The Turkish Language Program

Student Achievements

CLS scholarship awardees in Turkish

Awarded scholarship for summer 2013 - Andrew King

Awarded scholarship for summer 2013 - Andrew King

My Turkish learning experience started in 2012, when I began, without even so much as a Merhaba, taking hour long classes 4 days a week. By the end of my first semester, my class would be preparing 10 minute oral presentations, and I was shocked to discover I could stutter through conversations at the local Turkish deli. I applied and won a Critical Language Scholarship for the summer, and traveled to Bursa, Turkey with a group of about 20 American students. I spent the summer of 2013 living with a Turkish family and attending a branch of Ankara University which focuses on teaching Turkish to foreigners. My family was phenomenal, and the famous Turkish hospitality was everything you've heard about. They fed me copious amounts of food, couldn't understand why I wouldn't stay up til 2am every night drinking chai and smoking cigarettes, (school) and even took me on vacation to a resort! I also met numerous Turks my own age and explored the city, even hiking nearby Mount Uludağ with some friends. Within the CLS program, I visited various historical sites from Troy to Gallipoli, and with some of the free weekends, took in Istanbul. It was an amazing experience, and I'd recommend it to anyone! This semester, I've begun studying Ottoman Turkish, and hope to embark on a group translation project in the coming months. In the meantime, I am in Advanced Turkish class. I'm watching Turkish TV and discussing the news with my classmates to keep my Turkish sharp.

Awarded scholarship for summer 2012 - Christine Zurbach, Columbia College

Awarded scholarship for summer 2012 - Christine Zurbach, Columbia College

Hello! My name is Christine Zurbach, a Columbia College senior majoring in Middle East, South Asian and African Studies. I began in Beginning Turkish 1 at Columbia and applied for, and won, a STARTALK grant that spring. Awarded by the U.S. Department of Defense to undergraduates, graduates, and teachers to promote the teaching of less-commonly taught languages, STARTALK funded me to spend three weeks in Bloomington, Indiana, teaching Turkish to elementary school students and taking teaching methods classes at Indiana University-Bloomington. That next year, I continued with Turkish and then won a Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) for the following summer to study Turkish for 2 months in Bursa, Turkey. Like NSLI-Y for high school students, the CLS funds intensive language study in critical languages for currently enrolled undergraduate and graduate students. The following (my junior) fall, I studied abroad in Paris, France, but obtained permission to continue my study of Turkish there, which ensured that I could continue into Advanced Turkish II when I returned in the spring. I then accepted an internship at The Ottoman Bank Museum Archives under SALT-Galata in Istanbul, Turkey for the summer of 2013, in which I utilized Turkish as my primarily language of communication in my work environment. I funded this experience through support from the Middle East Institute and the Columbia Undergraduate Scholars Program. All of these experiences, in different ways, greatly enhanced my knowledge of Turkish and my understanding of my academic studies in the MESAAS department. By staying engaged with Turkish each summer, I did not have the opportunity for my language skills to fall into disuse and was able to build upon and maintain what I learned in my amazing Turkish language classes at Columbia. The intensive natures of the NSLI-Y and CLS fostered rapid improvements in my Turkish, particularly since I lived with host families and spent all my weekdays learning the language. By teaching Turkish through STARTALK, I was forced to move well out of my comfort zone and approaching Turkish from a teacher's, rather than a learner's, perspective helped me better understand the language. After I became more advanced, an internship in Turkey was a logical next step, since it allowed me to practice my language skills in a professional setting and build upon what I learned more independently. Lastly, the skills I have gained have transferred back to my academic studies as I am now using many Turkish primary and secondary sources for my thesis. I would recommend all of these experiences and more for Turkish language learners in the MESAAS department. For questions, advice, and more, please feel free to contact me at

Summer 2012 - Damian Harris-Hernandez

Summer 2012 - Damian Harris-Hernandez

If someone had told me during my first semester of Turkish that come graduation I would be writing ten-page papers in the language, I would not have believed them. But during my last year, after only two and a half years of language study, I did write two such papers. As with any language, the more work you put into it, the better the results, but with Turkish, I felt the return was exponential.  My professors' effective teaching methods, the language's logical grammar, and my own efforts and enthusiasm made this success possible.  Professors Ihsan and Züleyha Çolak encouraged us to shape the class to our needs and interests.  During my first semester I gave an oral presentation to the class about the science of pickling, and I started a Turkish-language blog, The blog challenged me to learn new vocabulary and grammar to express my thoughts. The following semester I began learning Ottoman Turkish and created the first ever Ottoman-language blog, In Ottoman class we read a detective novel from 1921, which turned me on to the exciting genre of Ottoman detective fiction. I pursued this interest and turned it into my senior thesis, which won departmental honors. I used my language skills to research primary and secondary sources written in both modern and Ottoman Turkish. The Turkish program cultivated these skills by gradually introducing us to more difficult texts. In Intermediate we read and discussed newspaper articles and columns, and by the time we reached Advanced, we were plowing through novels and scholarly essays. At the same time, we were writing our own academic papers in Turkish. While at Columbia, I also took advantage of the many scholarships available to Turkish learners. I spent a summer in Turkey on the Critical Language Scholarship program. The Foreign Language Area Studies fellowship covered half my college tuition for one year. Since graduating, I earn money translating Ottoman and modern Turkish texts into English. My current accounts include feminist Ottoman "Dear Abby" columns and a Grand Vizier's reliopolitical manifesto. I plan to complete a Turkish-language masters program in Istanbul next year.

Awarded for 2012 - Harun Buljina, Graduate Student, Department of History

See Harun's Ottoman summer entry for description of experience.


