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August 21, 2013

When opportunity knocks: the TurksLearnEnglish.com story

turkslearnenglish-logo.jpgIn the first of two guest posts over on eltjam, Canadian Kris Jagasia describes the ELT scene in Turkey and why he decided to start an online business dedicated to conversation classes for Turkish speakers.

Welcome to the first of our two-part guest article for eltjam. About 8 months ago, me and my fellow co-founder decided to take the big leap and launch our own ELT start-up. We went live with TurksLearnEnglish.com in May 2013, a site dedicated to conversation classes for Turkish speakers.

Like most new ventures we began with lengthy and impassioned exchanges about inefficient user experiences, how technology could break down barriers, our general appetite for disruption, naive optimism and enthusiasm for bringing change. Conversations over beers produced A3 sheets covered in a multitude of diagrams, and eventually something that looked like our first product mock-ups. James (co-founder) had spent years teaching English as a second language in Turkey in a variety of settings; high-end private schools, everyday language institutes and private lessons. James was often struck with what he thought was an inefficient system. I was a recovering finance professional who may have read one too many Paul Graham articles and was looking for an entrepreneurial challenge. Both located in Istanbul, we came together and built a product for the Turkish market.

First, some background on the Turkish ELT arena

English proficiency in Turkey is low but improving drastically. In 2007 Education First ran its inaugural English Proficiency Index, at which time Turkey ranked 43rd out of 55 countries (behind Syria, Saudi Arabia and Russia). In 2012, Turkey ranked 32nd. This jump illustrates the push for English fluency in Turkey both at a policy level and within households and companies. With Turkey’s continued emergence as a regional business, tourism and cultural hub – and the very real chance that Istanbul may be awarded the 2020 Olympics this September – the push continues to gain impetus.

From a general linguistic perspective, Turkish is a wildly different language to English. Turkish is agglutinative. For example, suffixes are added to a word stem to add person, tense, negation, etc. The English phrase He will not have to eat can be expressed in Turkish as a single word, with eat as the root. The order of words in a phrase is generally very different in Turkish and English. As such, Turkish native speakers are starting at a linguistically challenging position when learning English, compared to students whose mother tongue is a Romance language.

Read the full article on eltjam.

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