Our main task, once we had settled into our new country, was to learn the language. There was no established program at the time, so John found us a teacher, and we, along with John’s wife and two OM girls, started having Turkish classes each day.
After our first week of intensive work Barbara said to me, “If we keep up this pace, we are going to learn Turkish really well in our first year!”
I smiled at that good estimate, “Yup, that’s what I’m aiming for.”
“But…” she continued, “we’re also going to be divorced!”
I gulped. “Ok, let’s see if I hear you correctly. You are saying that this pace is too fast. Is that what you are trying to communicate? If so, I guess we can slow it down.”
My enthusiasm, my desire to be successful, to make myself feel good by achieving a lot, again drove me to take on too much. My old lust for speed was still there. I praised God for an insightful and “weaker” wife who brought perspective and helped us move at a better pace.
No matter what we did, though, it was slow going, for this language has no relation to English or German. Rather, it is in the same language family as Korean, Japanese, Finnish and Hungarian.
Here is where my Latin lessons came in handy. No one had to explain to me about the use of cases, I already knew them: nominative, genitive, dative, accusative and ablative. this was a huge help to me conceptually. In addition, although there was no actual relationship between Latin and Turkish, the progressive addition of endings to words was similar to the declensions in Latin.
The Lord had known I would have to learn Turkish someday and had used my high school Latin classes to prepare the way. I wished I could have gotten in touch with my old Latin teacher, Mr. Daniels, and thanked him.
In our new country, shame is used as a great motivator and it seems to work to a degree in their honor-based society —although I suspect it leaves untold emotional damage in students’ lives.
Our Turkish teachers tried to use this approach with me and would periodically say to our class, “You ladies are doing quite well,” and then, turning to me, add, “but you–you are terrible, an awful student.”
I did not find this particularly helpful, to say the least. Along with all the other pressures of adjustment, these denigrating statements from our teachers was almost too much for me to take.
Much of my “terribleness” in my Turkish had to do with pronunciation. Barbara had a great advantage, as the phonetic sounds of German were much closer to Turkish than English, and also shared the umlauted letters Ü and Ö. For an English speaker, however, forming these and other sounds in Turkish was a new and difficult task
My self-consciousness also hampered me from being more aggressive in trying to make the right sounds. Sometimes when I was out with a local friend, I would say something to a shopkeeper who would then look at my friend and ask, “What did he say?” My friend would repeat exactly what I had said, and the storeowner would understand him perfectly. It was frustrating.
I’d actually gotten my first lesson on the importance of pronunciation on that day of our arrival in Istan.bul when our host and I had gone to the bakkal. He had asked the grocer for a “mum,” a candle, which he pronounced in the American way, like the name of the flower.
The grocer had no idea what he meant, because in Turkish the word is pronounced with an “ooo” sound: “mooom.”
Such a small difference, but such a gulf of misunderstanding it produced! We finally had to act out lighting a candle, and then the grocer understood and produced one from under the counter.
The Lord came to my rescue in my weak pronunciation by giving me Tom (in the picture with me and Josh) as my new language helper. He was an architectural student and had a marvelous ability to discern what I was doing wrong. He would say the word the way I mispronounced it. This enabled him to then draw a picture of the inside of my mouth to illustrate how it looked when I said it incorrectly, and then drew another to show me the right way to place my tongue to form and say the word.
Part of my problem was that almost all the sounds of this language are pronounced in the front of the mouth, while a lot of English sounds are produced in the middle. For instance, they trill an “r” sound, while we arch our tongues in the middle to produce it. In contrast, the Germans make an “r” sound in their throats.
Tom would have me practice just a couple of pronunciation adjustments in each class. I would then repeat these over and over again on the drive home until they became almost natural. And my language ability increased dramatically. The Lord provides in every area!