Reflecting Back on Turkey’s Language Policies in 2014

In 2014, language policy was high on the agenda in Turkey. It is highly likely that the debates over language policy will continue in 2015, too. Turkey, where approximately 56 different languages are spoken, seemed to show resistance towards multilingual policies and regional languages under the nation-state ideology of monolingualism. However, this trend has been slowly shifting.

In 2012, an elective course called ‘Living Languages and Dialects’ (‘Yaşayan Diller ve Lehçeler’ in Turkish) was introduced as a pilot project at secondary schools in some cities. Within the scope of this course, five languages (Zazaki, Kurmanji, Abkhaz, Adyghe, and Laz) can be offered if there is sufficient demand. The recent news reports that the demand for these courses has been increasing, and the courses are getting more popular among secondary school students. In 2014, the Ministry of National Education appointed teachers for this course for the first time. Given that there are about 56 languages spoken in Turkey, the course does not represent linguistic diversity of Turkey in its current form. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that the development of this course is a big step towards a more multilingual society, and there is progress in the implementation of linguistic rights. I hope that further progress will be achieved by increasing the number of languages offered.

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There has been no change in relation to English language education at any level. The recent educational reform has brought English classes to second grade (as opposed to fourth grade before 2012) in primary public schools. Though public school pupils begin learning English earlier, they seem to lag behind their private school peers who mostly start learning English at kindergarten. According to the report published in 2013 by the British Council on ‘National Needs Assessment of State School English Language Teaching in Turkey’, although the majority of parents were satisfied with the Ministry of National Education’s reform whereby English language education would start at 2nd grade, the largest share of parents, 29%, stated that English education should start at nursery level. This could be just one of the reasons why English language education should remain at the top of the education reform agenda. In 2014, the EF English Proficiency Index (EF EPI), which is the world’s most comprehensive ranking of countries by adult English skills, indicated that Turkey’s adult English proficiency remains very low even though the score has risen by 10.14 points over the past seven years, more than any other country in Europe. As English is undoubtedly the global lingua franca and language of science, every child deserves a high-quality English language education in Turkey. Therefore, I was expecting a further progressive step pertaining to English language education from the 19th National Education Council of Turkey’s Ministry of Education, but no proposal for a change in English instruction was put forward in 2014.

Perhaps the most contentious decision by the council was to bring forward a proposal towards the teaching of Ottoman language (Ottoman Turkish or Old Turkish) at high schools. The proposal has sparked off fierce debates about language policy, culture, and politics at both national and international level. This is an interesting change in education, but it is not very surprising because there has already been renewed public interest in the Ottoman Civilisation. The Ministry’s latest decision is to introduce compulsory Ottoman language classes at religious imam-hatip high schools and social science high schools. The Ottoman language will be an elective course at all other high schools. As I am not an expert on this topic, I won’t discuss this change in great detail. I could argue that this decision could be in line with the language revitalisation trends. A recent article suggests that political and economic gains could lead to language revitalisation. Hence, the political power could go hand in hand with language revival.

The poem 'Sidewalks' written in Ottoman Turkish by Necip Fazıl Kısakürek.

The poem ‘Sidewalks’ was written in Ottoman Turkish by Necip Fazıl Kısakürek.

It is known that language learning is beneficial not only for economic gains, but also for self-actualisation. Therefore, I believe that learning different languages is always useful. As it is seen, Turkey slowly embraces language diversity, and observing how these languages could play a role in Turkish society will surely be very interesting…

Using a Frequency Dictionary to Learn a Foreign Language

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It has been three and a half years since I completed my minor degree in German language. When I occasionally read Deutsche Welle in German, I feel that my vocabulary has deteriorated to a great extent. Therefore, I took up the challenge of brushing up on my German, which was also one of my new term’s resolutions. While I was looking for a resource in the University of Manchester Library, I came across the book called ‘A Frequency Dictionary of German: A Core Vocabulary for Learners’ in the high demand collection. I assume that the book is popular among the students even though it may not be used in German classes. I am also surprised that there are frequency dictionaries of many languages, including Polish, Spanish, Russian, French and Japanese. It is a pity that Turkish still does not have one, but it must be on the way as the compilation of Turkish National Corpus is fairly recent in comparison to other languages.

I studied the frequency dictionary for a week, and I can say that I have a very positive learning experience. It was a quick way for me to revise the most frequent 4034 words (not 4000!) in German language. The writers claim that the word count was not arbitrary, and it represents approximately 80 percent of the words in Leipzig/BYU Corpus of Contemporary German. Perhaps the best element of the book is formulaic language that is listed under the entries. For instance, the entry for the noun Sinn (meaning) also offers im Sinne (according to) and in diesem Sinne (in this spirit). Frequency dictionaries can also be beneficial for adult learners to prepare for the exams. I passed my German proficiency test four years ago by studying a frequency list that I created out of the past exam papers. Creating your own frequency list or downloading one from the internet is always a perfectly viable option for the corpus lovers!

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There are also some shortcomings of using frequency dictionaries to master a foreign language. Learning through the book proved to be very efficient for me as I am an advanced learner of German. However, I am not convinced that the frequency dictionaries appeal to beginner or low-intermediate learners as they tend to need more input to contextualise the words. Frequency dictionaries usually provide learners with one example which might be ambiguous for polysemous words. Taking all these points into consideration, I recommend using a frequency dictionary as a supplementary tool to brush up on a foreign language. Even if one has not encountered a word that is included in the frequency dictionary, this may form the basis for a discovery experience.

I believe that a frequency dictionary has been of great utility for me to remember the words. Nevertheless, there is a strong possibility that I can quickly forget them again. The key issue to maintain foreign language skills is to make the language an important part of our lives by constantly using it. Listening to German podcasts and reading news in German are the most straightforward steps that I will take as of today. Finally, I would love to gain insights into the experiences of other foreign language learners in using a frequency dictionary.

Post-MA Reflections

Bogazici University South Campus

Bogazici University South Campus

The inspiration for this post may well come from my longing for Bogazici University and Istanbul. I will always cherish the memories of the time I studied towards an MA degree at Bogazici University, Istanbul. The Department of Foreign Language Education provided me with an academically stimulating and challenging environment, which enabled me to gain a wider perspective into second language learning, applied linguistics and sociolinguistics. For instance, we had the opportunity to take a course on World Englishes, which was not offered in the similar programmes at other Turkish universities at that time. Almost each course required a final research paper in addition to reflection papers and presentations. I greatly benefited from writing research papers since they substantially improved my research and academic writing skills. More importantly, after having received feedback, I expanded on some of the research papers that I wrote for assessment and presented them at the conferences. For my MA thesis, I enjoyed the privilege of having two co-supervisors. I had the chance to obtain more feedback and moral support during the writing process in comparison with my peers. Best of all was the 5th International Conference of English as a Lingua Franca at Bogazici University. It was an inspiring learning experience for me to attend the plenaries and talks delivered by notable scholars including Prof. Jennifer Jenkins, Prof. Tim McNamara and Prof. Anna Mauranen. Finally, when I look back on those years, there are few things that I would have done differently:

1. Many distinguished scholars come to deliver talks and seminars at our department from all around the world. Unfortunately, I could not go to some of them. If any new MA students are reading this post, I strongly recommend you to attend them even if they are not directly related to your research interests. These talks and seminars are vitally important to broaden our knowledge and widen our horizons.

2. I didn’t study abroad as an exchange/erasmus student during my MA studies. The department has an agreement with many prestigious universities, including University of London and Georgia State University. It would be a wonderful opportunity to collect your data or even write your thesis at the host university since you may have an access to different student/teacher groups and a wide range of resources.