TURKISH AS A FOREIGN LANGUAGE COURSE: FROM EXCHANGE STUDENTS PERSPECTIVES * ABSTRACT

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1 - International Periodical For The Languages, Literature and History of Turkish or Turkic, p , ANKARA-TURKEY TURKISH AS A FOREIGN LANGUAGE COURSE: FROM EXCHANGE STUDENTS PERSPECTIVES * Seyit Ahmet ÇAPAN ** Ufuk AKDEMİR ABSTRACT Cultural exchange programs form a good platform for the recent but strong objective of promoting mobility among people of different cultures. As learning the language of the host country is a vital component of familiarization with the target culture, language courses offered in these programs play a major role in facilitating participants lives during their stay in the host country. Hence, the present study intends to investigate perceptions about the effectiveness and relevance of a Turkish as a Foreign Language course in helping participants of such a program to sustain their life in the host country. To that end, a mixed-type research method is adopted in the study. Apart from structured interviews, a questionnaire comprising 18 items has been used to collect learners views about the Turkish language course. Participants in this study who were selected through convenience sampling were 25 international undergradute students visiting Turkey within the Erasmus Exchange Program. While the quantitative data were analyzed through SPSS, interview transcriptions were exposed to content analysis. The results indicate that despite the participants positive views about the effectiveness of the content and procedures of the course, there are still concerns regarding the relevance of the course to successfully handle challenges of social life in the target culture. Finally, the study hints about how to improve such language courses based on the participants suggesstions including focusing more on productive skills, providing contact with native speakers of the target language and using multimodal tools for delivery of the course content. Key Words: culture, exchange, mobility, language. * Bu makale Crosscheck sistemi tarafından taranmış ve bu sistem sonuçlarına göre orijinal bir makale olduğu tespit edilmiştir. ** Res. Asst. Çukurova Universiy English Language Teaching,

2 256 Seyit Ahmet ÇAPAN Ufuk AKDEMİR YABANCI DİL OLARAK TÜRKÇE: DEĞİŞİM ÖĞRENCİLERİNİN PERSPEKTİFİNDEN ÖZET Kültürel değişim programları, farklı kültürlere ait insanlar arasında hareketliliği arttırma gibi yeni fakat güçlü bir amaç için iyi bir platform oluşturmaktadır. Gidilen ülkenin dilini öğrenmenin hedeflenen kültürle tanışma adına önemli bir unsur olduğu göz önünde bulundurulduğunda bu tür programlarda sunulan dil kursları gidilen ülkede kaldıkları süre boyunca katılımcıların hayatlarını kolaylaştırmada önemli bir rol oynar. Dolayısıyla bu çalışma Yabancı Dil olarak Türkçe dersinin, bu tür bir program katılımcılarının gidilen ülkede hayatlarını devam ettirmelerine yardımcı olma konusundaki etkililiği ve uygunluğuna dair algıları incelemeyi hedeflemektedir. Bu amaçla, bu çalışmada karma tür araştırma yöntemi benimsenmiştir. Yapılandırılmış görüşmelerin yanı sıra, öğrencilerin Türkçe dersi hakkındaki görüşlerini toplamak için 18 maddeden oluşan bir anket kullanılmıştır. Bu çalışmadaki uygunluk örnekleme yöntemiyle seçilmiş katılımcılar, Erasmus Değişim Programı çerçevesinde Türkiye yi ziyaret eden 25 uluslar arası lisans öğrencisi idi. Nicel veriler SPSS ile analiz edilirmiş görüşme çevriyazıları ise içerik analizine tabi tutulmuştur. Sonuçlar göstermiştir ki katılımcıların dersin içerik ve prosedürlerinin etkililiği hakkında olumlu görüşleri olmasına rağmen hedef kültür içerisindeki sosyal yaşamın zorluklarıyla başarılı bir şeklide başa çıkmak için bu dersin uygunluğuna dair bir takım kaygılar vardır. Son olarak bu çalışma, katılımcıların üretici beceriler üzerinde daha çok durulması, hedef dili anadili olarak konuşanlarla iletişim kurulması ve ders içeriğinin aktarılmasında çokmodlu araçların kullanılmasını da içeren bazı önerilerine dayanarak bu tür dil derslerinin nasıl geliştirileceğine ilişkin ipuçları vermektedir. Anahtar Kelimeler: kültür, değişim, hareketlilik, dil. 1. Introduction Erasmus Program is an education, training, youth and sports program which fosters mobility among European countries. Though it started with a few countries in 1987 (ec.europa.eu), the number of member countries increased to 33, including the participation of Turkey as a full member in 2004 (European Commission, 2014). Erasmus program, currently entitled as Erasmus+, is the European Union's flagship education and training program, which is firmly determined to reach at about 4 million European people to study and work abroad by the year 2020 with the cooperation of higher education institutions across Europe (European Commission, 2014). Erasmus can be considered as an exchange program giving students a chance to spend some period of their university education, which may extend from 3 to 12 months, in another country with the financial support of the European Commission. The general aim of the program is to create a European Higher Education Area and foster co-operation among higher education institutions with several mutual benefits. First, students participating in the program can learn more about the culture of the host country while at the same time, they enjoy the multi-cultural environment as there will be other students coming from different countries. Second, they can take advantage of

3 Turkish As A Foreign Language Course: From Exchange Students Perspectives 257 the possibility of making several international friends. Furthermore, participation in Erasmus program offers a precious opportunity for the students to be engaged in exchanges about cultural components. Lastly and more importantly, they will have the chance to learn the language of the hosting country. Thus, on the one hand interaction between the students native culture and that of the hosting country is ensured, on the other hand the prestige of the hosting country is boosted as its language is spread among incoming Erasmus students (Ungan, 2006). Since its participation, Turkey has been an active member of the Erasmus program with its enthusiasm in sending and welcoming students to and from other members. Apparently, hundreds of bilateral agreements have been made, through which there are many outgoing and incoming students who visit each other s institutes every year. In accordance with language policies of the European Union as stated in the Common European Framework of References (CEFR), this program provides an invaluable opportunity to increase linguistic variety in European countries. For this reason, most members of the program including Turkey offer language courses to incoming students in an attempt to increase popularity of their languages among European countries. Indeed, as language learning within the target community helps Erasmus students better internalize not only linguistic competence but also socio-cultural and pragmatic competences, these courses serve a significant function in achieving the cultural and linguistic diversity, which is explicitly stated in different sections of the CEFR. With this in mind, incoming Erasmus students to Turkey are offered a Turkish as a foreign language (TFL) course. Considering challenges that incoming Erasmus students may encounter, learning Turkish is an essential component of the toolkit that will help them make the best of their stay in Turkey. As the TFL course is considered a life vest for Erasmus students, the present study is geared to delving deeper into the effectiveness of such a course on incoming Erasmus students at a public university in Turkey. It investigates their perceptions about the content, materials and quality of instruction included in the course. Furthermore, the study intends to elicit their suggestions to promote the effectiveness of the course. Therefore, the following research questions set the basis for this study: 1. How effectively does TFL course help Erasmus students to survive in the target country? 2. How does the topics covered in TFL course relate to their real life? 3. What changes do they suggest for TFL course? 2. Literature Review Teaching languages as a foreign language has long been a matter of extensive research. Compared to those carried on other languages, studies specifically focusing on teaching/learning TFL are far from being sufficient both in number and diversity of topics (Karababa, 2009). One of the main reasons underlying the lack of systematic research on TFL, as Yildiz (2013) argues, is concerned with an insufficient number of programs offering professional training on TFL. As there are very few universities which have undergraduate and graduate TFL programs, there is a vital concern regarding capabilities of practitioners currently working in TFL contexts. Moreover, Karababa (2009) proposes that TFL is suffering