How to Have Conversations and Make Friends when you know 50 words


There is a question you find yourself asking when you walk around and when you are out in public. When do I start talking to people in Turkish? Now sure there are some things right now I need an English speaker for because they are really important and formal stuff. Stuff like my visa.

But I am talking more about stuff like buying a mattress or getting to know someone. Should I have a translator then? Because the benefit is that this person will be there to help me and I can have confidence in what I am doing. But the danger of using a translator to help you is this: You use a translator of some sort because you need one and you keep needing one because you use one.

Last week I wrote a post about having tourist Turkish that I knew at least 50 words and phrases. If you are at that point in the language. You can join with me and start having conversations and making friends knowing 50 words. I call this method “One Wording Conversations” (and yes it is that self explanatory). Its what I do.

I will break it down into 4 steps for how you can start conversations with people using the incredibly limited vocabulary. These four things I think will help you be (reasonably) successful at this.

  1. Start in low stakes scenarios- Go to that grocer or waiter you see everyday and try to say something. Try asking your neighbor how their day is. Ask a store owner about something you are thinking about buying. Start in these kinds of situations. They will build confidence nothing terrible can really go that wrong. And as you master these maybe you can try and move up the next level have coffee with a friend or try explain to the plumber whats wrong with your sink.
  2. Context Clues– When you don’t know most of what a person is saying it is critically important that you know the kinds things they could be saying. If you have no idea what they could be saying then it will be very hard to figure out what they are communicating based on the limited knowledge you have. But if you are at the grocer you know this is probably about the price of bananas. If you are talking to your neighbor they might be saying how they are doing.
  3. Gestures-Body Language is everything. It is important when you do know the language but it is everything when you know very little about what they are saying. What are they pointing at? Do they look frustrated with you? Are they holding a calculator with a number that looks like a price on it. Or is the man making a motion that if you buy this table from me know you can go around the market and shop and come back and pick it up right before you leave (Seriously this happened to me).
  4. Use your words – Use the words you do know to extrapolate the meaning of the sentence if you know the words for have and don’t have and they use them pay attention. You probably what they they are talking about. Take your nouns and verbs and you will be pleasantly suprised how well you do

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