Turkish Mission: Results

I’m a few weeks behind on an update, and suddenly the mission is over. I intended to do some blog posts  last Sunday and the Sunday before that, with some video, to demonstrate how everything was going, but frankly, life got in the way. I was low on time – a lot of work – and I had a choice: I could study my Turkish, or take the time to write in my blog about how my Turkish was going.

I chose studying Turkish.

And now my mission has come to an end. I just got back from the TurkFest, and had the opportunity to speak Turkish with some people there. How did it go? Did I reach my intended goal of a B1 level in Turkish? What worked for me, and what didn’t?

Just out of reach

When I started this mission, I self evaluated my Turkish as A1 speaking and A2 reading, and I admit that going for B1 in a month was a pretty intense goal. I wanted to push myself, and it worked. I learned about 1000 new words over the course of the month, I completed the Teach Yourself: Turkish book, and I had some good Turkish conversations, and I wrote a lot of Turkish journal entries that I then posted on iTalki. However, when all is said and done, I think I merely rounded out my Turkish at an A2 level.

I am, however, quite proud of this accomplishment. I learned a lot of grammar, and judging on how I read now compared to how often I needed a dictionary before, I wonder if I was only an A1 or high A1 in reading when I started.

I may not have made it to a B1 level, but I made all around improvement, and that’s great.

“No man is an island”

It’s always easier to judge through hindsight, but for this mission I think I knew all along what I was lacking: People. I’ve gotten pretty good at creating immersion for myself in a language. I narrate my daily life as I walk around. I write in my journal. I Listen to the radio. Yet the one thing I can’t reproduce as easily is real conversation with native speakers.

Over the course of the past month, I had a few conversations on Speaky, and they were great. It was clear that they were the most beneficial thing for me because they gave me the opportunity to try new things and correct in real time. However, scheduling was a big issue for me. I live in Seattle (UTC-8) and Turkey is (UTC+2). That means that the best time to talk to someone in Turkey is likely in the morning or rather late at night (for me).

Since I work for myself, I do have some flexibility with finding time to talk with people. I have been, however, extremely busy at work (less flexibility), and the best time for me to work is earlier in the day. So, I mostly found myself working or sleeping when I would have had the best chance to speak with someone in Turkey.

Engage the community!

What about Turks in the community? That’s the right attitude! In fact, I always prefer talking with people in my local community if I can. Seattle, however, does have a smaller Turkish community than some other places in the US (or the world). I’m not saying this is impossible, but I am saying this would be a very different story if I lived in Berlin. Likewise, despite all the effort I have put into growing the local Seattle Polyglot group in the area, there have not yet been a lot of members with whom I can practice Turkish.

I admit that this is still an excuse, but it’s a pretty legitimate one for many people. Language is a way to connect with people, across culture, thought, space, and even time. Having a hard time connecting with people can put a serious damper on a language project. Is it a challenge that can be overcome? Yes. Is it one that I feel I have the energy and resources to do right now? Not really.

Then, what next?

It may sound like I’m saying I’m done with Turkish. That isn’t quite accurate. I am really happy with the progress I have made: I have met some great people online that I want to keep up with, I have unlocked more beautiful poetry that I am excited to read, I am more confident in writing Turkish poetry myself, and I am more confident that Turkish will stick in my brain if I take a break.

Though I feel like I want to take a break from a more active Turkish to a more passive Turkish. I will keep reading and listening to Turkish, like I do with all my languages that I maintain, and I’m sure I’ll talk to myself in the language, but I’m going to turn the next month towards other language pursuits.

What kind of pursuits, you may ask?

I have a bigger project I would like to do starting right after Thanksgiving, but that means that I have about 5 weeks to do another project. I have some ideas. My experience trying to speak with people in Turkish really made me think it would be valuable to choose a language I can use more in the next month, whether that’s from normal Seattle interactions, my friends (wherever they may be), or my Polyglot Meetup. But I think I need to give it a day to think about it. (READ: Follow-up post coming soon!)

The issue, as always, is not a lack of things that sound exciting, but too many things. How do you decide when you have a lot of exciting possibilities drawing you? What makes one language pull ahead of the pack?

Let me know in the comments! And while you are at it, tell me what language projects you are working on right now. How are they doing?

B1 Turkish: End of Week One


So it’s been one week since I started my Language Mission for reaching B1 level Turkish in one month. Last week I made an unscripted video for you in which I stumbled over my words and grammar trying to remember how to say anything. This week, after good review and a lot of new material, I still stumble over my words, but I have more of them.