from being a relatively recent topic of interest among researchers, which may be considered as another factor underlying the poverty of research in the field of TFL. Nevertheless, the radical increase in the number of people learning TFL has marked an intriguing turning point for this field. Thus, various studies focusing on different aspects of TFL have emerged since the early 2000s. In a study on the use of computer mediated communication in TFL classes, Tum (2012) analyzed asynchronous texts sent by TFL learners, and revealed that TFL learners had difficulty with structural differences between their mother tongue and Turkish, particularly with inflectional system in Turkish. Furthermore, Cakir (2006) indicated

4 258 Seyit Ahmet ÇAPAN Ufuk AKDEMİR that using audio-visual materials such as songs and videos strongly facilitated the process of learning TFL. Similarly, Keskin (2011) postulated that cultural components embedded in songs boosted learners motivation to learn Turkish. As to the role of learning and teaching environment, various studies (Gocer, 2008; Karababa & Caliskan, 2013; Sis, 2007) highlighted that employing different teaching methods and materials could significantly affect success in learning TFL. On the one hand, Gocer (2008) suggested that enriching the classroom with supporting audio-visual materials designed in line with learners needs and proficiency levels should be given utmost attention while preparing TFL classrooms. On the other hand, Karababa (2009) emphasized that resorting to various tools and course books would contribute to the quality of teaching/ learning procedures. In addition, Karababa & Caliskan (2013) investigated practitioners views about possible sources of teacher knowledge required for teaching TFL. They came up with 11 sources of knowledge, which they called teacher competencies, ranging from knowledge of structural features through knowledge of a lingua franca to knowledge of different communication and teaching skills. More relevant to the purposes of the present study, Ozturk, Irk, Berberoglu, Bayezit & Boyacioglu (2010) conducted a study on possible needs of incoming Erasmus students and features of the Turkish course planned to be offered to such students. They indicated that communication with people and transportation were two leading reasons for learning Turkish. However, the most surprising result in their study was the finding that in contrast to English, Erasmus students reported a relatively less need to use Turkish throughout their stay in Turkey. Hence, Ozturk et al. (2010) stressed that knowledge of a foreign language, in particular English, as a lingua franca between the TFL instructors and Erasmus students would have a major impact on effectiveness of TFL classes. Finally, Demiral (2013) unraveled that learners familiarity with components of Turkish culture fostered their comprehension of reading texts in TFL classrooms. 3. Methodology 3.1. Participants There were 25 participants, all of whom were international students visiting Turkey within the Erasmus Exchange Program. The participants were selected through convenience sampling. There were 10 males and 15 females coming from different countries. They were all taking a selective Turkish course at a public university, and the only language common to all was English. The mean age rate of the participants was 21. They were majoring in different departments including engineering, economics, and dentistry. None of the participants had received any training in Turkish before they began the course Instruments In this study, data were collected via a questionnaire and structured interviews. The questionnaire was designed to obtain the participants perceptions about different aspects of the Turkish course offered to incoming Erasmus students. It consisted of 18 items scored on a 5-point Likert-type scale ranging from strongly agree (SA) to strongly disagree (SD). The questionnaire was prepared by the researchers, and improved by expert and peer correction. The questionnaire was divided into three sub-sections addressing a) effectiveness of the course, b) relativity of the course to real-life and c) suggestions for changes. Interviews, however, consisted of only one question, i.e. what further suggestions they would make in order to improve the quality of the TFL course. 7 participants volunteered to participate in the interviews, which were conducted one week after administering the questionnaire.

