How did I decide to teach a foreign language?

I believe that if a language instructor does not try to challenge her/himself by learning a foreign language, she/he can never understand what the learners’ struggles are. We always need experiences with languages. Unfortunately, my undergraduate education was focusing only on the rules and grammar of the Turkic Languages which made me understand that we cannot perform languages without communication.

While learning, we should also share something with the target language by thinking, presenting, hearing, reading, reacting, and feeling. 

However, the important skills that I gained in the Department of Contemporary Turkish Dialects and Literature were the methods of comparison of the languages in the same language family. I am mentioning these methods by expanding to languages of different families in my classes to make the learners aware of the nature of language. Besides, by comparing the Turkic languages, I could deeply understand Turkish and its distinct features.

I decided to learn English to support my interest in languages. My learning process was quite complicated since I had no foreign language learning experience, I have made almost every mistake! Until that time I have never think about language learning as a scientific study but my mistakes helped me to discover second language acquisition theories. I started with some academic readings and figured out that I must be exposed to the language to demonstrate my knowledge. Going to the target language’s country seemed to me as the best way to absorb the language. I went to the UK for 11 weeks where has shown me the importance of interacting with culture during the language learning process. Maybe it is not always possible to have an opportunity like that. However, in this way, I discovered which aspects of culture can be reachable in another country. Maybe we cannot experience the cultural practices or products, but we can explore the perspectives behind it via social media, literature, online news, humor products, etc. Following the UK, I had an opportunity to participate in the EVS (European Voluntary Service) program for vulnerable children in Bucharest, Romania where through games and art we aimed for cultural enrichment and better social inclusion for groups of Roma, disabled, and leukemia patients minors.

While volunteering, we could not speak with the children because of the language barrier but we shared something real. There was no obstacle to have fun together. Having activities with children without a common language has made me aware of the desire and effort of the human mind to understand others.

One day, our mentor Andrea wanted me to teach some Turkish words to children, but I was hesitant. Because I did not want to be an authority in front of them, I was their friend who plays football, paints, and takes photos together. In those days, I was afraid of being a teacher since I thought a teacher must be an authority in the classroom.

Holding teaching to very high regard, and not seeing myself as a teacher yet, I reluctantly taught a couple of workshops with surprising success to younger me. Upon returning to Turkey, I got involved in the SPI (Small Projects in Istanbul) project. SPI supports Syrian refugees of Istanbul and I was a part of its childcare team. This time, when I was asked to teach Turkish, I took up the responsibility, and I immediately knew that I had found my calling. It was the first time that I teach and I immediately felt at home. I understood that teaching does not make me an authority but a learner. Because when I am teaching, I am also collectively discovering with my students. 

A photo from my EVS days with the other volunteers… (Bucharest,2016)

After the class when I was helping a kid with writing, and a little girl nudged me and showed me the board. I looked, there was a sentence with the Latin alphabet, but I couldn’t figure it out. She said, “I wrote this for you.” I thanked her, but it seemed still very complicated. I asked her to read the sentence and she read in Turkish: “I love you, my teacher.” Then I recognized that she wrote the sentence right – to – left as in Arabic. I could not say anything just looked at her with misty eyes. That day, language showed me that it can build bridges with the most innocent and sincere manners.

Seneca says, “Homines dum docent, discunt,” in Epistula Morales (7/8).

That means “Even when they teach, men learn.” After that day, I recognized that if you have passion, teaching does not make you an authority, it makes you a learner. Because when you’re teaching, you are also collectively discovering with your students.

After that day, I recognized that when you are teaching a language, you are sharing a new world. I started to comprehend that language learning is not only about reading, listening, speaking, and writing but also is the way of being part of the universe more than the country you were born in.

The first day I taught Turkish changed my life. I finally found that my duty in the universe was learning through teaching and I devote myself to improve my abilities. In my opinion, all teachers need an endless desire for learning. Since my first day in the field, I believed this approach as my motto: We teachers, learn while teaching.

My Teaching Philosophy

I base my teaching philosophy on the belief that the only element we need for teaching is the learner. If we do not have a student who requests to learn the target language, there will be no need for teaching. Every dimension of language teaching must be based on student’s profiles, demands, and goals. Hence, I am applying a student-centered teaching model.

 I believe the importance of experience, but it does not make me careless or reduce my responsibilities. 

An instructor must feel the excitement of the first day for all the classes she/he had. I make a new plan for every lesson by considering classroom dynamics and take notes about productivity after the class.

