This week found my family and I traveling a bit through the Aegean coast of Turkey. It is such an amazing country and it has been a great week away from the hustle and congestion of Istanbul. One of our outings took us into a language adventure that I have not experienced for a while. On Saturday we took a two hour ferry ride out to an island for the day. Samos is a Greek Island even though it is far closer to Turkey than Greece. It is a quaint little island with an amazing and free archeological museum filled with statues and other artifacts. It’s kid friendly, though was pretty hilarious to watch six kids run around saying, “That one’s a boy” as they point to the anatomy of different statues. At one point our friends three year old pointed up at a finely chiseled rear end of one statue and said, “That’s a butt.” before breaking out in hysterical laughter. It was a fun trip, but if you struggle with sea sickness (the seas were rough) you may want to skip the trip.
I had thought about it a bit, but it wasn’t until we stepped off the boat and saw all the signs that it hit home. I would not be able to communicate even a bit with the people here. A bit later and without thinking I approached two fisherman to inquire about the strange teddybears that adorned the beach front light poles. I used my Turkish and was met with blank stares and nervous smiles and quickly shifted to English. No dice. I laughed at my own mistake and marveled in the fresh again feeling of helplessness. It had been a while. And I wasn’t even really helpless. Plenty of shop owners knew English and we were there for just a day. But it was good to be reminded.
A second lesson was written everywhere. The Greek alphabet is different. I couldn’t even begin to read the signs. Turkish not only uses the same letters as English, but each letter has just one sound making reading words a cinch. I remember reading in my very first days the word “Eczane” on signs above what appeared to be pharmacies. The connection was made. Without that shared alphabet, I couldn’t even begin to use the written word as a starting point to make guesses and explore the language. This was the first time I had experienced this and it was a good reminder that not all who go through the Ten Week Journey for example will have the same path before them.
So it was a fun day and a good time for me to remember again what it means to be at that zero point in language learning.
PS> If you are at that beginning point, check out The Ten Week Journey as a means to get started. It’s free.
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