In the last two years, we have only heard about the losses from the pandemic – human lives, jobs, economic crises, education and others. The list is a long one! However, I would like to draw your attention to some good things that the pandemic led to. World over, we have realized the potential of the internet, like never before. During the lockdown, people confined to their homes have acquired new skills on the massive open online course platforms, learned new cuisine recipes from YouTube, even made new careers, or binge-watched their favorite TV serials in foreign languages.
Some of the foreign serials have become a rage worldwide, touching the hearts of the young and the old alike in an unprecedented way. This, in turn, increased the interest in learning new languages among the viewers. And what can be a better way to learn Chinese, Korean, Turkish, Spanish, and Hindi than watching a story unfold before you in that language? Many people hooked on watching a series in a non-native language try to learn that language at some point. This is also because the translation expertise has not penetrated free media channels like YouTube. My personal experience of watching “Adını Feriha Koydum” (“Feriha”) in Turkish was quite frustrating when some key episodes lacked good quality subtitles or the subtitles altogether.
And so, like many people, I started exploring online language courses to learn Turkish and joined Facebook groups on Istanbul and the Turkish language until I stumbled upon the Yunus Emre Institute (YEE) webpage. I filled out a simple one-page form on the institute's website and had almost forgotten about it when after about a month, I received an email invite for a WhatsApp group from them. That was just the beginning of a unique international experience. At first, I had apprehensions about the people, some of whom had their display pictures on in the group. But soon, that gave way to the most wonderful bonding we have since shared.
In my group, there were people from everywhere, even from my home country, India. To begin with, the group was a tower of Babel because the teacher discouraged expressions in English, which is a nice way to ensure faster learning. Each participant spoke in their native language or broken Turkish acquired from watching the Turkish soap operas. The teacher was gifted with immense patience and smiled at our long-drawn clumsy sentences, which often conveyed little other than our sheer ignorance of the language.
In case you are wondering about our age, we were anything between the early 20s and 50s. We were given interesting activities to do in the first few lessons, which lasted about three months. After that, we teamed up to create a dialogue for an online video chat in different scenarios – buying stuff at a (Turkish) vendor, visiting a hospital and reporting our health issues to the medic, going to a police station to report loss of passport, and many more – and all in Turkish!
We freely used Google Translate and managed to convey what we wanted to but were often clueless about the grammar that was conspicuous by its absence. That is one aspect you need to be wary of while using software for translation. The other is, of course, the contemporary jargon which you acquire only in the country itself.
While some of us emphasized the syllables a bit too much, the others would roll their tongues over them. But the fact that we were together and learning something new was reason enough to rejoice. At this point, I would like to give ample credit to the technological prowess that we have acquired that did much to uplift the dampened spirits of pandemic-struck peoples. Some avenues of learning would have gone totally unexplored if we had not been “locked-down” and “helpless” otherwise.
In the group, there were also those youthful, spirited ones who were way ahead of us and even had certificates of higher proficiency in the language. They had joined our group to take advantage of the conversations with others – something you only get to do while in Turkey. More recently, in our second batch, we had a group of friends from South America who often incessantly chatted in Spanish during break time – kindling new interest in those who overheard them.
Most of the women in the group had a big-time crush on Turkish actors. And none of us fits the “sweet 16” category, by the way! And so, in one class, when the teacher was explaining the equivalent term for “beautiful women” as “yakışıklı” used for men in Turkish and asked us to cite examples, we all shouted our favorite Turkish actors' names as being very handsome: “çok yakışıklı, çok, çok” in Turkish.
So much about the language itself! But I discovered that the Turkish people are also very family-oriented and that the language has different terms for each relationship, which English broadly categorizes as just “aunts” and “uncles.” This is very similar to where I come from and also to many in the group. The affinity for the Turkish language was from its similarity with “Hindi,” as much as the values conveyed in contemporary Turkish stories.
From the stories I watch, I get a sense of a similarity with my own country, where the new and the old co-exist. Sometimes, there are imbalances, but there is a larger vision and attempt to achieve a peaceful co-existence of what our ancestors have passed as legacy and what the rapid technological advancements pull us. Besides, what stands out as unique is the pristine and Spartan surroundings! At times, I wonder with a little apprehension if I want to pursue my desire to visit Turkey! Everything seems so beautiful and beckoning from here. What if the reality is different?
So while I wait for the opportunity to board the plane to Istanbul, I am also waiting for the email invitation for the next level of the Turkish language course from YEE. And how did I forget the most important part of these courses! Besides being taught by patient and soft-spoken teachers with a great sense of humor, the courses do not have exams at the end – another plus for exam-haters like me!
So if you have recently fallen in love with the Turkish series and looking out for ways to learn the language, do explore the YEE’s online courses. I recommended it to my friend here, another die-hard fan of Turkish series like “Her Yerde Sen” (“You Are Everywhere”). She is now hooked and all our telephone conversations are filled with our experiences and aspirations for the language and the country. Ironically, this friend had only introduced me to “Feriha,” in the first place. Now, we both aspire to team up to write a script for a television series. While I want to do it in Turkish, she is working on a script for a screenplay in Hindi. But can we get better at it than script writers Melis Civelek or Sırma Yanık of “Feriha” or Deniz Yeşilgün or Esra Çetek Yılmazer of “Her Yerde Sen” ? It would be interesting to discover!