Tag Archives: learning Turkish

“Do You Want To Phone A Friend …?”

Remember Chris Tarrant? I do … and let me explain why.

Genial and quick-witted, there was a time when it seemed Chris was everywhere. Radio shows, games, books and of course perhaps his most famous role as host of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. And that’s why he sometimes pops into my mind when I try to speak Turkish.

Why? Well, in the show, if you didn’t know the answer to any of the questions Chris fired at you, you had three “lifelines”. You could ask the audience, you could go 50/50 and eliminate some of the wrong ones or you could phone a friend. And, if I’m honest, I’ve done the equivalent of all three while trying to make myself understood in Turkish.

As an example, let’s use our attempt to buy some tempered glass for the wood-burner after the last sheet detonated rather dramatically in the middle of a family evening in front of the telly the other night.

We looked up “glass” “fire” and “wood-burner” and set off for the shop in Fethiye and, on arrival at  the workshop, found three guys in conversation, the middle one stopping to raise an inquiring eyebrow. We’ve done more than a year of Turkish lessons now and I had been reasonably confident we’d be able to say something like: “Hi, we need two sheets of tempered glass for a wood-burner.” Sadly, despite the preparation, nothing came out.

Try as I might, I just couldn’t marshal the words into a sentence quickly enough and, as I became increasingly aware of the long pause, I panicked. I pointed at some glass, I said the Turkish word for “fire” and hoped that was enough.

But no. The shopkeeper replied with some quick-fire Turkish and all I could do was look at him helplessly – and that’s usually where Chris Tarrant steps in.

“Do you want to use one of your lifelines?” he asked in my head, when actually, what I wanted to do was just make myself coherent. “Do you want to ask the audience?”

I looked hopefully at Bec. Nope. No help coming from there. The other two guys in the shop had wandered off and there was no chance of catching their eye either.

“Do you want to use your 50/50?” Chris was asking. I fumbled with my phone hoping the translation app was still open so I could show the shopkeeper the words we looked up earlier in the hope he could make sense of what we’re after from that. It wasn’t.

“Do you want to phone a friend?” inquired my imaginary Chris, although in the real world, it was actually Bec with her own mobile in her hand.

“Hmm?” I asked dazedly.

“Do you want me to call Bayram? He’ll be able to explain what we want …”

“Oh. Right. Yes. I suppose so.”

And minutes later there was a telephone conversation going on between the shopkeeper and our bilingual friend while I stood ashamed that, yet again, I couldn’t string a sentence together in Turkish – or at least not one that I was confident would make any sense.

After over a year of trying to learn a new language, I’m okay in the markets, bars and restaurants and I can even manage rudimentary car maintenance phrases after a series of issues with our Land Rover. But it’s when you enter a new scenario or when you’re dealing with officialdom that linguistic shortcomings become far more evident – and it can underline just how far you still have to go.

We’re fortunate to have a teacher with endless patience and a sense of humour too. Indeed, Bülent seems to find the stories I tell about how I’ve struggled this week quite amusing. But, then we’ll settle down to run through where I went wrong.

Besides, as Bülent points out, if we added up all the time we’ve spent in lessons together, it only comes to just over 100 hours, which is about three weeks if we worked on a nine-to-five basis. Is it really realistic to expect to be able to speak a new language fluently in such a short time? Probably not.

It’s true the effort you make to speak even rudimentary Turkish is appreciated by locals, and reciprocated in their smiles and even in the price you pay in the lokantas and at some of the market stalls. It is definitely worth the effort.

Nevertheless, I suspect it’s going to be a while before I’m free of Chris Tarrant.

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We Need to Talk…

Ok, this is stating the obvious – but if we’re going to live in Turkey, we need to make an effort to get to grips with the language.

Actually, I say it’s obvious, but you’d be amazed at how many ex-pats go overseas and think they can stick with the usual Brit approach of speaking very slowly, in English, and simply repeating themselves at an ever-increasing volume when they’re not understood.

Because we’re going to a tourist area and one which does have a lot of English people living there, the move to Fethiye might not be as difficult as it could be, Most of the locals seem to have a pretty good grasp of our language (and certainly much better than ours on Turkish).

But there’s a difference between being somewhere as a temporary visitor and living there permanently. Not only that, but we want to be part of the community. It’s not a case of simply transporting our life in the UK to somewhere warmer and staying in our ivory tower – we want the culture, the way of life. We want to integrate. There’s a chance we could end up living in one of the villages or outlying areas, in which case just knowing a few key phrases – “Where is the toilet?” “May I have two beers?” – won’t cut it.

So, with this in mind, we got together with two dear friends who are also making the move. Yes, we began with the basics – greetings, numbers, that kind of thing. And we had a fun evening – some food, some wine, lots of laughs – and did learn a few words. But we also realised how much we don’t know, and that we probably need some expert – native – help if we’re to really progress.

I’ve always liked languages and been quite good at them, but it’s true what they say – it’s a lot harder when you’re older. We’ve got a couple of ideas to find someone who can help, and in the meantime I guess I’ll revert to my school days and try and learn a few words and phrases parrot-fashion.

The next time I get the opportunity, I also need to make sure I actually use what I’ve learned. It’s like anything – you can study it, understand the principles and, in theory, be quite good. But if you don’t put it into practice you’ll never improve and never really get to grips with it.

Some of that will come once we’re our there and speaking Turkish on a daily basis, I’m sure. For now, it’s back to the phrase book.

Wish us luck. Until next time – güle güle!

RP