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Do people speak English in Turkey?

Do people speak English in Turkey?
Do people speak English in Turkey

Turkey, a crossroads of civilizations, has always been a melting pot of cultures, histories, and languages. Nestled between Europe and Asia, this nation offers a unique blend of Eastern and Western traditions. As globalization sweeps across the world, the question arises: How has Turkey adapted in terms of language, especially English? With its booming tourism industry and growing business ties with English-speaking countries, understanding the role and prevalence of English in Turkey becomes crucial. This guide delves deep into the linguistic landscape of Turkey, comparing its English proficiency with the rest of the world, and offering insights for travelers and business professionals alike.

English in Turkey Compared To Other Countries

English Proficiency Index (EPI)

The English Proficiency Index is a widely recognized metric that ranks countries based on their English skills. According to recent EPI rankings:

  • Turkey ranks 69th out of 100 countries in terms of English proficiency.
  • This places Turkey in the “moderate proficiency” category, suggesting that while English is spoken, it’s not as prevalent as in higher-ranking countries.

English In Turkey vs The World

Turkey, with its rich history and strategic location bridging Europe and Asia, has always been a focal point of cultural and linguistic exchange. As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, English, often dubbed the “global lingua franca,” has gained prominence in many countries, including Turkey. But how does Turkey’s English proficiency stack up against other nations? Let’s dive in.

English in Turkey vs. Europe

Compared to its European neighbors, Turkey’s English proficiency is average. Countries like the Netherlands and Sweden top the charts, but Turkey’s position is comparable to some Eastern European nations.

  • Western European countries, especially those in the Nordic region, have high English proficiency due to their education systems and cultural emphasis on multilingualism.
  • Eastern European countries, such as Hungary and Bulgaria, have been improving rapidly in recent years, with many young people achieving fluency.
  • Turkey’s proficiency is comparable to some Eastern European nations but lags behind Western Europe. This can be attributed to historical, cultural, and educational factors.

Factors Influencing English Proficiency in Turkey

  1. Education System: While English is taught in schools, the focus has traditionally been on grammar rather than conversational skills. However, this is changing with newer educational reforms.
  2. Cultural Exposure: With the rise of the internet, streaming services, and global media, the younger generation in Turkey is getting more exposure to English than ever before.
  3. Tourism: As one of the top tourist destinations globally, Turkey sees a massive influx of English-speaking tourists, increasing the need for English proficiency in the tourism sector.

How widely spoken Is English in Turkey?

English is more prevalent in urban areas, tourist destinations, and among the younger generation. Major cities like Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir have a higher concentration of English speakers.

Where In Turkey Is English Commonly Spoken?

  • Istanbul: As a major tourist destination, many locals in the hospitality industry speak English.
  • Ankara: Being the capital, many business professionals and students have a decent command of English.
  • Izmir: Known for its cosmopolitan vibe, English is relatively common.
  • Bursa & Adana: Both cities have a mix of history and modernity, with English being spoken in major hubs.

Smaller Turkish Tourist Areas Where English Is Usable

  • Ephesus: This ancient Roman city sees many English-speaking tourists annually.
  • Bodrum: A coastal town popular among international tourists.

Do they learn English as a second language in Turkey?

In today’s globalized world, English has become an essential tool for communication, business, and cultural exchange. Many countries have incorporated English into their education systems, recognizing its importance. Turkey, with its aspirations to be a part of the global community and its growing ties with English-speaking countries, is no exception. Let’s explore the role of English in Turkey’s education system.

English in Turkey’s Public Schools

  1. Introduction at an Early Age: English education in Turkey begins at a young age. In recent years, the Turkish Ministry of National Education introduced English as a subject starting from the 2nd grade in primary schools. This early introduction aims to familiarize students with the language from a young age.
  2. Curriculum Focus: Historically, the English curriculum in Turkish schools focused heavily on grammar and reading skills. However, there’s a shift towards a more balanced approach, incorporating listening and speaking skills to ensure students can communicate effectively in real-life situations.
  3. Examinations: English is a significant component of the national exams in Turkey. Students’ proficiency in the language can influence their university placement, making it a crucial subject for many.