Redhouse prize winners

2012 - Damian Harris-Hernandez

Awarded in 2012 - Damian Harris-Hernandez

See Damien's CLS entry for description of experience.








2011 - Allan Macleod

redhouse prize for best progess, allan macleod

The Turkish program at Columbia is by far the best language training I have received in any language. My favorite aspect of the course is the focus on speaking and listening, areas that frequently get neglected in language programs. Also very beneficial is the Deep Approach method the instructors use, which gives students great freedom to pursue personal interests in the language. One student might focus on some aspect of the vast Ottoman history, another might investigate the sociology of Turkish communities in Germany, and another might use Turkish to learn more about the fast-growing economy of Turkey. In our class, we regularly have substantive discussions in Turkish on a variety of topics. I have been surprised at how quickly all the students improved, but it's not a fluke: the program here is first-rate.

Fulbright scholars

Awarded for Fall 2013 - Benjamin Henderson

Awarded in 2011 - Bruce Burnside, Graduate Student

Studying Turkish was one of the high points of my time at Columbia. The experience - including six months studying abroad in Turkey and culminating in writing a research paper in Turkish - shaped my undergraduate career. The education and experience I received also opened pathways for me after graduation. I am currently completing a Fulbright grant as an English Language Teaching Assistant at Adana Science and Technology University in Adana. While knowledge of Turkish is not required for the grant, the training I received through the Columbia Turkish Program not only aided my application immensely but have served as a indispensable background for life at the university and in Turkey.

Overseas exchange programs in Turkey

Ottoman summer program participation

Awarded for summer 2013, CLS awarded for 2012 - Harun Buljina, Graduate Student, Department of History

During my time at Columbia I have had the privilege of participating in two summer Turkish programs: the U.S. State Department Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) in 2012 and Yildiz Teknik University's Summer Ottoman Caligraphy and Paleography Program in 2013. Both of these were fantastic opportunities and proved invaluable in my continuing effort to master Turkish as a research language.

The CLS took me to Bursa, providing a thoroughly-structured program at a Turkish language institute, home-stay with a local family, and even a language partner to further practice one-on-one conversation. Beyond the rich and rewarding experience of cultural immersion, the award also allowed me to make major gains in my modern Turkish, particularly in terms of speaking and listening comprehension.

These skills then carried over to Yildiz, which, while entailing a very different focus, was similarly useful for me. From being almost entirely unable to read Ottoman manuscript styles, I finished the course with a firm foundation in Rika and Divani scripts. This knowledge, together with the opportunity to live in Istanbul and become familiar with its various archives and research libraries, has been a tremendous benefit to my historical studies since.

The fantastic Turkish program at Columbia has undoubtedly underpinned these accomplishments. I feel particularly fortunate to have worked with ?hsan and Züleyha Çolak, whose enthusiasm and commitment to their students helped me in everything from writing academic papers in modern Turkish to first learning to read printed Ottoman texts. My experiences therefore leave me confident that the people and resources present here at Columbia present a fantastic opportunity for students interested in the Turkish language and its cultural and historical heritage.

Awarded for summer 2013 - Adrien Zakar, Graduate Student, Department of History

Awarded for summer 2013 - Adrien Zakar, Graduate Student, Department of History

My experience with the Turkish program at MESAAS was extremely fruitful. The combination of communicative and deep approaches to learning, the small-classes, and high-caliber teaching helped me hone my language skills in both Ottoman and Modern Turkish and sharpen my speaking abilities. When I travelled to Turkey for pre-dissertation research, I was not only able to communicate with local people but also well-prepared to read Ottoman documents written in a broad array of different scripts from manuscript to print. The Turkish program at Columbia also hosts many social events throughout the year for students to discuss their shared interest in Turkish culture, history and society, which makes for a unique learning experience.


Summer 2012-2013 - Cecile Urmenyhazi, Barnard College, Ethnomusicology Major

Awarded in 2011 - Bruce Burnside, Graduate Student

I studied Turkish for two years, but by the end of the first semester, I felt I had a firm understanding of how the language functions, and a significant grammar and vocabulary base to work with. The professors teach in engaging and fun ways, and this is reflected in the textbooks and other learning materials. My peers in Turkish classes have always grown close, creating a supportive and enthusiastic environment, and making learning Turkish one of the best experiences I have had in college. As a class, we have taken trips to Turkish restaurants, stores, and cultural centers. There are also a few Turkish groups at Columbia that host cultural events and film screenings which we were welcome to attend and even help organize.

During my first year of studying Turkish, I applied for the FLAS with the help of my Turkish professors and received funds to study Turkish at Tömer, Ankara University's language school, in Istanbul over the summer. The following year I received The Middle East Institute of Columbia University's Summer Internship Support stipend and used it to return to Istanbul and intern for TurkishWIN, the Turkish Women's International Network. These summers in Turkey were amazing, enriching, and of course, great for improving Turkish.

The Turkish program at Columbia has made such a positive impact on my college experience, on my life and the opportunities available to me that I am considering moving to Turkey and working there!

Awarded in 2011 - Bruce Burnside, Graduate Student

Awarded in 2011 - Bruce Burnside, Graduate Student

Learning Turkish has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my time at Columbia. As anthropologist, language skill is of critical importance for my research. As my research field extended from Germany to Turkey in my study of migrants, I knew I would need Turkish for everything from interviews to primary sources. I am very fortunate not only to have had great teachers in my Turkish classes, but also to have two key FLAS opportunities. In 2011 I received the summer FLAS which enabled me to study at the excellent Dilmer language school in Istanbul for eight weeks. This was a formative experience for my research in Turkey. I have had a chance in the 2013-2014 to continue my study of Turkish at Columbia with the Academic Year FLAS. I am grateful to the department and instructors for such an excellent language learning experience.