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Turkish coffee house. Photo: Phil and Pam

These 12 extraordinarily useful Turkish phrases – along with audio files of their pronunciation – are a good starting point if you are preparing for a trip to Turkey.

I LOVE LEARNING LANGUAGES. I speak German, French, and Italian; and a bit of Russian and Dutch. I taught myself enough Japanese that I was able to carry on basic conversations while in Tokyo on a two-month singing engagement.

So when I decided to move to Turkey, I figured I’d be fluent in about a year. I’ve now been here a year and a half, and I’m still struggling with the language. I can get by, but I’m a long way from where I thought I’d be. The alphabet may look more familiar than Japanese or Russian, but the complexity of the grammar and the counter-intuitive syntax makes Turkish the most difficult language I’ve tried to learn.

Fortunately, Turkish is full of set phrases which can help a visitor get through many situations. Here are 12 extraordinarily useful Turkish phrases to help you prepare for a visit to Turkey.

[Editor's note: Below each subtitle is the phonetic pronunciation in English with the word stress in italics, along with the pronunciation written using the International Phonetic Alphabet. Within the word description, the links point to audio files of the author saying the words.]

1. hoş geldiniz — it’s nice you came / welcome

hosh geldiniz — /hɔ:ʃgɜ:ldɪnɪz/

Hoş geldiniz – “it’s nice you came”, or “welcome” – is the first thing you’ll hear when you arrive anywhere, whether at a friend’s house or at a restaurant.

2. hoş bulduk — I find it nice

hosh bullduk — /hɔ:ʃbʊldʊk/

The response to hoş geldiniz is hoş bulduk, which means “I find it nice”. It’s not necessary to reply when entering a shop or restaurant, but it would be rather rude to omit it when invited into a home.

3. buyurun — please / here you are / walk this way / etc

buoyroon — /bʊjrʊn/

The next thing you’ll hear is buyurun, which is comparable to “prego” in Italian or “bitte” in German. It’s often translated as “please” in English, but actually lutfen is please.

Buyurun is more like “here you are”, “walk this way”, “come in to my shop”, and so on. You would also say it if, for example, you wanted to give your seat on the bus to an elderly person. Say buyurun teyze – “take my seat, auntie” – or buyurun amca – “here you go, uncle”.

Everyone in Turkey is family, and the polite way to address someone in your age group is either abla – “big sister” – or abi – “big brother”. You call a young boy oglum – “my son” – and a little girl kizim – “my daughter”.

4. teşekkür ederim — thank you

teshekur ederim — /tɜ:ʃɜ:kʊrɜ:dɜ:ri:m

You probably already know from your guidebook that teşekkür ederim means “thank you”, but do you know just how useful this phrase is? If your host tries to refill your plate for the third time, say teşekkür ederim. If someone asks how you are, answer with teşekkür ederim. It’s especially handy when deflecting the touts trying to get you to enter their shops, because it’s a polite way of saying, “I’m not interested”.

5. elenize sağılık — health to your hands

eleneezey sahlik — /ɜ:lɜ:ni:zesɑ:lɪk/

To thank your host for cooking, say elenize sağılık – “health to your hands” – rather than teşekkür ederim. This is generally said in the home, but can also be said to the teyze you see slaving over the outdoor grill on which she made your gözleme.

6. afiyet olsun — may it be good for you

afeeyet olsun — /ɑ:fi:jɜ:t ɔ:lsʊn/

Remember the older woman you just bought the gözleme from? When you thanked her by saying elenize sağılık, she replied with afiyet olsun. This is probably translated in your guide book as “bon apetit”, which is why waiters who speak a bit of English say “enjoy your meal” as you are leaving the restaurant. But afiyet olsun actually means “may it be good for you”, which is why it can be said before, during or after a meal.

7. güle güle kullanin — use it smiling

gewlay gewlay koolahnin — /gyleɪgyleɪku:lɑ:nɪn/

Almost any time someone buys something, güle güle kullanin – “use it smiling” – is an appropriate thing to tell them. It reminds me of when my grandparents used to say “wear it in good health” whenever I bought an article of clothing. I never heard anyone else in America use this phrase, so it must have come from somewhere in the “old country”.

8. kolay gelsin — may it come easy

kohleye gelsin — /kolaɪgɜ:lsɪn/

When approaching someone who’s working, it’s nice to start with kolay gelsin, which means “may it come easy”. When approaching an employee at Turkcell or Turkish Airlines, for example, kolay gelsin sets a much better tone for your conversation than, “Do you speak English?”

9. Allah Allah — good Lord

Allahalla — /ɑ:lɑ:hɑ:lɑ:/

You will certainly have the occasion to say Allah Allah at some point during your stay. It means “oh boy”, “wow”, “oh my goodness”, “well, I never”, “good Lord”, and the currently fashionable, “really?” You will hear this phrase at least once a day in Turkey.

10. geçmiş olsun — may it pass

gechmish ohlsun — /gɜ:ʧmɪʃɔ:lsʊn/

Geçmiş olsun, which means “may it pass”, is most often said after hearing that someone is ill. But it can also be used in response to something like, “My mother-in-law is visiting”. In that case you could precede it with an Allah Allah for emphasis.