English in Turkish Universities

  1. Courses in English: Many universities in Turkey, especially the top-tier ones, offer courses in English. Some universities even have programs where the entire curriculum is in English, catering to both international students and Turks who wish to study in an English-speaking environment.
  2. Preparatory Classes: For programs taught in English, universities often have a mandatory preparatory year where students intensively study English to ensure they can handle the curriculum.
  3. Research and Academia: English is the dominant language for academic research. Turkish scholars and students aiming for academic careers often need a high level of English proficiency to read research papers, attend international conferences, and publish their work.

Challenges and Criticisms

While English education is widespread in Turkey, there are challenges:

  1. Quality of Education: Not all schools have access to qualified English teachers or resources, leading to disparities in English proficiency among students from different regions or socioeconomic backgrounds.
  2. Practical Usage: Even though students study English for many years, they often lack confidence in speaking. This is because the education system has traditionally emphasized grammar and vocabulary over practical communication.
  3. Cultural Barriers: Some segments of Turkish society are resistant to the widespread adoption of English, viewing it as a threat to Turkish culture and identity.

English, as a second language, has undoubtedly gained prominence in Turkey’s education system. While challenges exist, the country recognizes the importance of English in the modern world and is taking steps to improve English education and proficiency among its citizens. As Turkey continues to engage with the global community, the role of English is only set to grow.

Why Don’t The Turkish Commonly Speak English?

While Turkey has made significant strides in incorporating English into its education system and daily life, it’s observed that a large portion of the population is not fluent in the language. Several factors contribute to this phenomenon:

Historical and Cultural Context

  1. Ottoman Legacy: For centuries, the Ottoman Empire, of which modern-day Turkey was the heart, was a dominant force in the region. The empire had its own rich linguistic tradition, with Ottoman Turkish, a language heavily influenced by Arabic and Persian, as the official language. This historical context meant that there was little incentive or need to learn English.
  2. Nationalism: The foundation of the Republic of Turkey in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was accompanied by a wave of nationalism. There was a concerted effort to create a distinct Turkish identity, which included the adoption of the Latin script for the Turkish language and a move away from Ottoman, Arabic, and Persian influences. In this environment, learning foreign languages was not a priority.

Education System

  1. Traditional Focus: Historically, the English curriculum in Turkish schools emphasized grammar and vocabulary over conversational skills. This means that while many Turks studied English in school, they often didn’t practice speaking it, leading to a lack of confidence in real-life situations.
  2. Resource Disparities: Not all schools in Turkey have access to qualified English teachers or modern language learning resources. This disparity, especially between urban and rural areas, affects the overall proficiency of students.

Lack of Practical Exposure

  1. Media Consumption: Turkish media, including television, movies, and music, is robust and popular. With a wealth of local content, there’s less reliance on English-language media, reducing daily exposure to the language.
  2. Tourism Dynamics: While Turkey is a major tourist destination, many tourist areas have staff who speak multiple languages, including English, German, Russian, and Arabic. This means that locals in these areas can rely on a few multilingual individuals rather than everyone needing to learn English.

Socioeconomic Factors

Learning a language effectively often requires resources, including private lessons, language learning software, or travel to English-speaking countries. Not everyone in Turkey has access to these resources, leading to disparities in proficiency.

Language Complexity

Turkish is part of the Turkic language family, which is structurally different from English, a Germanic language. The differences in grammar, syntax, and vocabulary can make English challenging for native Turkish speakers.

While many Turks do speak English, especially in urban areas and among younger generations, there are historical, cultural, educational, and socioeconomic reasons for the varying levels of proficiency across the population. However, with globalization and the increasing importance of English on the world stage, there’s a growing emphasis on improving English proficiency in Turkey.

How common is English in Turkey?

While Turkey might not be the most English-proficient country globally, it’s making rapid strides. As tourism grows and business ties strengthen, the role of English in Turkey is set to increase.

Based on the information gathered from the provided links, here’s a comprehensive article on the topic of English and other languages in Turkey.

The Official Language Of Turkey

Turkish is the official language of Turkey and serves as the primary mode of communication for the majority of its citizens. It’s a unique language, belonging to the Turkic language family, and is written in the Latin script.

