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Place of English Language in Turkey

English is used in many countries today either as a first language or as an alternative means for cross-cultural communication. Roughly 700 million people speak it. There has been an increase of 40 per cent in the last 20 years and a total that represents more than one-seventh of the world's population. English has become a major medium of international communication all over the world. Kachru states that "for the first time a natural language has attained the status of an international (universal) language, essentially for cross-cultural communication.

It was only after World War II that English gained popularity and prestige in Turkey. At this period there was a sudden increase in the motivation to learn English, and this tendency has continued since then. A great number of the loanwords that entered Turkish within the last 40 years are of English origin.  English loanwords are used in everyday conversation, on television and radio programs, and in political speeches. It is fashionable for young people to use English words and expressions in their everyday conversation.

English is one of the subjects taught in most of the government-sponsored secondary schools. French and German are the alternative languages, but the majority of the students elect English, and in most cases they have no other alternative. German has gained some popularity in recent years as a result of the close language contact through Turkish workers in Germany. Students are exposed to several hours of basic English instruction a week throughout the six years of secondary education; nevertheless at the end of this period the general level of proficiency is not very high. Attendance in foreign language classes is required during the university years as well, but once more, the success of these classes in general does not go beyond the acquisition of professional vocabulary.

Besides these traditional government schools, there exist a number of private and government-sponsored secondary schools in which the medium of instruction for most subjects is English. Most of these schools are located in the bigger cities such as Ankara, Istanbul, and Izmir, but in recent years such schools have been founded in other cities as well. Some of them have primary sections where instruction in English begins as early as the second year. Enrolment in these schools is subject to entrance exams, as attendance there is highly sought after. Among these schools, privately sponsored ones are in general open only to the children of wealthy families as the tuition fees are quite high. Such schools have a seven-year programme as opposed to the six-year programme of traditional secondary schools, and the first year is devoted to intensive language teaching.

Higher education is also available in two English-medium state universities. One of them is Bogazici University in Istanbul, which is actually a continuation of the former Robert College, an American enterprise up to 1973. The Middle East Technical University in Ankara was founded in the 1950s with English as the medium of instruction as it was originally planned to be a higher education centre of the Middle East. These universities have very high prestige and their graduates are readily hired both by the government and private enterprise, primarily due to their knowledge of English. Admittance to these universities is subject to the central university entrance examination organised from Ankara. Both universities offer preparatory English classes in the first year; during which intensive English courses are provided for those students who do not have the required proficiency to follow the classes in English. English has also become the medium of instruction in some newly-established private universities in Ankara and Istanbul such as Bilkent University, Baskent University (Ankara) and Koc and Bilgi Universities (Istanbul).

Under these educational circumstances, therefore, it becomes clear that there is a range of proficiency in the knowledge of English in Turkey ranging from people fluent in both spoken and written discourse to those who know only a few items of vocabulary.

More and people are aware of the fact that at least some knowledge of English is necessary to get ahead in life.  It brings high status to the individual socially, as well as extending job opportunitie. To give an example, graduates of English language and literature departments can easily obtain jobs in tourism, or the exchange departments of banks by virtue of their knowledge of English, while a number of economists who speak only Turkish are unemployed. Consequently, many parents, especially those from the middle class, do their best to have their children educated in one of the English-medium schools. They strongly feel that knowledge of English will be beneficial for their children. A big area of business has developed which concentrates on preparing students for the entrance examinations of these schools. Intelligence and aptitude tests are prepared to adrnit only the so-called brightest children. Admittance to an English-medium school, therefore, provides additional prestige to the individual.

At this point we may ask what the status of English in Turkey is. It certainly  is not a second language fulfilling certain functions in intra-national communication. Turkish is the national and official language spoken by all Turks and the majority of the minority groups. It is fully capable of meeting the communicational requirements of Turkish society. However, there exist a growing number of secondary schools and universities in which the medium of instruction is predominantly English. And the demand for such educational institutions grows increasingly. 

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