A photo with my first students. (2018, Istanbul)

I started my teaching carrier in Bab’ul Ilm Turkish Language Course and Gaziosmanpasa Public Education Center at the same time. Both institutions developed my carrier in different ways. In Bab’ul Ilm, most of my students were learning the target language for communicative purposes. Thus, I designed the curriculum by focusing the speaking skill. On the other hand, in Gaziosmanpasa Public Education Center, I encountered varied classroom dynamics. I taught two groups of refugee children, one of the classrooms was consist of students between the ages of 6 and 8, and the other one was between the age of 10 and 12. These two classrooms were requiring completely different teaching concepts which made me aware of the age factor’s importance in the learning process. Besides, I also taught parents of the kids on weekends. Due to the financial difficulties, we could not use any book and I prepared all the sources which made me aware of using real-life materials such as shopping or address description for the learners who learn Turkish as a second language.

A photo from Gaziosmanpaşa Public Education Center’s students… We have read a book named The Little Black Fish and then created a huge painting about the whole story! (2018, İstanbul)

Since it will not be possible in the case of teaching as a foreign language, I am trying to present the target language’s world by using authentic materials for my online students who are learning the language from different parts of the world. My understanding of authentic material covers more than a popular song or a movie scene, it includes a wide range of sources from subway line maps to supermarket bulletins. In my opinion, authentic materials give room for the learner to relate their interest and hobbies with the target language environment.

Photos with A1 students in TAC Kizilay Language Course after a lesson about parts of the body in Turkish. (2019, Ankara)

I choose these materials by considering their appropriateness for students’ proficiency and interests. If the material has a higher language use, I simplify it for the students. However, there is no authentic material that can be beneficial just by itself. Before I present the material, I prepare pre-activities and after-activities to get maximum benefit.

Photos with A2 students from the activity of writing an article about famous Turkish actor Haluk Bilginer. We created these posters right after he is rewarded with Emmy Awards. (2019, Ankara)

At the same time with my master’s, I had the opportunity to practice my theoretical readings in a real teaching environment. Besides independent online one-to-one private classes, I taught A1, A2, B1, and B2 level Turkish in TAC Kizilay Language Course. Those times were a milestone in my teaching carrier since I was responsible for designing curriculum and preparing exams and as a result, my university’s library became my second home. I made long researches in the library and tried to learn how to set an exam by assessing four language skills. While doing these researches, I discovered new techniques and principles in language teaching that lead me to the methods such as Total Physical Response, Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Story-telling, Content-Based and Task-Based language teaching. I was markedly influenced by these methods and I have concluded that student’s intrinsic motivation is irreplaceable and that the learner should be front and center. This is why I am actively trying to reduce my talking time and support them in taking initiative and practicing their skills. I am, on top of that, trying to implement a blended approach model by including virtual classroom applications such as Edmodo and Flipgrid. Thanks to the Blended Language Learning model, my role has changed from teacher to facilitator.

Photos from the Market Shopping activity with my B1 students. Everybody completed their tasks (shopping list) and bought some vegetables and fruits by driving a hard bargain with the local stallholders in Turkish. (2020, Ankara)

I sometimes in everywhere of the classroom with my role-plays but sometimes I just sit and watch my students’ collaboration during the task. Since languages are the consequence of our needs for social interaction, I care about group and pair work for exercises. I prefer to organize reading and writing exercises as workshops and also for every level I gave a long-term reading project which includes summarizing, interpreting, and question preparation about the text as part of the final grade. Those kinds of assessments are significantly fair for students who have exam anxiety.

Photos from the activity that I called “Follow the Clues”. At the end of the activity, one of the teams found a big reward. Yes, the reward is marshmallow biscuits! (Ankara, 2020).

I consider the listening skill and the speaking skills as outputs in the language acquisition process and suggest to my students some focus exercises before listening to the passage. Besides comprehension of every skill appropriately, I use energizers for a smooth transition.  After they gained some grammatical aspects via story-telling, I am sharing my language chunk lists for different themes with the students to improve their speaking skills.

With the inspiration of famous Turkish author Refik Halit Karay’s story called “Eskici” (Ragpicker), we prepared a short movie with my students to point out the real connection between the native speakers of Turkish and Arabs learning Turkish.


