Nasrettin Hoca

If you have spent any time in Turkey, you have probably seen images of, or heard stories about Nasrettin Hoca. Children learn his stories as soon as they can read, and everyone can tell at least some of them. He is always depicted as wearing a huge turban, with a long white beard, and often riding a donkey. His image appears in books, cartoons, as statues, and he is an integral part of Turkish culture.

Hoca‘ means ‘wise man‘ or ‘teacher‘ and is a respectful term still used to this day. (When I was working in Istanbul my local bakkal (grocer), restaurant staff, bank clerks etc greeted me as ‘Hocam’ – my teacher, which I found very charming).

Nasrettin Hoca, (or Nasreddin Hodja) is widely believed to have been a real person, who lived in the 13th century in Akşehir in central southern Turkey.

Nasrettin Hoca, from the wealth of stories told about him, lives in a village with his wife, and their livestock, and many of the stories are about everyday village life. These stories are usually amusing, often using sarcasm or word play, but almost always have a moral, that is, we can learn something about ourselves by reading the story.

Often he is depicted as an imam, a religious leader, highly respected by his neighbours and called upon to solve disputes and pronounce judgement. At other times he is the butt of neighbours’ jokes, although he often comes out on top thanks to his witty responses and quick thinking.

Apart from Turkey, Hoca appears in many other cultures, for example in Albania, Uzbekistan, Greece, Iran, Turkmenistan, Russia and even China. The name may be spelled differently, but the same stories appear again and again. Below is a statue from Moscow. The headgear may be different, but it is the same Hoca!

Akşehir holds an annual “International Nasreddin Hodja Festival in July every year.

Here is one of his stories, in Turkish: can you translate it? My students can! (in my next post I will give the English translation)

Nasrettin Hoca’nın Eşekleri

Bir sabah Hoca beş eşekle birlikte evinden ayrıldı. Çarşıya gitmek istiyordu.

Yorulduğu zaman, eşeklerden birine bindi. Daha sonra eşekleri saydı: sadece dört tane vardı! Hemen eşekten inip beşinciyi aramayı başladı. Etrafına baktı, ama onu bulamadı. Geri dönüp tekrar eşekleri saydı. Bu sefer beş tane vardı.

Onlardan birine binip tekrar hareket etti. Birkaç dakika sonra onları yeniden saydı, ve gene yalnız dört tane vardı!

Arkadaşlarından biri yanlarından geçiyordu. Hoca ona, “Beş eşekle evden ayrıldım; sonra dört eşeğim kaldı; daha sonra yine beş oldu. Bakınız! Bir, iki üç, dört. Şimdi işte sadece dört eşeğim var,” dedi.

“Fakat,” dedi arkadaşı, “bir eşeğin sırtında oturuyorsunuz. O, beşincisi! Siz de altıncısı…”

If you want to know more about learning Turkish with me, see above for details, cost etc, or at my website:

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7 helpful hints for learning Turkish

All this help, and more, comes as part of the package if you learn with me –

When you are a new student of Turkish, and you have studied the alphabet and perhaps learned a few words, it can sometimes feel as if you’ll NEVER get it ….

This is partly because as English speakers we have no familiarity with Turkish. We all know at least a few words in Spanish, French, German and other languages, but Turkish?

You may also feel that it’s difficult when you think of how many students manage to learn English, with all its irregularities and quirks. There is a good reason for this! Remember that in almost every country, people are exposed to English at an early age, from songs, films, TV, news, through work, the internet and so on. We are not similarly exposed to Turkish, and it’s very probable that you’ve never even heard it spoken unless you’ve been to Turkey ….

So – how can you begin to familiarise yourself with what is a very unfamiliar language?

Here are some ideas:

Listen whenever you can. If you are in Turkey, then go to a cafe, order your çay (in Turkish, of course!) and just listen to conversations all around you. Pretend to read a book if it makes you feel less conspicuous! You may not know what is being said but you will begin to recognise the sound and rhythm of the language. Depending on your level, of course, you should begin to pick out simple words such as evet, hayır, sağol, merhaba, kahve, şeker … etc. As you improve, you should be able to get the ‘gist’ of the conversation.

For those learning in their own country, if you have a book and CD, or just an audio course, then listen as often as you can, even if just for 10 minutes at a time. I provide my students with lots of audio materials as they are such a valuable help in learning. It could be during your lunch break, coffee break, or perhaps you could listen in the car while driving to and from work. Just as important as listening, of course, is repeating what you hear and trying to copy the pronunciation, stress and rhythm. You might want to do this in private at first!

Be consistent with your studying. It’s far better to devote 15 minutes a day to learning a new language than to try and cram it into two-hour session once a week. Most people find it easier to break something up into short pieces, so you don’t get frustrated or overloaded with new information.

Revise, revise revise! When I give homework, I always recommend doing it again from a blank copy perhaps a week later. Also, keep a files of blank copies of everything we do in the lesson, so you will build up a large store of materials to revise.

Learning new vocabulary is vital, even when you are able to speak basic Turkish. You can go a long way with basic structures if you have a wide vocabulary. Always carry a small notebook and note down any new words. Try to add at least a few words every day.

Reading is also important, and when you are in Turkey you will have an endless supply of free reading materials! country. While walking around and sightseeing you will have lots of opportunities for reading practice -menus, advertisements, billboards, signs on shops, banks, street signs – all of these are excellent, up-to-date practice materials, often with helpful visual clues.

