  • Adam ile kadın parktalar
  • Elimi hergün kullanadım
  • Ya, bir çocuk var!
  • ‘Daha yemek yok mu?’ diye Messi
  • iki kişiyi görüyorum
  • Paris’ie gidiyorum için seni
  • Yeni yılıa başlıyorum
  • Bu yer evim gibi
  • O çalısmıyor
  • Bir büyük kediyi istiyorum, ve sonra bir kücük kedi istiyorum
  • Bak, bir kadın bana çok para vermek istiyor!
  • İki insan var, ama onlar kadınlar değil
  • Bugün işe gitmek istemiyorum
  • Ne içinde biliyorum
  • Her şeyi almayin!
  • Onlar ne zaman geliyor?
  • Kendim bu yapiyorum
  • Çık sonra ara
Note:I had to get various revisions to make this as error free as possible, but most likely there are still mistakes, even though they’re minor ones.
Try learning the first 50 words from the 1000 Most Common Turkish words (you can find them on Wikitionary quickly if you don’t want to download Pauker like I suggested. After you learn the 1st 50, see if you can understand what I wrote!

Ezel – Watch Turkish TV show for better word recognition

I wanted to gain more exposure to Turkish (currently all I’m doing is chatting with Turkish people online), so I started looking for some Turkish TV shows to watch. One that really caught me was Ezel. It’s about the story of two brothers, one of which is jealous of the other’s girlfriend, so he frames him for a robbery that gets his brother into jail, and steals his girlfriend. I cannot help but think it’s based on The Count of Monte Cristo.

Anyways, even thought I could not understand much, I can definately pickup words here and there (such as “hoş geldiniz”, “anne”, “günaydın”) and even some sentences (“Biliyor musunuz?” “anladım”).

Without even looking up words, I learned a few words (“abla”, “bak”, and many others..) from just watching three episodes.

The show itself is really catchy, as I’m already hooked on it! Apparently it won a bunch of awards and is widely regarded as the best TV show produced in Turkey. You can find all the Episodes on YouTube.

Watching and listening to native Turkish speakers is extremely helpful in helping you 1.) get used to the accents and sound and 2.) help you differentiate the separation between different words. Even if you don’t feel like you’re gaining anything from watching it, trust me, it helps you subtly in the long run!

How Cristiano Ronaldo became a conversation starter

As a fan of Real Madrid football club, I can’t be more excited about this news:  Cristiano Ronaldo is chilling in Istanbul right now, gathering up a large crowed! (For those who don’t know, Ronaldo is one of the best footballer in the world).

Though I’m not in Istanbul, this was a great conversation when I chat with Turks online through LiveMocha. Armed with a few phrases (“Ronaldo’yı biliyor musun” “Ronaldo İstanbul dan şimdi!”),  I can get into a semi-in-depth conversation. I then repeated the process with 2 other Turks, mainly chatting about the same thing.

An interesting trend I’ve found, most of the Turks on LiveMocha are from Istanbul, which is perfect for the current conversation. And all of them know Crisitano Ronaldo 😀

Here’s a sample conversation (names changed for privacy).

Me:  merhaba
Türk:  merhaba
Me:  nasılsın?
Aga:  iyiyim
Aga:  sen nasılsın?
Me:  ben de iyiyim
Me:  New York'lıyım
Me:  nerelisin?
Aga:  ben istanbulluyum.
Me:  :O
Me:  Her Aga İstanbul dan
Aga:  yok
Aga:  herkes farklı
Me:  çok Aga
Me:  çok arkadaşim İstanbul dan ;)
Aga:  bu güzel :)
Me:  evet
Me:  Cristiano Ronaldo'yı biliyor musun?
Aga:  evet biliyorum..
Aga:  ne oldu?
Me:  Ronaldo İstanbul'de şimdi :D
Aga:  evet biliyorum :)
Me:  !!
Me:  Ronaldo'yı göriyor musun?
Aga:  yok ^^
Me:  awwww :(
Me:  haha
Me:  Ronaldo'yı çok görmek istiyorum :D
Aga:  buraya gel :D
Me:  haha
Me:  İstiyorum!
Me:  Real Madrid'yi biliyor musun?
Aga:  haha görüyorum
Aga:  evet biliyorum? :)
Me:  Real Madrid'yi seviyorum
Me:  ve İstanbuli seviyorum :D
Aga:  haha çok iyi :D
Aga:  ben seviyorum istanbulu :)
Me:  Fenerbahçe biliyor musun?
Me:  Fenerbahçe sk
Aga:  evet
Aga:  benim favori takımım.. ♥
Me:  evetttt?
Me:  ben de Fenerbahçe seviyorum :D
Me:  Souza?
Aga:  hahaha :D
Aga:  Alex De souza?
Me:  eveeet
Me:  O iyi
Aga:  çok iyi :D
Me:  haha
Me:  futbol izliyorsun sık sık?
Aga:  yok
Aga:  sadece favori takımımı ve milli maçları :D
Aga:  sen?
Me:  futbul izlim sık sık :D
Aga:  haha güzel :D
Aga:  erkekler çok sever fubol izlemeyi :D
Me:  haha
Me:  evettt
Me:  ne kadınlar seviyorler?
Aga:  haha kadınlar alışverişi sever :D

					

Score your way to success

I’ve been looking for reasons why my Turkish learning doesn’t flow as successfully as my Spanish learning, and I think I know the reason: I need to watch some Turkish football (soccer)!

One of the biggest reason I learned Spanish was because I love watching Spanish football, La Liga (I’m a Real Madrid fan 😀 ). It never gets boring when I read football news in Spanish. So… to apply the same method to Turkish, I am now a  Fenerbahçe fan!

Fenerbahçe  is one of the most successful team in Turkey. Even though it’s in off season right now, I’m going to try to learn as much as I can about it, and attempt to pick out familiar words in Turkish football news.

I also talked to some of my Turkish friends, and a lot of them seem to be fans of that team as well. Of course, we spoke mainly in Turkish.

For example, on Facebook I asked one of my friend: “Fenerbahçeyi seviyor musun?” Which means “Do you like Fenerbahçe?”

In fact, you can apply this sentence structure to a lot of things that you can ask. “Kalemi seviyor musun?” or “Filmi seviyor musun?” Substitution is a great way to create more sentence from what you’ve already known.