The History Of Spoken Languages In Turkey

Turkey’s rich history, influenced by various empires like the Byzantine and Ottoman, has led to a diverse linguistic landscape. While Turkish has been the dominant language, the country has been home to many languages over the centuries.

How Many Languages Are Spoken In Turkey?

Apart from Turkish, several other languages are spoken in Turkey. Kurdish and Arabic are notable, with Kurdish spoken by approximately 12% of the population. Other minority languages include Circassian, Laz, and Georgian.

Top 3 Spoken Languages In Turkey

  1. Turkish – Spoken by approximately 84.54% of the population.
  2. Kurdish – Represents about 11.97% of the population.
  3. Arabic – Spoken by around 1.38% of the Turkish population.

Regional Language Map Of Turkey

While Turkish is prevalent throughout the country, regions near the Syrian and Iraqi borders have a higher concentration of Kurdish and Arabic speakers.

Minority Language Rights In The Turkish Law

Turkey recognizes the rights of its minorities, and there have been efforts to promote and protect minority languages, especially in education and media.

Foreign Language Education In Turkey

English is the most popular foreign language taught in Turkish schools. However, the focus has primarily been on grammar and passing exams rather than practical communication.

English Language Education in Turkey

English is taught in public schools, but the emphasis is on grammar and passing exams. Universities offer better English instruction, but the primary goal remains academic rather than practical communication.

Common Spoken Languages in Turkey

Apart from Turkish, Kurdish, and Arabic, other languages like Circassian, Laz, and Georgian are spoken by minority groups.

Tips for Speaking English in Turkey

While many Turks understand basic English, especially in tourist areas, it’s helpful to speak slowly, use simple words, and be patient. Using translation apps can also be beneficial.

Learn Basic Turkish Phrases for Tourists

Learning simple phrases like “Teşekkür ederim” (Thank you) and “Merhaba” (Hello) can enhance your travel experience.

Apps for English in Turkey

  1. Google Translate – Useful for quick translations.
  2. Sesli Sozluk – A popular Turkish-English dictionary.
  3. Babbel & Duolingo – For those interested in learning Turkish basics.

Where Do People Speak English in Turkey?

Major Cities:

  • Istanbul – Rich in history and a major tourist attraction.
  • Ankara – The capital city with various tourist spots.
  • Izmir – Known for its ancient ruins and modern amenities.
  • Bursa & Adana – Both cities have a mix of history and modernity.

Tourist Spots:

  • Ephesus – An ancient Roman city.
  • Bodrum – A popular coastal town.
  • Cappadocia – Known for its unique rock formations and hot air balloons.


Q: How common is English in Turkey compared to other countries?
A: Turkey ranks 69th out of the top 100 English-speaking countries, indicating a moderate level of proficiency.

Q: Do they learn English as a second language in Turkey?
A: Yes, English is taught in schools and universities, but the focus is often on academic proficiency rather than practical communication.

Q: How much English is spoken in Turkey?
A: While 17% of the population speaks English, proficiency is higher in urban areas and tourist destinations. Major cities like Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir have a higher concentration of English speakers.

Q: Is English Spoken in Istanbul?
A: Istanbul, being a major tourist destination and economic hub, has a significant number of English speakers, especially in areas like Taksim, Sultanahmet, and around universities.

Q: Which language should you speak when visiting Turkey?
A: While Turkish is the most widely spoken language, English is understood in tourist areas, major cities, and by the younger generation. Knowing basic Turkish phrases can be beneficial.

Q: Is English widely spoken in Turkey?
A: Approximately 17% of the Turkish population speaks English. This percentage is higher in tourist areas and major cities. However, the proficiency varies, with many having a basic understanding.


Conclusion on Speaking English in Turkey

While Turkey may not rank high in English proficiency globally, tourists and business travelers will find it relatively easy to communicate in major cities and tourist areas. The Turkish people are known for their hospitality, and even if there’s a language barrier, they often go out of their way to help.

Aykut Ozcan serves as a travel consultant at heyturkey.com. With a passion for travel, he is an experienced travel advisor with extensive destination knowledge, expertly turning every traveler's dreams into reality.

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