How I'm Learning Turkish For Free Using YouTube

I've spent several hours this week on planes, in airports, in stations, and on trains, but during all that time I'm already learning Turkish. And I'm doing it without and language books or lesson CDs, and without access to the Internet.

How? I'm glad you asked!

I did several things in preparation for my trip, to make sure that I would be able to start learning Turkish — without study materials — even as I spend a month wandering through Italy. Today, I'm going to share one of the things I've done to help me get started.

When the fireworks popped to begin the year, I didn't know any Turkish words. Or, to be more accurate, the only Turkish words I knew were those related to my favorite dishes when I eat in a Turkish restaurant.

I need to learn everything. But you have to start somewhere. And I've decided that the most important place to start is with hearing the language, and learning its sounds. I've found a really interesting way to do that!

I used Google Translate to find the Turkish translation for "children's story" and then pasted the result (çocuk hikayesi) into the search box on YouTube. Then, I just started browsing the results, and I found a few videos that look really helpful!

Videos are important to me, especially at this stage, because when I don't know what anything means, I need to have some clue. If I can associate sounds I hear with pictures I see, I will begin to learn.

These aren't just videos... they're stories with the words written on the screen. I'm watching the videos and reading along with the narration, in order to get accustomed to the sounds of the language and the phonetics of how it is written.

And in the related videos, I also found this story, which doesn't have any video — just words on the screen and a voice reading them. I don't have any clue at all what this story is about, except that its title translates as "salt coffee story". Doesn't matter! It's a voice and words, so I'm learning how to hear and how to read Turkish:

I've used KeepVid to download these videos, so I could import them into iTunes and put them on my iPad and iPod for viewing offline. When I'm stuck in travel, I watch these videos and read along, and I'm already starting to discern the sounds and get an idea of how to read text, and where to put the stress.

Again, I have no idea what's being said — though I can discern a little of the meaning from what I see on screen. But that's not the point. My goal is to discern the sounds. To train my ears. The sooner my ears learn to hear Turkish, the sooner I can listen and learn!


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  • Children's stories are a great way of starting on a language.Using google translate to find them is a handy hack :)

  • For me, being deaf, it's important to be able to see real people saying the words as I read the subtitles. It helps me to get familiar with lipreading in another language.

  • Not that hearing actual sounds isn't important. It's even more important, in that I can learn to associate the sound formation with the particular letter, and then match it up with the lip/tongue movement.

  • Great find on the videos. I will be posting a link to them in a super secret location. Kolay Gelsin!

  • Super-secret location?

  • Excellent point! And probably helpful for non-deaf people too. I'm going to give it a try when I return home.

  • Thanks!

  • That's awesome, have you considered getting a couple pairs of books that are both in English and Turkish, that is you have a book written in English and then the Turkish translation of it? Pete (doviende) and a lot of people on HTLAL like this method, I'm going to try it with Spanish as soon as my Spanish copy of "The Bourne Identity" arrives (I've got the English version).Cheers,
    Andrew

  • That sounds like an incredible pain in the ass to me. I don't want to hunt through a book in search of what's written in another book. I'll use a side-by-side "reader" early on in my learning, but once my reading skills are anywhere close to where I'd consider reading a novel, I'll just read the damn novel and ignore what I don't know (see also, "Sip from the hose").Also, I'm not a huge fan of HTLAL. That's a bunch of polyglots and wannabe polyglots sitting around trying to out-polyglot each other. They've lost sight of what it's like to be a beginner, learning your first language, which is the audience to whom I write my blog.

  • Totally with you on the HTLAL bit. My experience there tells me that it's not anything to do with learning languages. Just a bunch of armchair "linguists" spouting their theories and anything but their theory is wrong.But then, i guess we see that all over the internet with each of our collective and individual opinions. Best thing to do with all of it is take it with a grain of salt... take away the useful bits and ignore the rest.

  • From the moment you sign up there, you are ranked according to how big of a polyglot you are - your first task as a new member is to answer a million useless questions about your polyglot-ness for your profile.If the Internet has proven anything over the last 10+ years, it's the fact than giving people a rank will only lead to them focusing on status and gaming the ranking system, rather than providing value to one another.

  • It's more of a pain with physical books, so for those I'd rather just listen and read in the L2...but then it involves more work to learn the vocabulary necessary. So generally, I prefer having electronic formats so that I can construct a parallel text, and then I eliminate all dictionary lookups and make the novel more understandable.But ya, once you reach a certain level, it's easier to just read the novel.

  • My favorite word to translate to search for stuff is "cartoon" but then I am just a big kid sometimes.

  • Well not so super secret. I just want don't want to be the guy saying "hey check out this resource." You seem to be going at this in a pretty organic way and I think that is very cool. When (and if) you do come upon the 'secret location' I'll let you judge for yourself. Keep up the great work and kolay gelsin.

  • Don't you consider the side by side readers as products then? I've always thought them to be so but now I'm not so sure.

  • To me, they're not really learning products. They're not designed to teach you anything at all about a language. They're just two books, conveniently packacked together in one binding, which happens to be helpful for people who are learning. You still have to do all the work of learning on your own.

  • I'm going to try this for my Dutch study. I'm one of those people that has bought a ton of language learning materials in hopes that they will magically make me fluent. I signed up for a Dutch course here in The Netherlands and it quickly disappointed me. The usual "read this chapter, do the questions, and then come to class where we barely talk to each other" gave me the critical mass of anger to go ahead and give up on those methods. I'm going it alone now, using blogs for inspiration and ideas and Lang-8 to get my writing corrected. I'm looking into Voicethread to have my speech corrected. Haven't spent a ton of time on your site - just subscribed - but I'm curious about how useful you've found sites like Lang-8 to be.I'm lucky to live with a native speaker, though we're both lazy and revert to English. I switched my iPod touch language to Dutch the other day. Still nervous about making the switch on my Macbook, though. Baby steps.

  • Lang-8 is perhaps my favorite of all language related web sites. I definitely approve and recommend it.About changing your Mac... Go to the control panel and find the icon for language settings. Make a note of which one it is. Then, click back to the View All screen and make a screen capture (shift-alt-4, I think). Now open that screenshot in Preview and use the annotation tools to circle that icon. Save this PNG on your desktop, and then switch your language setting to Dutch knowing that if you run into trouble, you've got a map to find your way back.This works for other things you need to remember, too.

  • Uh oh. I think you just gave me one less reason not to do it.Also, do you have your speech corrected somehow on Lang-8? I'm trying to figure out a way to submit audio and have others audio comment back to work on pronunciation. Was considering Voicethread.

  • I think that warming your ear to the language is indeed the best way to get started. As you know, I’m currently learning Japanese. I listen to Japanese radio and watch Japanese videos on YouTube just so that I am exposed the language and my ears can warm to the stress, rhythm and speed. Although I don't understand very much I'm beginning to recognise where words begin and where they end. The next step is going to be associating the sounds that come up again and again to objects, actions and descriptions. I think the power of discovering a language is learning through context. When you learn with an emotion attached things stick SOOO much better, whether that emotion is frustration, anger, or happiness.It's going to be interesting to see if you come up with the same conclusions as myself. Perhaps you have already?Keep it up.

  • Great idea, but you don't have to translate yourself and then paste to google. Use this site; it googles 2 languages of your choice: 
    https://www.2lingual.com/

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