5 Turkish As A Foreign Language Course: From Exchange Students Perspectives Data Analysis The participants attended to the Turkish language course for 14 weeks before they were given the questionnaire. The classes were taught by an instructor who had extensive experience in teaching Turkish as an L2 to speakers of various languages. Thus, the possible risk of researcher bias and the participants concerns about their grades were minimized (Fraenkel & Wallen, 2009). In this descriptive study, percentages of the participants responses to the questionnaire items were calculated via SPSS. In addition, the interviewees responses were transcribed by the researchers, and the suggestions made in them were graded based on their frequency of reference. 4. Findings 4.1. How effectively does Turkish course help Erasmus students to survive? The analysis of the participants responds to the first section of the questionnaire revealed that a great majority of the participants (41,4%) held the view that Turkish course was sufficient for daily needs (Item 1) whereas only a limited number of them thought the opposite (See Table 1). Though there was not any clear-cut difference, 27,6% of the participants thought that Turkish course was useful to learn daily phrases (Item 2). However, an intriguing and indeed, promising finding was that almost half (44,8%) of the participants agreed that Turkish course gave them the opportunity to communicate with native speakers (Item 3). Although more than half of the participants agreed/strongly agreed that the course was beneficial in offering exposure to the target language, one third of the participants reported to be hesitant about receiving sufficient exposure. Yet nobody surprisingly rejected the idea that there was enough exposure to the target language in the classroom (Item 4). Likewise, most of the participants (31%) thought that Turkish course focused more on grammar than productive skills- i.e. speaking and writing- (Item 5). Nevertheless, a remarkable finding was that more than half of the participants supported the idea that the materials used in the classroom were effective in preparing them for real communicative situations (Item 6). Table 1. Effectiveness of Turkish Course for Daily Needs Items SA A NS D SD Item 1 17,2 41,4 10,3 10,3 6,9 Item 2 13,8 27,6 20,7 20,7 3,4 Item 3 13,8 44,8 20,7 3,4 3,4 Item 4 17,2 34,5 34,5 0 0 Item 5 10, ,6 17,2 0 Item 6 10,3 44,8 17,2 10,3 3, How do the topics covered in this course relate to their real life? According to the data gathered about relevance of the course to real-life situations, almost two third of the participants (65,5%) agreed/strongly agreed that the course book included a sufficient number of examples of real-life situations (Item 7) (See Table 2). However, the analysis of their responses indicated that they did not have a clear idea about whether social needs constituted the locus of the learning process, since one third of the participants reported to be unsure about the role of learners social needs within the course objectives (Item 8). Nonetheless, there was a clear consensus among the participants as over half of them (62,1%) supported that extreme examples were avoided in the course (Item 9). Moreover, 62% of the participants agreed/strongly agreed on the view that practical information given in this course made their life easier whereas only a limited number of them (10.3%) objected to the practicality of the course

6 260 Seyit Ahmet ÇAPAN Ufuk AKDEMİR (Item 10). Still, almost a quarter of the participants (20,7) strongly agreed that topics covered in the classroom were detached from social life, which diverged from their positive reflections about the relevance of the Turkish course to real-life situations. Table 2. Relativity of Turkish Course to Real Life Items SA A NS D SD Item 7 20,7 44,8 13,8 3,4 3,4 Item 8 10,3 17,2 34,5 13,8 10,3 Item 9 13,8 48,3 17,2 6,9 3,4 Item 10 17,2 44,8 13,8 6,9 3,4 Item 11 20,7 17,2 24,1 17,2 6, What changes do they suggest for this course? As to the participants opinions about improving this course, over half of them (51,7%) suggested that Turkish course should focus more on productive skills (Item 12) (See Table 3). Furthermore, a great majority (37,9%) of the participants asked for variety in the number of instructors as they favored for the view that different instructors should be provided for different skills (Item 13). Also, most of the participants (44,8) argued for inviting native speakers of Turkish to the classroom in order for more realistic communication opportunities (Item 14). Another important finding based on the participants responses was that a great number of them (48,3%) hoped that instructors should use English to explain key points, which could be considered a clear call for a lingua franca in this course (Item 15). Moreover, over half of the participants (51,7%) strongly agreed with the suggestion that the course should offer more information about Turkish culture (Item 16). Still another vital reflection on the course procedures emerged from the participants (41,4%) strong desire for the use of more visual and auditory materials in the Turkish course (Item 17). Finally, a