I dived into a number of books while learning Turkish over the past year.
There are not a whole lot of great options, but, fortunately, there are a few that work great for taking you from zero to intermediate-level Turkish. These books make an excellent basis for learning and supplement other learning methods (online or in-person classes, apps, flash cards, language exchanges, podcasts, television programs, etc.).
- How to Use the Right Turkish Books as Part of a Complete Language Learning Plan
- The Best Books for Learning Turkish on Your Own
- The Best Turkish Classroom Textbooks and Workbooks
- Other Turkish Learning Books
- In a Nutshell: The Best Books for Learning Turkish
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How to Use the Right Turkish Books as Part of a Complete Language Learning Plan
The best language learning strategies involve being proactive (and not waiting for a teacher to direct your learning for you). But taking the reins and self-directing your learning doesn’t mean you’ll know the best way to tackle Turkish or the right order for the process. Well-designed Turkish coursebooks can do that for you, often with better structure and explanations than you’ll have in most classrooms.
Turkish has highly regular grammar rules and so it is very valuable to get strong grammar explanations and really understand and memorize them. Compare that to, say the irregular, endlessly twisted Serbian language, in which just counting to one is a nightmare; once you learn a rule in Turkish you basically follow it, adapting for vowel harmony, and that’s it. So time spent learning a grammar rule in Turkish is time very well invested. It pays off big time in allowing you to make sentences and communicate right away and down the road. And this is what good books can give you.
That said, actually employing these bits of Turkish grammar while chatting can be a challenge and you need lots of practice speaking and active feedback. Books can’t help you so much with those things. So you should pair Turkish learning books with other methods:
- Classes: My favorite way to learn Turkish over the past year has been with online classes through Italki. I take personalized, one-on-one classes with two very professional, accomplished teachers as well as with a few non-professional teachers (so that I have more variety in vocabulary, accent, culture, and speech patterns). I prefer to plan the lessons myself based on the lessons in the favorite Turkish books that I am using; teachers help me reinforce and better understand what I have learned in those books.
- Flashcards: Turkish is hard to memorize for most learners as it is a non-Indo-European language. While there are some loanwords from French and English, often the combinations of sounds are quite alien to our ears. This memorization challenge can be taken on via flashcards. I prefer Anki for this, which has both phone apps and a computer version—though pieces of paper and other apps are also fine. I would highly encourage you to make your own flashcards based on what you’re learning in your Turkish books and classes, rather than to rely on pre-built flashcards, Turkish language learning apps, or downloaded Anki sets. When you make your own cards you can ensure that they are correct (with the help of your teacher) and personalize them to what you have just learned in your books and classes and want to memorize. I’ve written more on flashcard strategies here.
- Language exchanges: In theory, these are great and they’re free. You can offer to teach your language through HelloTalk, Tandem, or other such apps, and you get to practice what you’re learning in your books and elsewhere. They key problems I’ve run up against however are that most users are not very serious and motivated to regularly exchange languages, many want to do so only via chat (not voice—so they don’t help with actually speaking and understanding), and there are a lot of fake or inactive profiles to wade through. However, if do you find a native Turkish speaker looking to learn your language who is motivated to exchange regularly, this can be an ideal route to extra practice. Using the two mentioned apps, I have not had much luck so far with Turkish in finding truly motivated, reliable people for regular exchanges, which is why I mainly prefer Italki one-on-one classes.
As you move beyond the basics, Turkey’s famous television dramas and popular songs can be useful in learning, but they are quite complicated for beginners.
I briefly tried the Rosetta Stone Turkish learning program but wouldn’t recommend it; it was far too generic (not specific to Turkish culture, grammar, and usage) and doesn’t explain much in useful detail for producing one’s one sentences.
I have similar criticisms for Turkish language learning apps like Duolingo and Babbel. What’s good about such apps is that they are highly gamified, so if motivation is a problem they provide a way to learn a few words each day even when you’re not really feeling it. Actually being able to use those words in context to communicate, however, is another story. I’d definitely recommend both books and classes in addition to any such app that you decide to use, and that your main focus be on the books and classes.
The Best Books for Learning Turkish on Your Own
None of the books for learning Turkish is perfect, but there are some quite good ones that I’ve come across so far. I recommend using two books (and perhaps more) in tandem to compliment each other; sometimes an explanation doesn’t quite click with the first book and can make sense or be more usable once taken from another angle through a second book. Plus, having more than one book provides additional practice opportunities on trouble points.
A Turkish language book is something you’ll spend a lot of time with so it’s worth choosing wisely.
