About speaking foreign languages

One of the biggest problems Turkish people experience today is that they can’t learn and speak a second language. According to a European Union survey 81% of Turkish people do not speak another language other than their native one, which is obviously not good.

Although there’s no shortage of English-taught courses in Turkish high schools, only a scarce number of students are truly fluent in a foreign. To me, as an academic, this shortage is easily detectable, especially when I am interacting with students. And the reason why Turks do not have fluency in another language than their native one is that they do not spend enough time to learn dominant languages like English, French, German, Italian and Spanish. One should allocate even more time to learn Chinese, Arabic and Russian.

According to a survey by Statista, native speakers of Turkish must take a 44-week English course to achieve proficiency in English language. Sadly, Turks rank fourth among people who experience difficulties in learning English. Arabs, Chinese, Japanese and Korean people have far greater challenges than us as they require, on average, 88 weeks to reach speaking and reading proficiency in English.

In University, each semester year usually runs for 14 weeks. An academic year consists of a total of 28 weeks, which means a native speaker of Turkish must attend English courses for almost two academic years to achieve proficiency in English language. So, according to this study, the more classes they take, the better they learn.

On the other hand, it takes a shorter amount of time for Dutch, Danish, French, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish and Swedish citizens to learn English, which is 23 to 24 weeks (less than an academic year). Now, here’s the interesting part: learning English takes approximately 30 weeks for German speakers.

As for the native speakers of Indonesian, Malaysian and Swahili, they need 36 weeks to achieve proficiency in English. This survey by Statists shows that native speakers of Persian, Uzbek, Albanian, Urdu, and Turkish may require more than 44 weeks. Vietnamese, Thai, Hungarian, Georgian, and Finnish citizens should make more efforts than Turkish citizens to achieve speaking and reading proficiency in English. As an academic with international conference experience, I confirm that the results of this survey are practically accurate.

“We should stop asking, ‘Why English?’….”

As a natural consequence of this situation, Turkey is not ranked in the top 10 in English Proficiency Index scores. According to a report issued by the World Economic Forum, countries that are most proficient at speaking English as a secondary language are:

Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Singapore, Luxembourg, Austria, Germany and Poland.

As you may have noticed, some of the countries that require longer amount of time to learn English seem to be ranked in the top ten in the global English Proficiency Index, as opposed to the situation in Turkey, which goes to show that Turkish people do not make enough efforts in achieving proficiency in English language. Besides, how can you expect a person to speak another language fluently when s/he can’t even speak their native language properly? Many people struggle to learn a second language because they don’t have proficiency even in their mother tongues.

I can almost hear you ask, “Why English?” It is the world media language, and the language of business, global trade, banking, science, sports, and music… We would be talking about another language right now if English was not the overwhelmingly dominant language in the world…

Only a tiny minority of people can learn a second language in environments dominated by people who are stuck with their limited vocabulary and grammar, mostly consisting of swear words. This is a never-ending struggle of people who promote foreign language learning against others who can’t even speak their own native tongues.

I don’t mean to criticise; I only wish to show the already existing data on second language learning. I think we should consider the facts as well before developing education plans.

This article is an extract from my newest book “İktisattan Çıkış”, recently published by Destek Yayınları and already reached the 4th edition. In addition to a series of analyses, the bo