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Top Four Ways to Practice Speaking English in Istanbul

Our Turkish students often complain that outside class, travel and work, they do not have enough opportunities to speak English.

For our students who want to practice speaking English, it does not help that the native English speaking population in Istanbul is quite spread out. Although there is a concentration of expats in Cihangir and Nişantaşı, the community is thinly spread across a vast area on both the European and Asian sides of the city.

For expats, this thin concentration can be the exact reason why moving to Istanbul is attractive – its easy to access that authentic foreign experience they search for. But for Turks looking to practice their everyday English with native speakers, opportunities might seem few and far between. For this reason we’ve assembled a list of great, and largely free, opportunities for Turks to practice their English right here in Istanbul – and hopefully have fun and make friends in the process too!

#4 – Offer a conversational practice exchange

Many expats in Istanbul are trying to learn Turkish. A great way of practicing your English is to offer an exchange. Find an expat you get along with, and meet up for çay once a week to practice speaking with each other. If you need inspiration for conversation, this can be achieved as easily as bringing along a local newspaper or magazine and discussing articles. There are a number of ways to find your co-student – to start you can try expat forums such as Expat Blog, Expat Forum or Merhaba Forums.

#3 – Join an expat club or meet-up group

There are a number of active expat organizations in Istanbul that organize meet-ups such as the very global InterNations. Signing up is easy, and they typically have multiple events per month. InterNations is certainly not exclusively for expats, and is a great forum for personal and professional networking.

#2 – Join an expat sports group

Not only is it a great way get fit and get outside – but joining a running group such as the Hash House Harriers is a great way to practice your English with like-minded athletes. The Hash House Harriers typically have some form of a social event (brunch or drinks) after runs. Most of these clubs have different levels of practice so don’t be intimidated if you didn’t have the opportunity to keep fit over the winter.

#1 – Attend a professional event / join a professional organization

Depending on your chosen profession, there may be a great opportunity to combine networking in your field with practicing your English. At a recent CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) event we noticed that there were several expats in attendance eager to chat with locals who could speak English. Of course, this depends on your field, and its level of expat participation – but it’s certainly worth looking into.

If joining an organization seems daunting, why not attend one event first? Most professional organizations allow participation by non-members if you send an email requesting permission. The best part? The English topics you will discuss are in line with the topics you want to practice for professional purposes.

Other ideas:

  • Yoga studios in Cihangir, Etilier and Nişantaşı are full of expats and visitors. Why not ask someone for a post-workout coffee?
  • Istanbul is quickly becoming a destination for international artists – galleries, openings, film festivals, concerts and more tend to be well attended by by expats
  • Expat theater
  • Check out the very informative Yabangee Blog for a full calendar of expat oriented events in Istanbul

Let us know your thoughts and if you have any ideas!




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Harbor at Bozcaad

Apr 29, 2013 By Tags:,

“Why can’t Turks speak English yet?” They can…

Turks are learning English, but are they speaking it?

The whole world is trying to learn English, and Turks are no exception. As a teacher in Istanbul on and off for the last seven years, I have heard this question often from both foreigners and Turks: “Why can’t Turks speak English yet?”

Last year Güven Sak answered this in a short informative article in the Hürriyet Daily News. After several observations regarding the state of English in Turkey today, he bemoaned the lack of skilled English teachers and relevant education to train educators. It got me thinking.

Despite the obvious ongoing need for more well-trained teachers fluent in English, there is something else worth noting about Turks and their collective knowledge of English. For many, after years and years of English lessons at both school and University, the learning curve plateaus, then stagnates. Turks learning English put down their grammar books, complete their last gap-fill activity, and start life in a professional career. English simply sits unloved and abandoned in the attic.

Turks speak English: a dormant resource

To me, this is an enormous waste of a great resource. Among my adult students, almost all of them had watched their English stagnate and decline, never put into use during their professional career. For some there has been the odd holiday abroad when they could sputter a few questions to ask directions in Rome or Miami, though in general spoken English was a downhill slide once working life commenced.

The majority of my Turkish students, and especially those who had pursued careers requiring professional qualifications, continued to be more and more exposed to authentic English. My students who worked as doctors would attend seminars conducted solely in English, while those in engineering kept up with the latest developments through academic journals. Listening and reading, the passive skills of language, overtook the active. Turks could read and listen to English: they just couldn’t speak it. English conversation was frustrating and often an embarrassing situation for them, and their self-confidence plummeted when they spoke English to a native-speaker.

It’s a widespread issue. Turkey now has a huge number of citizens who in fact possess ‘dormant English’, a good understanding of the language that is, simply, asleep, unused and atrophying. It didn’t take much for me to realize what could help awaken it, and fast.