Well, I’ve got another video for you as well!

So how am I doing?

I had three goals for the week:

  1. Learn all the vocab and grammar from 3 more chapters of my TY:Turkish book
  2. Find at least 3 language partners and have at least 3 hour long exchanges (That’s 30 minutes in Turkish and 30 minutes in their requested language)
  3. Write another blog post (That’s this one!) at the end of the week detailing my progress and laying out my next set of mini-goals

It’s been an interesting week, and I’ve basically accomplished my goals, but there are definitely things I will need to do differently this next week.

I also learned some great things about the resources available to me, to practice — what’s working and what isn’t — that I will be sure to detail here.

Learning Vocabulary and Grammar!

I did it. I learned all the vocabulary I set out to learn, and more. I didn’t just learn the words in the dialogues, but all of the supplementary vocabulary as well. In addition, I had other vocabulary I looked up out of curiosity throughout the week that ended up in my lists. Somewhere in the order of 300 words and the accompanying grammar.

Why am I not sure? Well, because I used good ‘ole-fashioned, paper flash cards. That’s right. I wrote them all out by hand. With programs like Memrise and Anki out there, people are really amazed I would do that. Doesn’t it take a lot of time? Do you carry them with you everywhere like you would an app?

Yes, it does take a lot of time to make the flashcards by hand. But the time I spend actually writing out a flash card is time I spend actually learning the word. I have to pay attention to the spelling if I’m going to spell it. I spend more time looking at it. Don’t get me wrong: I love digital Spaced Repetition Systems like Anki and Memrise. I just find that written flash cards stick with me better.

And no, I don’t carry the flash cards around with me everywhere. A lot of people advocate carrying flash cards around to practice in their spare moments. But I use those spare moments to try and make sentences with the vocabulary that I’ve learned (practicing grammar). I only study my flash cards in the morning when I wake up, and at evening before I go to sleep. The rest of the day they are in their box, unless I’m writing new ones down.

But a full explanation of vocabulary and grammar method is another post entirely. I’ll be sure to do that one soon for everyone!

Finding Language Partners

This was mostly a success, but didn’t go exactly as I’d planned.

I used two language based social networks to practice my Turkish. The first was iTalki, where I posted journal entries to practice my sentences. It’s really a great feature, and the feedback was invaluable. I’m still looking for a way to connect my blog to iTalki so that people can explore my journal entries more readily!

The other social network I used was Speaky. Where I could jump into immediate conversation with Turks over chat. I did have an hour and a half of conversation in turkish, like planned, but it happened in with only two conversations instead of three. The first for an hour (30 minutes of Turkish and 30 minutes of English), and the other for an hour of only Turkish. This isn’t as ideal, because I didn’t spread it across the week, but it still gave me the opportunity to practice real communication!

Only one problem: I didn’t speak to anyone!

Speaky has both typing and video conversations, but I only did the typing. This wasn’t anyone’s fault but my own. I only had time to talk early in the morning, and I didn’t want to disturb my wife or neighbors by having conversation at 6am. So, still not an ideal use of the social network.

So what’s next?

All in all, the week went really well, and I learned a lot. If you watch my video, however, you’ll see that I’m still pausing a lot when I speak, and it’s taking me a long time to find the words. Put simply: I’ve got no flow.

The number one thing my studying is lacking is conversation. I’ve been reading and writing a lot, and it has been great for my core understanding, but if I don’t practice speaking I will never start thinking in the language. I also need to start listening to more Turkish at full speed so I don’t have to translate into English as much when I’m trying to understand things.

What does this mean? Slow down on the vocab and add in more conversation and dialogues. I need to figure out a way to make sure I can have real conversation this week. But adding a few conversations isn’t enough. I also need to spend more time practicing saying full sentences, out loud and to speed! A good place to start with that is memorize dialogues from my Teach Yourself: Turkish book.

So my goals for next week are:

  1. Learn the vocabulary and grammar from 2 more chapters of my Teach Yourself: Turkish book. I need to keep progressing, and I want to finish the book, but I can move a little slower than I went last week.
  2. Memorize the dialogues from 3 chapters that I have learned (including the ones I am about to learn) that are the most interesting subject matters to me and have the grammar patterns I’m having the most difficult time getting correct.
  3. Have 3 more conversations on Speaky, but this time they need to be spoken!