In the movie, Yusuf who just came to Turkey and heads to his Turkish language course asks a native woman the address in Arabic since he thoughts that she knows Arabic. Because the woman says “Merhaba” to him. However, the woman continues to help him by saying only “Merhaba” which is a common word in Arabic and Turkish and means hello. Eventually, just a “Merhaba” has become enough to understand each other.
Photos from the Story-Telling Activity. In this activity, students describe photos and try to guess what will happen next.

During my thesis studies, I started to work in Akdem Istanbul Language Schools. Teaching in multicultural classes in this institution helped me to understand my readings about inter-cultural awareness and communication better. I started to assume the awareness of cultural differences as the fifth skill in language teaching. Through culture, I am aiming for my students to feel lucky for learning the target language.

In Akdem Istanbul, I also learned to organize the process for different learning goals since we have students with varied expectations from their learning. Since we also have a wide range of students in age from 15 to 50, I learned to find a common way that suits classroom settings.

In this activity, students match the opposite adjectives and try to conjugate “to be” in Turkish by using these adjectives.
Photos from the Word Tagging Activity. In this activity, students learn the locative case suffix by tagging words.

Eventually, I believe that the language learning process is a personal journey. Hence, when it is necessary, I try to reduce my active role to allow my students to experience their learning. In this context, I organize self-study time every week and share exercises for different skills. In these times, students can study their own sources or choose the ones that I presented. Either way, I am there for them to help and to complete their learning as their lifelong teacher, facilitator, and guide.

16 thoughts on “Teaching”

  1. I was very really lucky to get A1 Level from Teacher “Hale Ozcan”.
    We succeeded with Ms. Hale to gain and practice the early fundamental vocabularies with patience, practicality, and planned goals.
    She is undoubtedly an inspired teacher ,modern educational tools activist, multicultural, and noticeably eager to create her tutoring success in class.

    Thanks for your efforts Ms. Hale… looking forward to carrying on further Türkçe levels at your classes in future…

  2. My name is Aiman, in my fifties. I had the nice opportunity, along with my wife to take the first level (A1) of Turkish language with Miss Hale Özcan at the Academy of Istanbul in the second quarter of this year 2021. I’m happy to have this pleasant experience with her. Although, we were a little old to her and the other students in class as well, she succeeded in making us all feel comfortable, and cozy in class. She was very joyful, and spread positive attitude throughout the class. This was essential in making every one feel like family. She has a unique way in tempting every body to participate, even the shy people. One useful method, was creating competition, by playing language games between teams who keep interchanging. Miss Hale put extreme efforts to control the tempting extinct of us -foreign students -to translate every new word we hear in the class. That was not easy on the students who learn Turkish for the first time like us! But she succeeded in making her students concentrate on the global meaning, rather than single word translations. Our first learning in her class, has paved the way for us to continue learning, and build the baseground for more learning with pleasure. Understanding the local cultures of the students is very essential in making the teaching mission successful, and I believe that Miss Hale has the qualifications for that success. We wish you all the best in your life and career.

  3. I am Ahmed Bolbol from Palestine.
    I came to classes in April at Istanbul Academy.
    I benefited a lot from the lessons, as I did not know anything about the Turkish language.
    Ms. Hala helped me a lot..
    We loved her playful way of training and the competitions we had with each other.
    I remember when a war broke out in my country, she used to communicate with me and reassure me and my family
    Thank you, teacher.

  4. it was one of unforgetable learning experinces , i wont forget your great way in explaning and your funny acting ,i wont forget the funny gameing and the great challenges ,and really i couldnt choose the best moment because she made every minute as the best minute

