When you set out to learn a new language, usually there are books, or tapes, or other learning materials to guide you through the basics — not enough to actually get you to fluency, but usually enough to give confidence to start a conversation.
However, when you're learning without any learning materials, getting to that first conversation can be a daunting task! You have no idea what to say, of course. And unless you move to Turkey (or wherever they speak the language you're learning), you're probably not going to be surrounded by enough conversations to start picking up on what people say. So what do you do?
The answer is actually pretty simple: you find chat rooms. Chat rooms offer you a place where you can see the language being used as it really would, with variety and slang, but at a slightly reduced pace and with the benifit of a transcription, so you can go back and look things up!
Chat rooms also allow you the gift of anonymity. Often, people are afraid to try out a new language because they're afraid of what people will think of them when they make a mistake. Personally, I think it's a not worth worrying about, but I understand that this thought exists, and fortunately, chat rooms can fix this for you!
If you make a mistake and offend people, all you have to do is log in next time with a different name, and you start with a clean slate. If you have trouble getting people to talk to you, you can use a girl's name. If you want to learn proper terms of respect you can add a title (like "Dr") to your name. The possibilities are endless!
I've been lurking in Turkish chat rooms, watching what happens and what people say, occasionally typing the things I see into Google Translate.
When a new user enters the chat room, I see the announcement odaya girdi. Then, almost like clockwork, that person opens with the greeting selam.
Others may greet the new user. Maybe someone will use nasılsın, to ask how are you. Answers to this question an not at all predictable, and seem to be a far more honest assessment than what we're used to in English (eg: one person's response was "my teeth are causing me trouble"). Then, as if following a script, the person who answered will then ask in return sen?
A clever observer will notice here that the word sen, which means "you", is also the ending being used on various declensions or conjugations (I'm not sure which) like "nasılsın" (how are you?). Sure enough, when I put nasıl into my Turkish dictionary, it translates as "how". So nasıl + sen = nasılsın,_ or "how [are] you". Exciting... we're learning!
After a while, someone will say hoşcakalın, which is "goodbye". Then, the chat room announces that this person çıkış yaptı, or "left". Literally, word by word, this means "made an exit". (As in the photo, I remember seeing the word chiqish written on exits in Uzbekistan, so remembering çıkış isn't going to be hard for me.)
I'm going to do a little more of this kind of observation, just to prepare myself with a few likely responses to this kind of small talk, but then in a few days, I'll start trying out some of this myself. Obviously I won't be able to have much of a conversation, but I can start by getting the feel for asking and answering basic greetings in Turkish. And then I'll be fast on my way to learning and speaking this language!