11. inşallah — God willing

eenshalla — /i:nʃɑ:lɑ:/
Inshallah, which means “God willing”, is said very often in Turkey. For example, I might say, “I’ll finish my blog post tomorrow when the electricity comes back on, inshallah”, which could indicate my lack of confidence about the return of the electricity.

My favorite use of this expression is when I’m confronted by conservative Turks who expect me to have an explanation for why I’m not married and have no children. If I’m in an ornery mood I might say, “I don’t want to. But my brother makes up for me–he and his husband have three kids”. But most of the time I wimp out and give a more popular answer: “Maybe I’ll meet a Turkish husband, inshallah”. People are usually so thrilled with this response that the subject is dropped.

12. aferin sana — good for you

afairin sahna — /ɑ:fɜ:rɪnsɑ:nɑ:/

As in, I tell people that God willing I will meet a Turkish husband, and the response is aferin sana – “good for you”. Or when someone says, “I’ve just learned 12 extraordinarily useful Turkish phrases”, the correct response is, of course, aferin sana.

About The Author

Ellen Rabiner

Ellen Rabiner has been writing about travel since her teenage years on the road as a violist in a youth orchestra. After college her focus shifted to singing, although she did some creative writing as a lawyer. She returned to singing as a soloist at the Metropolitan Opera and is currently traveling and writing from her home in Antalya, Turkey. She blogs at Talking Turkey.

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  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    I love Turkey! I was there over the summer. Health problems meant I couldn’t learn as much Turkish as I wanted, but I managed to learn enough to sing “Istanbul not Constantinople” in Turkish! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DrmEpDKpJnA

    • Theboss8

      :D

  • http://elleninturkey.com/ Ellen Rabiner

    Great video!  It’s hilarious and also a good introduction to Istanbul.

  • Björn

    And when these phrases are not enough there is help around:
    http://www.native-translator.se/

  • Leatra

    I’m a native speaker. Just wanted to correct something.

    “elenize sağılık” It’s written like this: elinize sağlık. Pronunciation is correct though.

    Have fun visiting Turkey!

  • Konul Zwolinski

    :)

  • Azize Besik

    I like your post as a native speaker of Turkish.

  • Lori Sukenik Kursun Lazan

    evet efendim

    • Marissa Rissa

      what about bok kafa!?! haha

    • Lori Sukenik Kursun Lazan

      domt know what that is…… but I liked to say Gel Bakim! Hadi Bakalim

    • Marissa Rissa

      I don’t know what those phrases mean … Bok kafa means shit head.

    • Lori Sukenik Kursun Lazan

      kafa means head. Bok means ” Look” I did not know that together they mean something totally different

      • Umay

        Actually, “bok” is a very rude word meaning shit. I think you confused it with “bak” which means look.

    • Lori Sukenik Kursun Lazan

      gel bakim means “come and let me see” Hadi Bakalim” meams come on lets go”

    • Ihsan Goren

      Well, well… :-)

    • Lori Sukenik Kursun Lazan

      Ihsan… My neice here Marissa has a Turkish boyfriend! Any advice you need to give her? Like RUN or HIDE?

    • Ihsan Goren

      Poor guy :-( :-)

    • Paul Rosenstrach

      anlimiyurum

    • Lori Sukenik Kursun Lazan

      Paul.. I dont know what you are saying. I never heard that word before! bilmiyorum!

  • Özgür Öğretmen

    Tebrik ederim. Çok güzel bir yazı olmuş.

  • Alejandro Salazar

    Merhabalar Ellen, Thank you for the phrases. Elinize saglik, :)

  • Ssibel Akyol

    Miss. or Mrs. Marissa Risa: “I don’t know what those phrases mean… Bok kafa means shit head.”
    I’m asking to you. “Is the meaning of the know. Important is not a sentence”.

  • Demir Zirhli

    I really enjoyed reading your post and also all the content is posted on your blog. Elinize sağlık..

  • Olga Celikoglu

    I grew up learning Turkish and German and I think you nailed it. Adding to “Allah! Allah!” you can hear people also saying “Aman yarabbi” or “Aman tanrlım” which expresses the feeling of surprise.

  • Ryan

    Turkish was my first true “foreign” language. Being raised in a bilingual Korean-American family, I had knowledge of Korean before starting Turkish. I found quickly that the word order is nearly identical, the grammar is also agglutinating and “backwards” when compared to English, so I found acquiring Turkish pretty easy (thank goodness for the few irregulars) and I’ve been studying for 5 months (not every day of those 5 months) and I’m nearly done learning grammar, but I still have at least 2300 words to learn until I reach a level of reasonable fluency.
    Even though Turkish may not be the most “beautiful” language, I think it’s beautiful in its own way because it sounds very natural and words “sound” right. Sometimes when learning a language, remembering vocabulary can be a challenge because the word’s sound for something simply doesn’t “match up” in your brain with the actual noun/verb/adjective etc. I’ve rarely had this problem with Turkish because the words’ sounds match up very naturally. Thanks for the interesting post!

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