Turkish Tea Time: An Entrepreneurial Approach to Learning Turkish

Turkish Tea Time: An Entrepreneurial Approach to Learning Turkish

May 15, 2013
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  • Photography Courtesy of Turgut Engin, Today's Zaman

Anyone that’s ever tried will agree that Turkish is not the easiest language to learn. Whilst there are a number of books, websites and courses available, there’s few that offer a light-hearted approach, many prefer instead to tackle the baffling grammar head on, which can be a little exhausting to say the least. That’s why we were pleased to find out about a new website, Turkish Tea Time - the brainchild of American entrepreneur Justin Cannon. We caught up him to find out more.


Justin had the idea for Turkish Tea Time in October of last year, after noticing a gap in the market. “If you’re trying to learn Spanish, Italian, or English there are lots of great online resources, but for Turkish there’s nothing. When I was learning Chinese, I found a really useful website and we’ve used a similar model for Turkish Tea Time.”


New lessons are uploaded daily and are centered around a short (often humorous) dialogue that contains within it examples of a grammatical point. Each lesson is accompanied by a short podcast (that makes an excellent learning tool in its own right) where the grammar and dialogue are discussed. Hovering your mouse over different words brings ups translations and explanations and once you complete the review task you unlock a ‘fun’ video, rewarding your hard work.


We asked about the process behind creating the lessons. “We have a master spreadsheet that breaks down the lesson into all the components. I have studied the Turkish language and can write the lessons but all the grammar and dialogues need to be vetted by native Turks who know the grammar well. I write all the lessons on Sunday, and send it to two TV producers to record the dialogues. They send it back to us and we record the podcasts. Then on Wednesday we write the quizzes and language points.. if I’m lucky I can take a Saturday off!”


A skeletal version of the site was originally launched in October although Justin told us they didn’t originally have any quizzes or speaking exercises. “We asked for feedback from people and got an overwhelmingly positive response.” They’ve had to make some changes, learning as they go: “What we originally published as intermediate we now put as beginner, and we have the Newbie section for the very beginners.”


And how does he see it progressing? “There are some weaknesses. Right now it’s an ‘all-you-can-eat buffet’ and we get people asking how we can use our site to learn Turkish for their holidays for example. When we have 100 lessons, I can package them, making them more useable. But at the end of the day, learning a language is hard. What helps is just to hear it every day and interact with it every day and maybe even to hear me trying to speak it every day, so that’s what we provide.”


We wanted to know if he had any advice for language learners. “Turkish is a particularly technical language. The same part of my brain that lights up for computer programming language lights up for Turkish, because it’s very systematic in that sense. I’ve come to learn that you should put speaking in one pile and everything else in another pile, kind of like being a chef; you need to put all the technique separate from the actual cooking. When you compare it to French for example, it’s much harder to throw together, but after a while it becomes more natural you find you’re speaking and no longer thinking of appending suffixes.”


Turkish language seems like it could be something of a niche market limited to the expat communities living here but it seems that isn’t so. Roughly half of the website’s users come from Turkey whilst the others come from as far afield as the US, the UK, Egypt, Pakistan, Syria, and Iraq. In fact when researching the market Justin found that on Google there were roughly 50,000 searches for learning Turkish each month, Justin noted that many of his searches come from Egypt were Turkish soap operas are very popular, explaining the reason for it.


Since the website went live, they’ve had universally good feedback and have even dropped their prices to make it more accessible for all. After a free week’s trial, you can now get full access to all the old and new content for just $10 per month, which is much less than what you would pay for an hour with a private tutor or even at a language school. Justin explained “It’s a labour of love. I like living in Istanbul and it feels good to be doing something that contributes to the community here.” He hopes that it will prove to be a successful business but says “In the worst case we’ll keep 100 lessons and whether it works out or not, after a year everyone who wants to learn Turkish will know about us.”


More than anything, Justin wants Turkish Tea Time to meet the needs of its users, “Now we work with a linguistics graduate student, university Professors, and language enthusiasts we have the capacity to build people whatever they want, we just need them to tell us.” So readers, if you had a magic wand, and could create the language learning website of your dreams, what would it be? Please let us know using the comment section below.