Turkish At A Glance

  • 75 million native speakers
  • The second most widely spoken language in Germany, with large Turkish-speaking communities in Bulgaria, Greece, and other countries
  • One of the Turkic family of 30 languages, spoken throughout Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and Siberia

Turkey’s language—like its delectable cuisine—is rich, elaborate, and often complex: it’s an agglutination, or linking, language. That means you start with a root word, then add a suffix or two (or 10, or more) to indicate grammar, pluralize, and so on. The result? A single Turkish word can convey the meaning of an entire English sentence. Sometimes, however, the word is incredibly lengthy, or it translates into a slightly off-beat English phrase.

For example, the word, “evlerinizden,” is straightforward: it means “from your houses.” The components “ev + ler + iniz + den” translate as “house + (plural) + your + from.”

Now consider the longest Turkish word, which contains 70 letters: “muvaffakiyetsizleştiricileştiriveremeyebileceklerimizdenmişsinizcesine.” Its root word means “success.” Loosely translated, the 70-letter version means, “it’s as though you’re from those we may not be able to make a maker of unsuccessful ones.” That makes sense in Turkish; in English, it’s a bit muddled.

But words that long are rare, and once you understand the system for adding suffixes, Turkish can be easy to learn. There’s another bonus for English speakers: Turkish and Latin alphabets are almost exactly the same.

A broad range of languages influenced Turkish; Finnish and Hungarian are distant relations. In 1932, the Turkish Language Association (TDK) reformed the language to introduce words based on Turkic or Old Turkish roots and eliminate Arabic and Persian loan words. Today, the TDK creates new words to keep pace with modern concepts and technology.

In Turkey, as it is in all countries, speaking the native language can improve the depth of conversations, and Turks are more willing to speak their minds when they speak in Turkish. And in parts of eastern Turkey and Anatolia, English is rarely spoken, so an understanding of Turkish is essential.


In the Turkish city of Van, there’s a place called Breakfast Street, where hearty fare is served day and night. From bins of olives, stacks of warm flatbread, and plates of kaymak (clotted cream from sheep’s milk), to braids of cheese, cups of porridge-like kavut, and honey-dunked honeycombs, residents and visitors create meals from an array of delectables arranged on tables and inside restaurants. After breakfast, it’s a short trek to Lake Van, where water-loving Van cats can often be found swimming.

Thousands are also drawn to Turkey’s Goreme National Park, featuring cave churches carved out of rock in the 10th and 11th centuries. In Istanbul, the 4,000-shop Grand Bazaar is the country’s largest covered market, where bargaining is an art (aim for 40 percent off the asking price, and act disinterested). While you’re there, sample Turkish coffee—strong, chocolatey, and served with grounds at the bottom of the cup.

But Turkey is also a region of enormous geopolitical significance, and Turkish is an increasingly strategic language. If you’re job-hunting in Turkey, speak Turkish, and have an interest in the country’s business or politics, then corporations, consulates, and embassies want to talk to you. In fact, employment options in Turkey are limited, unless you speak Turkish, but few foreigners do. Work is available in manufacturing, tourism, and construction, and several of Turkey’s 100 universities employ non-Turkish researchers and staff. A 45-hour workweek is generally the norm.

As Turkey’s economy grows, more Westerners are emigrating there. The acronym MINT—i.e., Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Turkey—is used in economics, finance, and academia to identify countries with favorable growth indicators over next 20 years. As a MINT country, Turkey is meeting expectations with a 2015 GDP growth rate of over four percent. With its young demographic, Turkey’s rank in the world economy is likely to keep climbing.


What can you do with Turkish?

  • Engage with the migrant crisis in southeast Europe
  • Study Turkish space policy
  • Work with public health organizations like Doctors Without Borders