great number of the participants (37,9%) compromised on the view that there should be more interaction in order to make the course more efficient (Item 8). Table 3. Suggested Possible Changes Items SA A NS D SD Item 12 20,7 51,7 6,9 3,4 3,4 Item 13 10,3 37,9 17,2 13,8 6,9 Item 14 20,7 44,8 10,3 3,4 6,9 Item 15 24,1 48,3 10,3 3,4 3,4 Item16 51,7 20,7 6,9 6,9 3,4 Item 17 41,4 17,2 13,8 10,3 3,4 Item ,9 13,8 3,4 0 Apart from abovementioned suggestions, the interviews conducted with the participants yielded a few other but noteworthy suggestions. Enumerated on their frequency of reference by the interviewees, these suggestions included interactive activities, culture-specific and discoursespecific information, technological devices, and more advanced knowledge of English on the part of instructors. Analysis of the interview transcriptions indicated that all the participants unanimously agreed on the need for more interactive activities like drama and role-play. Moreover, including more culture- and discourse-specific information in the course book was the second most referred suggestion. Indeed, the participants held that TFL course should be more informative

7 Turkish As A Foreign Language Course: From Exchange Students Perspectives 261 about what specific structures should be used in such discourses as asking directions, buying tickets at a railway station and making hotel reservations. Similarly, interviewees strongly argued that TFL instructors should incorporate more technology into the classroom so that TFL classes would be more attractive for learners. Finally, the argument that TFL instructors should make more use of English to deliver the course content was repeated in the interviews. 5. Discussion Cultural exchange programs play an important role in forming a common ground where people from different cultural and linguistic background meet. While Turkey has developed its own students exchange programs like Farabi and Mevlana Exhange Programs, Erasmus Exchange Program still holds a prominent position among others as a main tool for establishing the ultimate goals of plurilingualism and pluriculturalism as stated in the CEFR published in 2001 by the European Council. Accordingly, the present study investigated the efficiency of the TFL course offered optionally to incoming Erasmus students at a public university in Turkey. The study revealed a positive portrayal of the TFL course with regard to its effectiveness in serving for the participants survival in the target country. Indeed, there was a general tendency that the course facilitated their life by addressing their daily needs through materials reported to be effectively designed. Furthermore, the course was reported to be effective in offering daily phrases, which supported Demiral s (2013) proposition that language was a representation of social and cultural background, rather than being a mere tool for communication. However, the study indicated a dire need for more opportunities to communicate with native speakers of the target language as a form of exposure to the target language. Similarly, given Keskin s (2011) argument that culture should be implicitly taught via linguistic forms, the call for more emphasis on productive skills confirmed that the L2 course designers should be more careful to include more chances for L2 use in the classroom. As for the relevance of the course to daily life, the study demonstrated a clear success in establishing close bonds with what incoming Erasmus students needed in sustaining their life in the target country. Moreover, providing such a course to incoming students was found to perform practical functions by giving them tips about how to handle possible problems. Nonetheless, the study pointed to a lack of consistency between topics covered in the course and the participants social needs, which might curtail the participants sociolinguistic development. As CEFR (2001: 13) makes clear that sociolinguistic component strictly affects all language communication between representatives of different cultures, an inhibition regarding social aspects of language may put strong limitations on the effectiveness of the TFL course. With this respect, this study supported Karababa s (2009) proposition that practitioners and material designers should pay great attention to approximating the course content and activities to social requirements of language use. Considering the changes suggested to improve the efficiency of the Turkish course, the study unraveled that more emphasis should be placed on productive skills by providing more opportunities for communication. In particular, the finding that the course should offer contact with native speakers and different instructors for different skills highlighted a potent role for exposure to the target language from various resources. This was also consistent with Gocer (2008) as he argued that seeking out ways of providing instruction for each skill by specialized instructors contributed to learners proficiency in the target language. Still, this study gave credence to previous research (Karababa & Caliskan, Ozturk et al., 2010) in that it pointed to a strong need for TFL instructors to know a foreign language, in particular English. Indeed, the present study indicated that TFL instructors should know English as a lingua franca so that they could more easily deliver the content and help learners to handle learning difficulties. Furthermore, the study