How to kick-start this dormant English in Turkey?

Internet use in Turkey is on the way up. Household broadband penetration is at 40% and rising. Turks are  becoming more confident about purchasing online. Turkey’s economy continues to perform well and thus economic opportunities are increasing for many citizens.

So why not seize this opportunity? Reawaken the English within Turks without waiting a generation for new teachers to be trained? With the Internet, why not give Turks access to English conversation classes with native speakers? There are a number of providers of online English lessons, offering easy access to native English speakers. For any Turk with a broadband connection, an exhausting evening or weekend commute to a physical classroom is no longer required. Let’s reactivate this passive knowledge and make English an active skill for the growing number of Turkish professionals who need global language and communication.

The Internet can’t provide a solution to all the challenges facing English language education in Turkey today. However, by leveraging the technology and communications infrastructure already in place, we think there’s an immense opportunity to fast-track the English that currently sits as a unused resource within the Turkish population. We’re already seeing great results. Motivation, higher self-confidence, and improved spoken English!

Are you an EFL educator in Turkey or a Turk trying to kick start your dormant English? Let us know what you think?

2 thoughts on ““Why can’t Turks speak English yet?” They can…

  1. Chris

    I mainly teach Spanish speaking students, but the issue is still the same. It’s much easier to remain in your comfort zone than get out their and practice speaking. I think the main thing is that they need to find ways to build their confidence in English and find fun opportunities to use it. That way they can continue to develop their skills without it feeling like hard work.

    1. admin Post author

      Thanks for your response Chris.

      As you’re teaching mostly Spanish-speaking students, do you find that any of the confidence issues come from the culture, or education system of the students? For Turks, we suspect that most of them come through an education system that does not give a very high value to individual thought and expression.

      While education in the country appears to be improving dramatically in many ways, young people still lack confidence after exiting a system where it was important to have memorized a lot of information, while analysis and critical thinking took a back seat.

      Since Spanish-speaking students originate from a far wider geographic range than Turks, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on how motivation and confidence varies between Spanish=speaking regions, if that is indeed the case, and also whether your Spanish-speaking students adapt quickly to online learning.




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Reading Turkish Commute

Apr 24, 2013 By Tags:, , ,

İngilizce Öğrenmek: reading for Turkish professionals

In our first İngilizce Öğrenmek post we suggest weekly English reading.

Many of you are motivated to learn English because you are working for American or European multinationals. Whether you travel abroad or host colleagues, reading is vital to improving your spoken English.

In our İngilizce Öğrenmek series we will focus on providing resources for Turkish students learning English. We will focus on easy to access resources, found online.

For many of you, it is important both to speak English and be knowledgeable about topics that your foreign colleagues discuss. We are often asked for suggestions on what to read. Below you can find a list of our favorite weekly English reading. These English reading resources are great for those who want to stay up-to-date on global affairs, from an English language perspective.

These suggestions are our personal preferences. We have found through experience that many of our working students are far too busy to read novels. Yet, it seems that even for our busiest students, articles are easy to fit in during the daily Istanbul commute.

#1 The Economist: English reading for Turks working in everything from finance to politics

It may be cliche to suggest the world famous Economist, but for a busy professional, it’s a great weekly read. It covers politics, books, science, finance and of course, economics. It can be read cover to cover by an Upper-Intermediate English speaker in about two to three hours. Many people criticize the magazine for not taking strong editorial positions. Yet, there is no denying that a front-to-back read of the Economist is a great way to both stay up-to-date on current affairs and practice reading English. In addition, the magazine is written in clear, everyday English and a lot of the content is available for free online. Following @TheEconomist on twitter can also be a fun way to read articles (let them pick for you).

#2 The Atlantic: English reading for Turks working in American companies

Although more American-focused and liberal-leaning than the Economist, the Atlantic is still a great reading resource. We recommend the Atlantic for our more Advanced students because the language is more varied than the Economist and many articles are longer. Articles cover a wide array of topics, from current events to city planning. The best part about the Atlantic is that their entire content is available online either through or their well designed mobile apps.

#3 Associated Press mobile apps: English reading for Turks with long commutes

The Associated Press mobile apps are our favorite news applications available on tablets and smartphones. They elegantly mix text and photos so that reading is engaging. We often recommend them to our Intermediate and Pre-Intermediate students, as the articles are short (its a news wire) and the visuals make for great word recognition. The Associated Press is global and covers all aspects of current events. Our favorite part? The apps are completely free.


We hope these ideas have been helpful. We would love to hear your suggestions for weekly English reading material for busy Turkish professionals!


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