Reading and speaking Turkish is easy: all words are written and pronounced phonetically. Even if you don’t know what the words mean, you can still pronounce them without any mistake, after learning the pronunciation of the letters. I will teach you in 15 minutes!
Until 1928, Ottoman Turkish – the language of the educated few (5 percent) – was written in the Arabic script, which was inadequate to convey sounds in Turkish. Thanks to the reforms of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the first President of Turkey, the Latin alphabet was introduced and the Arabic script was outlawed from public life.
To know how to pronounce the Turkish letters you have to know in what way they are different.
‘C’ as in George. ‘Ç’ as check. ‘G’ as goat. The ‘Ğ’ is silent and lengthens the preceding consonant. The ‘ı’ is an ‘i’ without a dot, and sounds like the ‘u’ in radium. ‘I’ is always pronounced ‘ee’, so the city’s name is pronounced Eestanbul. The ‘i’ sound, as in ‘lick’ does not exist in Turkish.
Pronounce ‘j’ as in French jardin, or like the ‘s’ in leisure; ‘ö’ as in German König or French ‘eu’ in deux; ‘ş’ as in shine, ‘u’ as in pull, ‘ü’ as in German Führer; ‘v’ as in wagon, and ‘y’ as in yoghurt.
As I said Turkish is written as it is pronounced, including ‘Turkified’ foreign loan words like penti (pantyhose), şarküteri (charcutier or delicatessen) and tuvalet (toilet). It is easy to see the logic here. Take the last word, ‘tuvalet’, for example. The ‘u’ is pronounced as in ‘pull’ and the ‘v’ is pronounced like a ‘w’, so the word is pronounced ‘tuwalet’. If you say this quickly, it resembles the French pronunciation of ‘toilet’.
Turkish doesn’t have the letters ‘q’, ‘w’ and ‘x’. Turkish doesn’t need these so-called Kurdish letters (as they are part of the Kurdish alphabet), because Turkisg has already letters that sound like these three letters. Q sounds like ‘k’. The letter ‘v’ is pronounced as ‘w’. And for the sound ‘x’ they use the letter combination ‘ks’, like in taksi.
In the 20’s and 30’s a campaign was launched by the state to rid the language of the numerous loanwords, mostly of Arabic and French, but also Persian, Greek, and Italian origin, and to replace them by ‘genuine Turkish’ words, some resurrected from old texts, some imported from other Turkic languages, some constructed on the analogy of existing words, but a great many simply taken into the written language from the spoken language. The aim was to ‘purify’ the language from all foreign words and to make it ‘pure Turkish’ (Öz Türkçe).
Although many of these foreign loanwords were erased, many are still in the language, and an increasing number is from English.
Some of the still popular Arabic words: hoca (teacher, doctor, trainer). Hayat: life. Faiz: interest; monetary. Cevap: answer. Asker: soldier. Aile: family. Kitap: book.
Some popular words of Persian (Farsi) origin: Beraber (together). Hasta: patient (sick). Han: house, building. Sarhoş: drunk. Şehir: city. Tembel: lazy. Zor: difficult.
And you will find many familiar French and English loanwords, written phonetically in Turkish. Tekstil. Teknik servis. Milyon. Dekorasyon. Gurme. Kalite. Penti. Resepsiyon. Krem. Jakuzi. Masaj. Hentbol. Prezervatif. Şarküteri. Mobil aplikasyon. Transfer. Demokrasi. Gazete. Alfabe. Alkol. Operasyon. Trafik.
So when you are looking for the shopping street Istiklal Caddesi, now you know how to pronounce it. Not: Aistiklal Kadesi, but: Eesteeklal Dzjaddesi.
Good luck and enjoy Istanbul!
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