Working professionals come in after a day's work, filtering into the room and taking their seats, eager to begin another evening of learning Turkish. Once they enter the classroom, the students leave English at the door as they embark on a journey of learning Turkish through being immersed in the language.
Hüseyin Aydın, the instructor at the Yunus Emre Institute, a non-profit aimed at promoting Turkish culture throughout the world, makes it a point of emphasis to speak only Turkish in the class. And when an occasional English word is used by a student, Aydın acts as if the tongue is unknown to him.
"One thing that I appreciate about this course is that it's an immersion environment, which I think is rare for beginner level courses," said Bo Knutson, a student taking the first level course. Language immersion is a tactic used in classrooms to simulate an environment where only the language being studied is spoken by the instructor and the student. Knutson works at an international education organization which takes U.S. students to different countries to learn languages, and foreign students to study in America. He currently works in a Turkish program, and it has created a fascination and desire to learn the Turkish language. "I've been to Turkey multiple times," he told Anadolu Agency (AA). "And I'd like to have deeper engagement with Turkey, Turkish citizens, that part of the world and explore on my own using my own language skills, not through a translator." "One of my favorite parts about Turkish culture is Turkish coffee. And the cuisine, the food, the people, the architecture, the history." Knutson is taking the courses at Yunus Emre because he is planning another trip to Turkey, and wants to get his language skills up to par for when he visits. "I'd like to be able to get up to a functional level where I can navigate the city, ask for directions, order a meal, communicate with people and do basic things," he added.
Visiting Turkey is something many students have in mind, with the goal to culminate the knowledge that they have learned and put it to the test. Zaineb Alattar, a student originally from Iraq, wants to learn the language so she can better understand Turkish movies, but she is also planning a trip to Turkey in the fall, and wants to "be able to feel comfortable speaking while there." "I've gotten to practice it a few times also around D.C. at some of the Turkish spots, like coffee shops and restaurants," Alattar said. Natalie Tan, a student who works at an international organization in Washington, will be going to Istanbul next month and is studying Turkish to see if she can get a baseline knowledge of the language before she departs. "Çay içelim," "merhaba," and "nasılsın" were some of the phrases that stuck out to Tan, which in English mean "Let's have some tea," "Hello," and "How are you?" Three months into her studies, Tan finds the language to be "extremely interesting so far." "My goal was really to have an idea of how the language structure works," she said. "I think you learn a lot about the society and what they consider important through the language. And this class has really helped me realize how methodical the language is, how very clear and easy it is to learn it. It's just that there is a lot to learn."