Finally, speaking … most students, of any language, find this the hardest thing. It’s natural to fear this – nobody wants to feel foolish because they are using the wrong words, or are pronouncing words incorrectly, or that the other person won’t understand them. However you shouldn’t be afraid to try. Turkish people are enormously pleased when someone attempts their language, and as long as your pronunciation is reasonably accurate you will be understood. (Once you have learned the alphabet and the standard pronunciation of each letter, it does not change – so you can read and say any word.) Don’t worry at this stage about getting the correct word order.

If you choose to learn Turkish with me, I provide more tips on effective learning, plus materials for practicing all of the above –

© 2011

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The Book of Travels by Evliya Çelebi – UNESCO Man of the Year, 2011

The Book of Travels by Evliya Çelebi

UNESCO Man of the Year, 2011

Evliya Çelebi (1611 – 1684) was born in Constantinople (now Istanbul), the son of a goldsmith at the Ottoman court. As a student at the palace school, he began to write about his travels around the city, describing the people, customs and culture. Over the next 40 years, often as a representative of the court, he travelled widely to places such as the Middle East, Egypt and the Sudan, Bulgaria, Hungary, Austria, Greece, and Russia. Notes from his travels were later collected in ten volumes called the Seyahatname (The Book of Travels).

Now seen as an invaluable insight into the 17th century Ottoman Empire and surrounding countries, Çelebi’s writings nevertheless contain some exaggeration and descriptions of places and events he could not possibly have seen, but this does not detract from the importance of this marvellous work.

You can see a fascinating virtual exhibition about Celebi and The Book of Travel here:

The 1996 film, İstanbul Kanatlarımın Altında (Istanbul Beneath My Wings), portrays the lives of Çelebi and friends in 17th century Constantinople, and one of the earliest attempts at flight. You can read about the film here at IMDB:

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The longest word …

Don’t worry – this is just for fun!

You may already know that Turkish words (and sentences!) are made by adding suffixes to the root word. These suffixes denote person, tense, movement/location etc.

This word is currently considered the longest Turkish word:


and it contains 70 letters!

What does it mean?

It’s as though you are from those we may not be able to easily make a maker of unsuccessful ones.

So, as you can see, not really an everyday kind of word … (or sentence).

It is not typical of Turkish, but more of an ‘in-joke’ amongst Turkish speakers and learners, and as a tongue-twister.

Until recent times, the longest word was thought to be:

Çekoslovakyalılaştıramadıklarımızdan mısınız? (used here in a sentence).

This means:

Are you one of those people whom we couldn’t make resemble (someone) from Czechoslovakia?

However, following the dissolution of Czechoslovakia, yet another ‘longest word’ came to light:


(It’s) as if you are one of the people that we were able to make resemble (someone) from Afyonkarahisar.

Of course, words like this are not used in everyday speech, but are in fact perfectly possible. If you would like to know more about learning Turkish, see my website

Until next time!

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About greetings …


These are most likely the first words you will hear in Turkey. Don’t forget the pronunciation rules, and that each letter is pronounced (unlike English)!

Merhaba Hello
Hoş geldiniz Welcome
Hoş bulduk reply of the person being welcomed
Nasılsın? How are you? (informal/you singular)
Nasılsın(iz)? How are you? (formal/you plural)
İyiyim I am well
Adınız ne(dir)? What is your name ?
Adım ___. My name is _____
Memnun oldum.     I’m pleased to meet you.
Ben de memnun oldum. I’m pleased to meet you too.
Günaydın Good morning
İyi akşamlar Good evening
İyi günler Good day / Have a nice day
İyi geceler Good night
Hoşça kal Good-bye

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The Turkish Alphabet

(the following is an extract from one of my beginner level lessons – see full details

The Alphabet

The Turkish alphabet consists of 29 letters – 8 vowels and 21 consonants.

Each letter has only one sound which never changes (well, almost never!)


Note that three letters of the English alphabet are missing from the Turkish alphabet: Q, W and X

There are six additional characters not found in the English alphabet:

Ç-ç    Ğ-ğ    I-ı    Ö-ö    Ş-ş     Ü-ü

Now – letter by letter. I have chosen English words which have the same sound, or as near as possible, to show you the Turkish sound:

A,a  (almost) always a shortish sound, as in star, jar

B, b  as in English – bet, bag

C, c  like the English j – jet, joke

Ç, ç  like the English chchurch, chat

D, d  as in English : debt, did

E, e  always a short sound, like the English ehbet, tell

F, f  as in English – fall, fix

G, g  always a hard sound – game, go, and never a soft g as in gym

Ğ, ğ this does not have any sound by itself, and is never used as the first letter of a word. It elongates the vowel after it, or on either side of it

…to be continued

If you would like to learn more about Turkish, please contact me or see my website

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Why Turkey?

Some years ago, after getting my Cambridge TEFL certification*, I was teaching English in a language school in Broadstairs, England. I found it fascinating to observe the different learning styles of students from different countries. For example, Japanese students were (and still are!) polite, hardworking, excelling at reading and writing but having more difficulty with speaking and listening. Italian and Spanish students were more outgoing and talkative, particularly enjoying the social activities but not always as keen on the reading and writing work! Of course I am generalising here and speaking from my own experience.

As with most EFL teachers, I wanted to travel and work abroad, so began to think about which country I would go to first. At that time we had quite a number of Turkish students, who impressed me with their friendliness, hard work and eagerness to learn. I had travelled around Europe, but Turkey was a country I hadn’t visited, and its position as a fairly westernised Muslim country appealed to my sense of adventure. Fellow teachers who had worked there gave positive recommendations, and so my mind was made up!  I decided to apply for a job with the British Council school in Istanbul.

A month later, I stepped off the plane at Ataturk Airport, excited and a bit nervous, ….

(to be continued)

* TEFL = Teaching English as a Foreign Language

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