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Hello. Hallo. Merhaba: Students lining up at German universities to learn Turkish

By Lori Herber

Background: Turkish coffee preparation noises, boiling

Lori: Leonora Thiele stirs two heaping spoonfuls of coffee into a steel pot with a long, slender handle. Just as the frothy mixture boils, she ladles the foam from the top into two porcelain glasses. Thiele, a student at the University of Duisburg-Essen has been learning the Turkish language for just over a year. She represents a growing trend of young Germans reaching out to their neighbors of Turkish descent by lining up for language courses or learning how to make a perfect cup of Turkish coffee.

Thiele: “I’ve always been interested in other cultures, other religions and people in general. At University Duisburg-Essen you meet lots of students with a Turkish background.”

Lori: The aspiring teacher knows it will benefit her own classroom someday - especially in the Ruhr Valley where 40% of children under the age 18 have a so-called immigration background. In Germany just the word integration entices heated debate. On one side, some argue that people with non- German heritage should adapt to the status-quo. Others, like Thiele, consider integration a two-way street.

Lori: During a recent guessing game at the Gesamtschule where Thiele works, a pupil tipped off a schoolmate with the answer in Turkish. Thiele intercepted him. Also in Turkish. 

Thiele: “He was surprised. He was happy, but he was shocked as well. It was a very funny facial expression, I didn’t say ‘don’t speak Turkish because you’re not allowed to,’ but I found another way to talk to him as well to motivate him.”

Lori: Of 96 language institutes based at universities in German-speaking Europe,about half provide Turkish language courses. Zühre Sayin-Schmitt teaches Turkish at University of Duisburg-Essen. She says there is always a waiting list.

Sayin-Schmitt: “Ich kann mich an einem Kurs erinnern den ich dann angeboten hatte mit 50 Personen. Ich hatte dann gehofft dass im Laufe des Semesters einige fehlen, das war aber nicht der Fall und ich hatte dann bis zum Schluss über 40 Teilnehmer im Türkish I.”

Lori: Over the past four years alone, the Institute for Optional Studies at the University of Duisburg-Essen reports a 46% increase in Turkish course enrollments, for a total of 232 this semester. Beyond the Ruhr Valley, universities across the board report increased demand. Uta Wolfsdorf from the University of Freiburg says the language institute there launched a beginner’s Turkish course in 2005. Since then, enrollments have quadrupled.

Background: Classroom Noise.

Lori: Back in Sayin-Schmitt’s Turkish II classroom, 20-year-old Vincent Berger reviews prepositions. The engineering and mathematics student says it may help him in the workforce someday, but really personal interest is his main motivation.

Berger: “Lustig wars vielleicht mal auf dem Fussball platz, das waren jetzt nicht meine Freunde aber wenn die Gegner dann schonmal sich auf Tuerkisch unterhalten und man dann dann mal ein Woertchen mitredet, das sorgt im ersten Moment meistens für Verwirrung, dann kann mann darüber lachen.”

Lori: Foreign language enrollments have increased overall thanks to bachelor and master curriculum requirements, says Melanie Goggin of the Institut für Optional Studies. When it comes to Turkish, Goggin attributes a growing consciousness - especially among teachers and social workers - to embrace germany’s diversity. Yasar Yüksekkaya teaches Turkish at the University of Bamberg. In addition to students in the Turkish studies program there, he says the language appeals to those seeking additional qualification as doctors, lawyers, and sociologists. Some learn as a result of their German-Turkish heritage.

Lori: Rose-Marie Neumann, Sayin-Schmitt’s colleague and co-author of several Turkish language learning books helped pioneer the first language courses for teachers in Essen in the 1970s. Newman says there has always been a market for the langauge, but lack of funding sometimes prevented adequate course offerings.

Neumann: “Lange Zeit mussten wir von Semester  zu Semester um die Finanzierung fuer Turkisch und auch für andere Sprachen kaempfen. Im moment ist das gesichert aber eigentlich gibt es einen grossen Bedarf an Kursen ueber das war wir anbieten koennen hinausgehend.”

Lori: For Leonora Thiele the ultimate goal is not only to read Harry Potter in Turkish - but to reach out to students and their parents who may not speak German as their first language.

Thiele: “I can set an example and show that I make mistakes as well, that it’s hard to learn a second - or third language. My most important message is that I’m able to show respect.”

Lori: While showing respect, she will continue brewing Turkish coffee at home, and she may just pick up a few deals as she bargains in Turkish at the fleamarket.

Thiele: “Türklerle Türkce konusmak istiyorum. I’m not sure if it’s right, but it means I love to talk Turkish with Turkish people.”

This is Lori Herber for DW in Essen.

Leonora Thiele, student University Duisburg-Essen
Bildungsbericht Ruhr, Educational Report of Ruhr Region, Waxmann Verlag, 2012 Munster
Melanie Goggin, Head of Foreign Languages,  Institute for  Optional Studies, University of Duisburg-Essen
Zühre Sayin-Schmitt, Turkish teacher at University of Duisburg-Essen, Institut for Optional Studies
Jennifer Wenderoth, business economist, Zentrum für Fremdsprachenausbildung, Ruhr University
Vincent Berger, student University Duisburg-Essen
Anastasia Steier-Claßen M.A., Wiss. Mitarbeiterin, Institute for Optional Studies at the University of Essen-Duisburg
Uta Wolfsdorf, SLI-Sprachlehrinstitut, University of Freiburg
Rose Marie Neumann, Turkish teacher, University of Duisburg-Essen, Institut for Optional Studies
Yavuz Köse, Professor, Asien-Afrika-Institut, Turkologie, Universitaet Hamburg
Yasar Yüksekkaya, Turkish lector at the University of Bamberg
Professor Dr. Eckehard Schulz, University of Leipzig, Orientalisches Institut

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