Some people have asked me about language, and what do I use when I’m traveling in Turkey.
In Istanbul most of my communication is in English, simply because most of my friends in Istanbul are fluent or native speakers of English.
On the road, however, I use Turkish exclusively. I can go weeks without uttering a single word of English, except for those “crazy man” times when I have conversations with myself. Wilson! Wilson! (Tom Hanks / Castaway reference)
My Turkish is not pretty. My grammar is horrible, my vocabulary is limited, and my American accent is really, really heavy. On a couple occasions I’ve heard myself speak, and when I do I think, my god, it’s a miracle anyone can understand me. But somehow, with lots of eye contact, body language, and patience on the part of everybody involved, it seems to work okay.
For some reason I have a much, much easier time understanding women than men. For example, last night I sat around after dinner talking about the evolution of Turkish hospitality with the female head of a restaurant I had dinner at, but I couldn’t understand even one word coming out of the mouth of her husband.
I also understand young people better than older people.
So on the understandable end of the spectrum is the voice of a young woman, which I usually hear amazingly clearly. At the other, unintelligible end of the spectrum, is the voice of an older man, which to me may sound as clear as heavy radio static. Sometimes I even have a hard time identifying what’s said as Turkish.
For some reason, for me at least, it has always been this way with Turkish. I don’t know if other foreigners have had the same experience, I’ve never asked. Fellow yabanci people, is it like this for you too?
Anyway, especially since I’ve been moving into an area with a different accent, what’s been happening more and more is that Person “A” will say something and I can’t understand it at all. Person “B” will repeat it and I’ll understand just fine. I’ll reply, and both people will understand me.
Which brings me to my heavy American accent. So far I’ve been lucky — I haven’t had any trouble making myself understood. South of Konya the “handshake” takes a little longer sometimes. Instead of understanding me after 2 or 3 sentences, a person will need a full minute before they understand my particular way of mangling the language.
In a big city like Istanbul, or in a tourist area like Kapadokya, I suspect it would be quite easy to get by on English alone. But on a trip like this walk, I can’t imagine getting by without basic Turkish skills.