My Favorite Turkish Self-Learning Guide: Complete Turkish
To go from absolutely no Turkish to an intermediate level, my first choice is Complete Turkish (by Asuman Celen Pollard and David Pollard; formerly known as the Teach Yourself series). I find Complete Turkish‘s grammar explanations to be the clearest of any of the Turkish books I’ve tried, and the stories and dialogues focus on real-world situations where you can harness the vocabulary and grammar that you are learning.
The focus of Complete Turkish in each unit is on taking you through some basic events that you might face as a visitor or a foreigner living in Turkey for the first time, whether for family, business, or other reasons. Grammar and vocabulary then come in as a way to bolster your experience in such situations and improve how you can express yourself. Such communication-focused learning in language acquisition is highly effective.
There is accompanying (downloadable) audio of the dialogues in the book; for best results, listen to the dialogues without reading both at the outset and later so that you are improving your listening comprehension and not just your ability to read and write. Dialogues are followed by comprehension and practice questions.
Then there are grammar explanations that show how certain elements of the dialogue you’ve just heard are working and how you might use them in other contexts to get across other ideas. I find the grammar explanations to be quite economical; they get right to the heart of what’s most important. Unnecessary intricacies are avoided. At times, I do even wish that there were a bit more depth to explanations; things go by very quickly if you don’t take the time yourself to stop, process, practice, and (if needed) commit to memory the new things you are learning. I would prefer to have more practice exercises to more completely nail down some of the grammar, which is why this book would pair well with others (such as the next one in my listing) that offer grammar and practice but don’t have the communicative focus.
If you choose to use Complete Turkish (and I encourage you to do so), and your goal is to get beyond some basic phrases, you should spend significant time with the early alphabet and grammar explanations in this book, as everything you learn afterwards builds on those. For example, the letters/sounds u and ü might sound similar or even identical to many English speakers, and it might be tempting for some learners to gloss over the distinction. But you really do need to be able to hear and pronounce the difference, as everything with Turkish vowel harmony builds on it. Confuse ü with u in a word and the rest of the suffixes you add (and the meaning you wish to impart) will be similarly confused.
The same goes for fully learning the verb conjugations and other basic grammar pieces early on. The present continuous tense, for example, is explained well early in Complete Turkish (and this book does a good job of showing the real-world contexts when the tense is used, and not pretending, like some books do, that it follows the pattern of other European languages’ present continuous). The book then provides some but not a lot of practice, so it’s up to you to practice more on your own and really nail this down, as it is integral to other verb conjugations that come later.
The book is available at the above link and the accompanying audio in MP3 format is available for free here; the CD version is thus unnecessary (and also that audio is pretty useless without the book).
The Best for Complete Grammar Explanations in English: Easy Turkish Grammar with Answers
One of the big challenges as a beginning Turkish learner is to pick apart words and figure out which letters/sounds are the base verb/noun/etc and which are being used to indicate case endings, buffer consonants, negation, etc. For example, when faced with an unknown word, an a may be a part of a verb’s stem or it may be indicating, in a negation, that something is not possible. The distinction is pretty important for understanding and also difficult when you’re not familiar with the new word or a certain suffix type.
Halit Demir’s Easy Turkish Grammar with Answers solves this rather neatly for learners by using color coding. His method makes it so much less frustrating to pick apart a word’s suffixes and really understand what is going on and why, so that you can then begin to use the word and its suffixes appropriately yourself.
The book has a number of other features that I haven’t seen elsewhere that can really help Turkish learners. For example, in pronunciation, certain vowels are inserted into words containing initial consonant clusters. These are not spelled, but you will hear them. It can be frustrating to ask Turkish speakers (and even teachers) about this because Turkish people have been taught that their language is spelled just as it is written, and so Turkish people don’t notice when this is not the case and are at a loss to explain this to non-native speakers. I’m led to suspect that Demir has quite a lot of experience in explaining his language to foreigners and it is extremely satisfying and useful to find such explanations in this book.
The book is grammar-focused and has plenty of exercises, but I wouldn’t use it for my main learning guide; communication-centered books like Complete Turkish are better to use as a basis both because they’re more motivating to work with and they get you into a real-world mindset. But also having Easy Turkish Grammar with Answers on hand to refer to and practice with will save a lot of time and smooth your way into better Turkish. I recommend using it even from the very outset of your Turkish learning adventure. Its completeness makes it worthwhile as a reference for intermediate learners as well.
A Highly Recommended Workbook for Turkish Exercises: Turkish Grammar in Practice
The exercise workbook Turkish Grammar in Practice (by Yusuf Buz) does one thing quite well: It provides opportunities to get further practice on grammar points that you’ve learned elsewhere. I have found this book particularly useful in early stages for practicing things like vowel harmony with plurals and basic verb conjugations.