8 262 Seyit Ahmet ÇAPAN Ufuk AKDEMİR demonstrated a need for incorporating multimodal tools for presenting the course content in the classroom. This was congruent with previous research (Cakir, 2006; Keskin, 2011) which firmly established the use of visual and auditory materials in promoting better learning. Therefore, one can conclude that employing visual and auditory materials may foster efficiency of the course as this can make the course more engaging for learners with different preferences. 6. Conclusion Provision of language courses in cultural programs like Erasmus is an important aspect of familiarizing incoming students with the culture of the host country as well as giving them a reliable tool to sustain their daily life. Moreover, it facilitates the students accommodation into the social conventions of the host country. With this regard, this study presented an investigation into Erasmus students perceptions about effectiveness of the language course they received during their visit to Turkey. The study revealed positive attitudes towards efficiency and relevance of the course content and procedures in helping the incoming students cope with the challenges of living in the host country. Though the study found that the course was relevant to the students daily life, it highlighted a need for more emphasis on integration of communicative activities into the course procedures so as to better abridge the gap between the classroom and the social life beyond classroom walls. Moreover, a Turkish course addressing incoming Erasmus students should involve use of additional materials like audiovisuals in order to strengthen the delivery of the course content apart from promoting the students engagement in the classroom activities. Furthermore, it is desirable that instructors working in a TFL context know a foreign language for delivering the content more efficiently. Nevertheless, it should be noted that the results of this study were limited in terms of the data collected and the number of participants. The fact that the data were collected through a questionnaire and a structured interview, which had their own restrictions, put a major limitation on the interpretation of the findings. Finally, the number of participants was too limited to yield generalizable results. Hence, prospective studies should include larger number of participants in addition to employing various data collection tools. 7. REFERENCES CAKİR, I. (2006). The use of video as an audio-visual material in foreign language teaching classroom. The Turkish Online Journal of Educational Tecnology, 5(4), DEMİRAL, H. (2013). Cultural components used by learners of Turkish as a foreign language for reading comprehension. Anthropologist, 16(3), European Commission. (2014, March). Retrieved from European Council (2001). Common European Framework of References for Languages. FRAENKEL, J. R. & WALLEN, N. E. (2009). How to design and evaluate research in educations (7th Edition). New York: McGraw-Hill. GOCER, A. (2008). Teaching strategies and class practives of the teachers who teach Turkish as a foreign language (A qualitative research). Journal of Social Sciences, 4(4), KARABABA, Z. C. C. (2009). Teaching Turkish as a foreign language and problems encountered. Ankara University Journal of Faculty of Educational Sciences, 42(2),

9 Turkish As A Foreign Language Course: From Exchange Students Perspectives 263 KARABABA, Z. C. & CALİSKAN, G. (2013). Teacher competencies in teaching Turkish as a foreign language. Procedia- Social and Behavioral Sciences, 70, KESKİN, F. (2011). Using songs as audio materials in teaching Turkish as a foreign language. The Turkish Online Journal of Educational Technology, 10(4), OZTURK, O. K., IRK, H. S., BERBEROGLU, L., BAYEZİT, H. & BOYACİOGLU, U. (2010). Erasmus programı ile gelen öğrencilerin hangi Türkçe dil yetilerine gereksinimleri olabilir? Bu öğrencilere ne tür bir Türkçe öğretilmelidir?. 3rd International Turkish Education and Teaching Conference, 1-3 July 2010, Turkey. SİS, N. (2007). Preparing syllabus at teaching Turkish as a foreign language: Some considerations., 2(2), TUM, G. (2012). Asynchronous computer-mediated communication in teaching Turkish as a foreign language. The Journal of Academic Social Sciences Studies, 5(4), UNGAN, S. (2006, August). Avrupa birliğinin dil öğretimine karşı tutumu ve Türkçe nin yabancı dil olarak öğretilmesi. Dumlupınar Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Dergisi, 15, YILDIZ, U. (2013). The need for a department of teaching Turkish as a foreign language: A proposal. Procedia- Social and Behavioral Sciences, 70, Acknowledgement We would like to express our deepest gratitude to Assoc. Prof. Dr. Arda Arıkan, Akdeniz University (Turkey), for providing intellectual inspiration to conduct this study and proofreading an earlier manuscript of this paper.

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