Next week I’ll write another post to mark the halfway point, and I’ll try and post some video of actual conversation with a language partner so you can see how I’m doing in a real conversation.

What do you think?

How do you feel about my progress this last week? What about my goals for the coming week? Have you tried any of the things I’ve mentioned, or had similar problems or successes?

How’s your language project going?

Let me know in the comments!

Turkish Mission Video #1

For the sake of transparency and public self-humiliation, I thought it would be a good idea to post a YouTube video of myself trying to speak Turkish at the start of my Language Mission. It’s pretty rough, and I know it, but it gives you an idea of where I am with the language.

I’d like to think that I can converse a little better than I did in this video. It’s all improvised, but I wasn’t even that sure what I was going to say until I did it. I’ll try and be a little more organized on the next one.


One Month Language Mission: B1 Turkish

Back in 2007, when I was living in France, I went on a trip to Turkey. I flew into Istanbul for a day, traveled to Izmir & Bergama, took a bus over to Denizli & Pamukkale, and finally flew back to Istanbul, where I stayed for a whole week.

Simply put, it was one of the best trips of my life.

Turkey is an amazing country. The people were all engaging and welcoming. And I had a lot of opportunities to use the Turkish that I had been studying. In fact, speaking what little Turkish I did know is one of the few reasons my wife and I managed to make our flight out of the country.

Turkish has always been a personal favorite of mine. I don’t know why, but it feels so poetic. Sometimes I will get so excited about a Turkish word or grammar pattern that I try my hand at writing poetry IN TURKISH just to explore that feature.

But for some reason, after coming back from Turkey, I didn’t use the language that much. And after moving back to the States, I haven’t ever lived somewhere with much of a Turkish community. That pretty much sapped my motivation to keep up the language, and I let myself forget most of what I had learned.

Until now.

For the past month, I have been reviewing my old Turkish materials. I have an old copy of “Teach Yourself: Turkish”, which I believe to be a fantastic work – it’s the same copy I took with me to Turkey in 2007. And I have been going through the chapters again, relearning vocabulary.

After finding an old set of Turkish Flash Cards I had made (I was all analog in 2007), I have been doing all my new vocabulary in that same box of cards — ALL BY HAND.

But for the past month, my goal has been rather unfocused. I simply decided I wanted to relearn my Turkish. That’s not very clear, and it’s hard to aspire to or use as a motivation. But at this point, with half of the book behind me, I’m not that far from where I was on my trip.

Now it’s time for a clearer goal

All year round in Seattle there are cultural events at the Seattle Center called Festál. And on October 17th & 18th (a little under a month from now) they will be hosting TurkFest 2015!

I will be there. I even planned an event for my local Polyglot Meetup, to go on the 18th.

My goal is to speak Turkish at a B1 level by the time I go to the Festival so that I can have some meaningful conversations in Turkish while there.

How will I do it?

I think that a one-month goal is best broken down in to week long mini-goals & sprints. So I can take some larger ideas and break them down into smaller pieces. My larger needs are as follows:

  1. I need to finish solidly learning the material in my TY:Turkish book (8 chapters). It’s a great resource, and the vocabulary is well curated to me particular interests and topics of discussion.
  2. I need to start having regular conversation ASAP. I have been remiss in not trying harder to have Turkish conversations, and I’m going to explore iTalki, HelloTalk, and Speaky to see if I can get any good language exchanges going. And those conversations will inform me of my other vocabulary and grammar needs, and I will use that to supplement my vocabulary.

So for my first week I will accomplish the following:

  1. I will learn all the vocab and grammar from 3 more chapters of my TY:Turkish book
  2. I will find at least 3 language partners and have at least 3 hour long exchanges (That’s 30 minutes in Turkish and 30 minutes in their requested language)
  3. I will write another blog post at the end of the week detailing my progress and laying out my next set of mini-goals

Honestly, I think that reaching a B1 level in one month is possible, but that it might be a bit difficult. My Turkish isn’t all that good, and I would say it’s somewhere between A1 and A2 right now. (A1 speaking, A2 reading). But an unreasonable goal helps you get creative in reaching that goal.

I’ll still be posting about language learning techniques and other language related materials, which I hope won’t hinder my progress too much (since this isn’t my job, and I’m already devoting my free-time to this).

If you have any advice or resources, I’d love to hear about them. If you live in the area, drop me a line. (and join my Polyglot Group!)

Tell me about your language goals. Do you have any one month, two month, or even just ongoing language missions at the moment? Let me know in the comments!