The book is not organized in a way that you could just go from beginning to end doing, for example, a lesson each day. Rather, each unit is focused around a particular grammar point, so this book serves as a nice secondary option to turn to when Complete Turkish or another grammar book (or teacher or class) has explained something to you well, but you need more practice in order to commit the concept (often, the conjugations) to memory.
The answers are at the end of the book. I find the book’s own explanations of grammar and vocabulary a bit difficult to understand and don’t turn to this book for that. However, generally this book works quite well for self-directed practice.
For French or German Speakers: Assimil Turkish
I speak French, so as a supplement to Complete Turkish, I’m using Assimil’s self-learning Turkish guide for French speakers, Assimil Le Turc Sans Peine. There is, unfortunately, no English version, but German speakers can turn to Assimil Turkisch ohne Mühe.
This book-plus-audio excels at showing the exclamations, expressions, and bits of Turkish grammar as they are really used in conversations. The book is almost entirely centered on dialogues and little stories where you meet Turkish speakers in common situations. They are generally fun, even at basic early levels.
There are translations of each dialogue into French along with explanations of the grammar, which get more complex as you go through the dialogues. It’s mostly up to you to figure out how to practice these concepts on your own or with a teacher or language exchange partner; the book doesn’t provide prompts for that.
The explanations are clear and often more complete than other Turkish books; I love that they take into account how Turkish speakers really talk rather than dwelling on what the supposedly “correct” version of the language is. At times I find the progression a bit odd, for example, a tense may first be taught for only the ben and sen forms before teaching, a few lessons later, the conjugations for the other pronouns.
It’s not clear to me when exactly the dialogues were written and recorded but beware that on occasion my Turkish teachers have told me that certain expressions in this book can sound a bit dated. My guess is the ’90s; there is a dialogue, for example, with reference to a car having a telephone installed, but no mention of mobile phones. I don’t believe that this was originally produced on the book’s publication date of 2013.
After every seven or so dialogues there is a grammar section with more complete explanations of the points that have been touched on in those dialogues. I have found the explanations extremely useful but have also been glad to have other books to turn to for different takes on the grammar as well as for more practice.
Most importantly this book is fun; when I’m less motivated to use Complete Turkish or a workbook, I often do still have the capacity to enjoy opening Assimil’s guide and listening to and reading a short dialogue/story in Turkish.
The Best Turkish Classroom Textbooks and Workbooks
The following classroom textbooks have been recommended to me by very competent Turkish teachers who value their practice exercises and pedagogical progression. However, they are Turkish-only books and thus not very suitable for learning on one’s own without someone to explain what is going on. They are more suited as supplements for teachers and classroom learning.
Other Turkish Learning Books
A self-study guide that I’ve seen available for Kindle is The Delights of Learning Turkish (by Yaşar Esendal Kuzucu). I’ve only read the opening lessons, whose approach I approve of: dialogues introduce a concept and then vocabulary and grammar points follow based on it.
However, I found the explanations a bit tricky to follow even with grammar points that I already know, and the grammar instruction was not closely related enough to the examples just seen in the dialogues. Complete Turkish and the French Assimil Turc sans peine do better jobs, in my opinion, in connecting what is learned to dialogues and real-world use.
But if you’re looking for explanations that are a bit different than Complete Turkish and could provide another angle on the language, this book could be worthwhile, especially if you enjoy the fact that it’s available on Kindle. Kindles are a favorite way to learn and maintain languages while travelling as they mean less to carry and have some nice lookup features for quick reference while reading.Pimsleur Turkish Audiobook is not something I would recommend paying money for, but it is available for free with an Audible trial (which you can cancel within a month without paying anything). I have not tried the Turkish version, but I did try the Pimsleur Portuguese method a while back and was very unimpressed.
You simply can’t get too far with an audio-only method and the phrases Pimsleur used were not exactly everyday vocabulary; they were a bit stilted and odd. But if you want something to ease yourself into very basic Turkish while in transport or washing dishes, this may be worth a try as a supplement to other learning forms. As an audio-only method, it’s certainly better for beginners than trying to listen to podcasts, which, because Turkish is so different, you are unlikely to understand at all and will just become background noise. The Pimsleur method is highly approachable at even the most basic level. And, again, it’s free at the link with a cancellable subscription.Learn Turkish While Having Fun! It looks pretty cheaply produced and doesn’t have any lessons or learning content—I suspect it may have even been produced without input from Turkish speakers. But it could be a way to reinforce basic vocabulary through word-finding, if that’s enjoyable for you. Not my cup of tea though.
In a Nutshell: The Best Books for Learning Turkish
In addition to online Italki classes and some form of flashcards, I highly recommend that you take control of your own learning with the following books.