Turkish is a fascinating language, even though it’s not necessarily an obvious choice for second-language study. But if you’re curious and you need convincing, there are several compelling reasons to learn Turkish — not the least of which is its unusual history.
Turkish has an interesting family background, in that the larger language family it’s part of isn’t even exactly a family. The Altaic languages are a grouping, rather than an extended group of cousins all descending from the same proto-language. They’re more of a language crossroads, if that makes sense — a group of languages that happen to share certain characteristic features but do not appear to have a common ancestor.
Its personal history gets even more interesting when you consider that Turkish went through a series of language reforms in the 20th century. These were so extensive that a 1927 speech by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founding father of modern-day Turkey, had to be re-translated three times in the decades following to keep up with the language. Among these reforms were a switch from the Arabic alphabet to the Latin alphabet, as well as the removal of centuries’ worth of loanwords from Arabic and Persian. These words were replaced by the vernacular Turkish of the rural population, Old Turkish, and in some cases, completely made up new words.
In other words, one of the foundational reasons to learn Turkish is that it’s unique. But if you need a few more reasons than that to invest the time necessary to learn this language, here are five more.
Five Reasons To Learn Turkish
Reason 1: It’s a vigorous challenge
If you’re the type of person who isn’t motivated by low-hanging fruit, Turkish might be a good choice for you. In our opinion, it’s one of the hardest languages for English speakers to learn.
Turkish is an agglutinative language. What would be a complete sentence in English gets compounded into a single very long word by attaching prefixes and suffixes, rather than using separate prepositions. Most of the words you’ll encounter aren’t this ridiculous, but Afyonkarahisarlılaştıramadıklarımızdan mısınız? is a real word, and it means “Are you one of those whom we tried and could not succeed in making them resemble the citizens of Afyonkarahisar?”
In Turkish, there’s also vowel harmony, which means vowels can be changed or added to endings to make a word flow more smoothly. Both of these concepts will be tough for an English speaker to grasp at first.
Reason 2: There’s a method to the madness (that you won’t find in English)
Even if learning Turkish is challenging for a native English speaker, it’s probably nowhere near as challenging as it is for a native Turkish speaker to learn English.
The nice thing about Turkish is that even though it’s hard, it follows consistent rules. There are relatively few grammar exceptions, and the spelling is pretty straightforward once you get the hang of it. And pronunciation is tricky, but you’ll soon find that each letter corresponds to exactly one sound, which is refreshingly logical when you think about it.
There’s more, though: there are no definite or indefinite articles (like “the” or “an”), no grammatical gender, and no personal pronouns for that matter. There’s no changing nouns depending on how many there are, either; “apple” is just “apple” regardless of whether there’s one or three of them.
Also, there’s the added matter of not having to learn a whole new alphabet if you’re used to Latin letters. This is not to be overlooked!
Reason 3: It’s romantic
Depending on where you grew up, you may have internalized the idea that French or Italian is the language of love. Not to diminish the beauty of these languages, but you really shouldn’t sleep on Turkish.
Among Turkey’s biggest cultural exports are its soap operas. Aşk-ı Memnu (“Forbidden Love”) is one of the most popular series in Turkish television, and it’s been aired in at least 46 countries. This is a rather contagious love bug.
The language itself is also exceedingly romantic. Instead of saying “good morning” or “goodnight,” Turks say günaydın and tünaydın, which literally translate to “the day is bright” and “the night is bright.” Plus, Turks refer to their loved ones as “my breath” (nefesim), “my eyes” (gözlerim) and “my life” (hayatım).
Reason 4: There are numbers, if you need numbers
If you need a little demographic justification, there are nearly 80 million people worldwide who speak Turkish as their first language, and there are several million more speaking it as a second language. This makes it one of the world’s 15 most widely spoken first languages.
The majority of the world’s Turkish speakers live in Turkey, but there’s also a sizable Turkish-speaking population in Germany and Bulgaria, as well as somewhat smaller populations in Cyprus, the Netherlands, France, Austria, Uzbekistan, the United States and Belgium.
Reason 5: It’s a vital key to the Middle East
Turkey is a geographic and cultural hub that sits in the crossroads between Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East. Depending on your interests and your goals, Turkish can be an important language to know if you’re pursuing career opportunities in that region. The U.S. Department of State considers Turkish to be a critical language, meaning it’s one of the most important languages for people to learn.
Additionally, learning Turkish can make the handful of other Turkic languages spoken in the region — including Kazakh, Kyrgyz and Uzbek — easier for you to understand.