Friday, April 25, 2008

Motivation, where art thou?

This is what presents itself to me when I open my grammar book this evening:

As in the case of embedded statements, the main verb in embedded speech is söyle-. In indirect imperatives, similar to the other indirect speech structures, the embedded verb is marked with the nominalising, possessive and case suffixes. The nominalising suffix in indirect imperatives is -MA. The embedded subject is marked wıth the genitive and the verb with the agreeing possessive suffixes.
I'm not trying to be clever here. And I'm certainly not trying to show you how impressive my knowledge of Turkish is after two and a half years. What the above tells you is how to change:

Read my letter


He told me to read his letter.

While it may actually be pointless to expound further, you have no doubt understood that at times my motivation for learning Turkish wavers.

Recently I've been reading literature on second language acquisition. As I teach students from different ages groups with varying reasons for learning English, individual differences in second language learning is becoming more important to me. Plenty of research has already been done on learner characteristics and I seem to possess many of those that fit 'the good language learner'.

I'm willing to make mistakes, will try to get a message across even if knowledge is lacking and constantly look for patterns in the language. I enjoy grammar exercises, have good academic skills, confidence and analyse my own speech and that of others. My personality characteristics are favorable to language learning. I can be extroverted and am not afraid of taking risks in a learning environment.

But then we come to motivation. Research describes two important factors for learning languages. The first is the learner's communicative needs. Well, living in Turkey, I need this language. I want, desire and ache to speak the most major of the Altaic tongues. I genuinely want to remain in Istanbul; I want nothing more than to solve my every need without resorting to a translator, and my ego is so large and brittle that I am repelled by the idea of the idle, can't-be-arsed expatriate who relies solely on English, local staff and a healthy bank balance to meets his or her needs.

The second factor affecting motivation is the learner's attitude towards the second language community. I love Turks. I choose to live here. I have a large contingent of amiable, garrulous Turkish friends. Anatolian history is vast and one of paths into it is through Turkish.

You would think my motivation endless.

For me the problem is that the period between studying new grammar to incorporating it into spoken language is, well, long. There's got to be a better way to study Turkish but unfortunately private lessons and courses out out of bounds for two reasons.

First, I'm one of the really, really irritating students who always moan that the teacher is unqualified, boring, unable to impart knowledge clearly, disinterested in the class... I'm not a good boy in the classroom. Secondly, my choice to teach full time in a school and then offer private English lessons out-of-hours means that, four days out of five, my free time starts after 8pm. Actually, there's a third reason. I like to learn in the comfort of my own room with Internet, reference books, fresh coffee, my cat within reach. Perhaps an issue related to my age.

This reads like a complaint but it's not. There is much to be thankful for. Back on 1 November 1928, the current 29 letter alphabet replaced the Ottoman Turkish script with the Law on the Adoption and Implementation of the Turkish Alphabet, one of Atatürk's reforms for which the non-Turk should be grateful too. As an extension of the Latin alphabet and under the initiative of the first president of the Turkish Republic, the language was completely overhauled and today, although I may moan endlessly about laborious grammar conventions and innumerable suffixes, at least I'm not required to adopt another script.

As I am with Arabic, which, with foolhardiness, I commenced in earnest two weeks' ago. To date, I have made very little headway. However, I like my new calligraphy pen set. And at present I seem to have ample motivation to learn the countless permutations of letters.

Hopefully it will endure.

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