How to Learn Turkish Online, And Have The Istanbul Trip Of a Lifetime

When people ask how to learn Turkish online there is usually only one reason they want to learn it. They are going to Turkey. And unless you live in a country that borders Turkey (in which case you would be going to the amazingly cheap and impressive sea resorts), you are probably traveling to Istanbul.

Of course, don’t get offended if you are actually just interested in the language.

Turkish is great — not too difficult, useful, and exotic at the same time. But since the majority of people here need it for travel, that is what I will be focusing on. Don’t click away, though! You could use the travel inspiration, plus I will still be including plenty of tips on how to learn Turkish online.

How Much Do You Need Turkish?

Talking numbers first — Turkish has around 75 million native speakers around the world. Most, as you might expect, are in Turkey. For a country so vast, you can’t really have all of it’s citizens speaking good English. There are rural areas where even literacy in the native language is shockingly low. For travelers though what matters are the big cities. Unsurprisingly, the people of Istanbul usually have a pretty decent level of English.

You could get by without uttering a single word in Turkish.

That being said, speaking the language will be a definite advantage. For instance, Istanbul is famous for it’s markets and there is a lot of haggling involved in the authentic market experience.

You could use your limited knowledge of Turkish to your advantage (i.e. by being the stubborn foreigner that will not give up until the price goes down). More often that not, however, you will end up getting charged more.

When it comes to younger upper-middle-class people you might meet on a business trip, they will probably speak English quite well.

Although Turkey has been rediscovering it’s national identity (and nationalist tendencies) and has consequently closed off a bit to the West, the majority of Turkish families value education very much and language learning has been a priority for the younger generation. With older people you will probably not have that much luck. If you want to that elderly lady that lives next door to your rental, try to learn at least a few basic words.

Istanbul Tourism And Speaking Turkish

Whether you are planning your first or 21st trip to Istanbul, you know by now that the majority of the historic monuments and bazaars are concentrated in a relatively small area.

There are exceptions to this, but not too many. Although Istanbul has a staggering 14.8 million citizens and it is spread over 2,063 square miles, the majority of the neighborhoods are residential or office areas. You will mostly be hanging around Sultanahmet, Fatih, Besiktas, and Karaköy (a.k.a. Galata).

These are all on the European side of Istanbul, not the Asian side.

Because yes, this city stretches over two continents. Anyhow, because there is such density of visitors in these areas, almost all shops, cafés, street vendors, restaurants, and bars are geared toward tourists.

Safe Tourism In Istanbul

Many people still wonder if it is safe to visit Istanbul. Personally, my last trip there was before the attacks but I recently had a loved one travel to Istanbul. It was irrational, but I did worry.

What is important to remember is that first off, there is a constant police presence in tourist areas (and generally in crowded public spaces), to the point where I was told it actually seemed a bit unnecessary.

According to the FCO, the situation is still volatile, but they don’t advise people to refrain from traveling to Istanbul. Rather, be mindful and cooperative with security guards and staff at airports and railway stations.

As cynic as it may sound, with so many people visiting Istanbul every year, it is unlikely that anything bad will happen to you. So do not worry too much and enjoy the trip.

Back To My Point With The Tourist Areas

Since literally all of the establishments in these areas have to deal with foreigners on a daily basis (and for most of them tourists are their main source of revenue), you will not have many issues there. Of course, the English street vendors speak will be basic, but more than enough to get you a tasty simit without hassle.

What is more, Turkish people will strike you as extremely warm and friendly.

Even though your foreigner status is hardly a novelty, they will probably still want to chat you up a bit, maybe ask how you are liking the city, try to sell you an additional item. This attitude is deeply ingrained in Turkish culture. They are all about having a conversation and they are never in too big of a rush to not have time for a few friendly words.

Thus, not only is their English good enough for you to survive but also their national character is so welcoming that you will not feel isolated by not trying to learn Turkish online before going.

How To Impress A Turkish Girl (Or Guy)

This could be why you looked for a ‘How to learn Turkish online’ article in the first place.

When it comes to guys, it is pretty simple. Be a woman, smile, and appear somewhat gullible. Actually, not even that. I am in no way trying to excuse catcalling but you will experience it. Sorry, it is what it is. If you are looking for a fun fling to add some exotic flair to your holiday, it is enough to set foot in a Turkish club.

By the way, on a totally unrelated note, alcohol is very expensive there. Do pre-drinks or don’t drink at all, if you don’t want to go broke in a single outing.

With girls, you have to be very respectful, but flirty at the same time. It is weird and complicated, and Turkish girls usually only go for Turkish guys. You might not get anywhere with them. Modesty and purity are very important to Turkish culture, even in Istanbul.

But girls or guys, you will impress anyone if you learn Turkish online before you go. Evenby speaking it a teeny-tiny bit. It doesn’t matter how well you do, the Turkish are impressed even by a simple ‘hello’. Will a ‘Merhaba’ get you their ultimate respect and worship? Not at all, duh.

But still, they will be delighted at hearing it.

Think about it.

In a way, putting in the effort to learn the local language is like putting in an effort to better understand and experience the culture. Too often, foreign interest in Turkey is limited to taking cool Instagram pictures at the Grand Bazaar. It is refreshing and flattering for a Turkish person to see that you took an extra step to prepare for your trip.

How To Learn Turkish Online

If you have no family in Turkey and you don’t plan on doing long-term travel or on relocating there either, there is no sense in over-investing in learning the language. Depending on how much time you have left until your trip you could Google some simple phrases, or you could also do an online course. I don’t need to teach you how to Google.

As for a course, things are a bit trickier here.

Because, of course, Turkish is not exactly popular as a second language option. There are not a lot of online Turkish learning programs available. You could do Duolingo, but that is not very much conversation-focused. It will give you a decent vocabulary and grammar basis, but it won’t actually do a lot in terms of making it easy to actually speak the language. Using Memrise or Busuu will probably have a similar effect.

My personal favorite is the Strokes International Turkish course.

True, their website has that weird early 00’s vibe, but the program itself is impressively comprehensive. It takes you from an A1 to a B2 level, which is from complete beginner to fluent and early advanced level speaker. The tools for vocab learning are varied and I find all of them pretty useful (although flashcards are my definite favorite).

Most importantly, however, the studying is communication-based, even though it is still eLearning. You will be ‘speaking’ to your computer, there is a voice recognition tool featured, and the vocabulary topics are perfectly applicable to everyday interaction. Overall, it is definitely the best option in terms of being comprehensive, beginner-friendly, and affordable.

How to learn Turkish online? Did I miss anything? Do you have completely different opinion from mine? I would love to hear it in the comments!


PS: To start learning Turkish online right now, click here.