Lost in translation


My relationship with Turkish language in the last couple of months went to the “it’s complicated” kind of state. Or to the “animal” phase if you please – when you understand, but can’t talk.

In the privacy of my own home or my own head for that matter I can make up grammatically correct sentences. I am the master of Turkish. I can communicate. I can make sense. I know so much. Next time I will be able to answer questions quickly and properly. and then… BOOM! Once I’m faced with a stranger who’s asking me something, I get confused, all of the words and tenses in my head mix up and I can only call what comes out of my mouth a gibberish. I am having a really hard time.

Though, in my defense, today a woman at a cashier in a supermarket where I go every other day, asked me “are you married?” and I got confused – I was thinking whether to say “why are you asking” and at the same time I was thinking “WHY is she asking?” – just because it still doesn’t seem logic to me sometimes how people ask personal questions here out of the blue. So while I was contemplating, she said maybe 100 more words – you know, most of Turkish women TALK a lot and talk FAST – and I didn’t have a chance to properly catch up with her.

The thing is that I haven’t put any that much effort into learning lately.. or in the last 5 months. My work is centered around English and Russian, and we also speak English at home, so there are really not that many possibilities for practicing. But.. I have a good memory, and after living in Turkey for some time now, I listen to Turkish music and watch local TV shows, in the cinema all of the American movies have Turkish subtitles, I’m reading the labels on Turkish food etc.. so I’ve been able to accumulate a descent vocabulary and I understand a lot. Plus, Turkish would be my 3rd foreign language to learn, so I’m not feared by difficulties. As well, I know by now, that knowing grammar makes up a big part of my “understanding” of the new language, because my brain requires a logical explanation for everything new, so last summer I spent a couple of months learning grammar and different tenses extensively.

But let me state again – when I’m faced with a real Turkish-speaking person and my boyfriend is not around to translate for me I speak GIBBERISH. How in the world is this possible?

I really have no time and maybe no need at the moment for language courses, but there’s also a psychological factor to this problem of mine. Every one who knows me, knows how much information do I “consume” from different sources and that sharing that information, having arguments and discussions about history, politics, food, books and the whole world makes a big part of my personality. So it is very difficult to accept this role of a “silent girl”. Not that I would give a history lesson to the girl at the supermarket…:D But me? Silent? Maybe it shouldn’t bug me so much, but it does…

There’s one more thing. With the third foreign language, I’m faced with the same discovery for the third time – when you don’t understand a word, conversations of people seem meaningful and smart. Once you start understanding – all of the TV shows, overheard conversation at Starbucks or on the airplane, start to seem more and more dull. But you also realize how people around the world are so similar and the topics of their talks are similar too. And so you think, maybe one day I will fit in.

Ah, the beauty of the unknown…

Fellow expats, share your experience with foreign languages and difficulties that you went through along the way. Maybe some of your tips will be helpful to me!


5 thoughts on “Lost in translation

  1. As someone who is learning Turkish (for no apparent reason!) I can completely relate. Alone you are fluent. Faced with a person asking you a question in that language all you are able to offer is a blank stare and a silent plea for a 5 minute window in which you can respond!

      • Nah, no courses. You may not believe me if I tell you how I am learning it! But is through their (addictive) soap operas :) I just watched one after the other until I picked up quite a few words. Don’t get me wrong I still need subtitles but I can also manage without them sometimes!

      • Oh, I get it! Those soap operas have everything in them – love, hate, jealousy, nice views, cute clothes and jewelry, crime, kidnapping and bunch of people who seem to never go to work :) lol and I live in Turkey and prefer not to watch it but sometimes I have no choice :D

      • They do indeed. I do try an avoid them as one episode is like 90minutes long and sometimes I think my goodness what a waste of time lol! But like I said they are addictive and sometimes I surrender to the drama ha!

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