Languages in Turkey

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Languages in Turkey

The sole official language of Turkey is Turkish. Turkish is an Altaic language and its closest living relatives are other Turkic languages, which are spoken in southwestern, central and northern Asia; and to a lesser degree by significant communities in the Balkans. Because Turkish is an agglutinative language, native speakers of Indo-European languages generally find it difficult to learn. Since 1928, Turkish is written in a variant of the Latin alphabet (after so many centuries of using the Arabic one, evident in many historical texts and documents) with the additions of ç/Ç, ğ/Ğ, ı, İ, ö/Ö, ş/Ş and ü/Ü, and with the exclusions of Q, W and X.

Kurdish is also spoken by an estimated 7-10% of the population. Several other languages exist, like Laz in the North-East (also spoken in adjacent Georgia), and in general people living near borders will often be speaking the language at the other side too, like Arabic in the South-East.

English is increasingly popular as a foreign language among the younger generation, though proficiency tends to be poor due to a lack of practice and exposure. To improve your chances of being understood, stick to simple words and avoid long sentences. Senior citizens rarely speak English, but they'll try to help you anyway with gestures or similar words. Outside the major cities (Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir) and tourist areas (like Bodrum, Antalya), English is generally nonexistent, so take a phrase book and be prepared for slow communication with a lot of interpretive gestures..

Thanks to migration, even in rural areas most villages will have at least somebody who has worked in Germany and can thus speak German. The same goes for other West-European languages like Dutch (often mistakenly called "Flemish" there) or French. Recent immigration from Balkans means there is also a possibility to come across native Serbo-Croatian, Bulgarian, and Albanian speakers mainly in big cities of western Turkey, but don't count on this.

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