  5. I am Raad Shehada 30 years old, civil engineer from Palestine, I have been attended to Turkish language A1 level course with Miss Hale Özcan in Akdem istanbul language center in İstanbul, on October 2020.
    Our course wasn’t a language course with some who is looking to finish a selective book with you it was a course with some one who is really looking to teach you a language, I have been able to clearly distinguish that from the first week when Miss Hale prefer to make an introduction to the basics of the Turkish language rather than start with the book.
    Honestly that first week played critical role for me to continue learning Turkish language since I have been registered in the course on my third day in Turkey and before that date I haven’t been know any thing about Turkish language.
    During the course also Miss Hale established a very friendly environment with all the attendance and did her best to deal with the different education levels of the attendance by bringing tools and activities that looks to be appropriate for all the levels.
    The most remarkable thing in Miss Hale language teaching style is that she is not giving you a fish but, she teaches you how to fish by bringing real life situations and songs and helps you to make a general understanding of it even if you just know the basics which is something that I discovered later after reaching more advance level in Turkish, also she avoid translation as she can which makes the learned vocabularies and expressions hard to be forgotten, in addition of that she helps you to improve your four language skills simultaneously by giving different types of tasks that prepared by herself specifically speaking and writing skills.
    The most funniest situation that happened to me during the course when Miss Hale trying to explain for me that ( Dan beri, dır) in Turkish are exactly like (since, for) in English and because at that time I was still beginner in Turkish I understood that there a big differences and reject to accept that they are similar (when I reached home I discovered that I was wrong and laughed very loudly).
    Other situation happened to me but after we finished the course, when Miss Hale send to our whatsapp group a number of Turkish language chunks that she prepared by herself, she intensively inspired me to follow the same idea in learning Turkish by creating language chunks and translate them to English and Arabic to create a full understanding of the language, more of that she advice me to create an Instagram page and put them on it, and also support the page by share it with her students.
    We finish our course in November 2020 but she didn’t stop teaching the language at that date, she continued to send extra materials to our whatsapp group and reply to our questions and show support even if our course has been ended to provide an extra proof that someone who is really wants you to learn the language not just finish a course that prepared you to pass the language exam.

  6. Hello, my name is Ala and my twin sister is Malak. We are 16 years old.we are from algeria . We were fortunate to learn the Turkish language with Ms. Hale at Istanbul Academy because she had a unique way of teaching the language and her lessons are really entertaining, interesting and also useful. Really happy to be Ms. Hale’s students.
    My dear teacher, I love you so much.

    1. My name is Wisnu, 49, Indonesian, editor and educator. I attended Miss Hale Ozcan’s A1 class at AkdemIstanbul between June to August 2021.

      She taught her students passionately yet professionally. She seemed always be very prepared with every material that she delivered.
      She gave same portion of attention to every student, and always motivated them to be active in friendly ways.
      I enjoyed her class very much. I felt a great loss if I missed one day of her class.
      In my opinion, among her best achievements was to make us feel as a family so that we like to help each other in lessons.
      Every day was a good complete memory in her class.
      All the best for you Hale hocam!

  7. Helo.
    I am Mrs. Lubna, a certified Cambridge ESL instructor from Lebanon. I am a Language lover and thus chose to learn Turkish. I took an amazing active A1 online class with an amazing hocam( teacher), who amazingly used a lot of teaching methodologies and turned the class into an active and engaging one, and proved that teaching online can be as successful and beneficial as face to face. Wish you all the best dear… And waiting to take my B1 class with you.

  8. Hi am Ala’a. I had a Turkish Language course with Mrs. Hale for three months online. She had useful strategies that made learning Turkish very interesting. There was always motivation to improve more and more learning the language . I can say that Turkish Language can be very easy if you have a teacher like Mrs.Hale.

  9. Hi am Thaer Ibrahim .
    I had a Turkish language course with MS. Hale Ozcan for four months online and face to face at Istanbul Academy .
    It was a too amazing experience . She is one of the rare teachers ; That is because she use the style of play to communicate information to the students and follow-up the weaknesses of each student with great accuracy .
    I remember well when she explained the grammar of sound letters to me
    Now I am able to talk to Turkish people at way an acceptable way despite the few hours I attended with Miss Hale .
    Miss Hale, I am very grateful to you and I hope to get more hours to be able to reach the level I wish for in Turkish language .

  10. Professional, creative and hardworking. these three words describes Hale hocam “teacher” the most.
    I attended the A1 Turkish language course at akdem İstanbul center in July 2021 in Istanbul. Hale hocam used the best and latest teaching methodologies. With games and activites, she turned the class into an active and engaging one.
    At the end of the A1 course, we preformed a Play completely in Turkish, and that was just A1. IMAGINE!
    Mouayad Malus, Lawyer, Syrian.

  11. ‏I am Nuran Nashef, a Palestinian from Jerusalem. I met the teacher Hale in the first level language course, I really enjoyed her learning method, she tries to illustrate every word or sentence in Turkish through a story. I don’t remember a time I didn’t understand what she meant, The explanation was always clear and understandable.
    ‏She uses fun methods for learning, she tries to create competition in the classroom to encourage us to participate without embarrassing us.
    I really waited for her lessons. For some reason the teacher was absent for a week, and we got another teacher, for me it was difficult to deal with a different learning approach, and I wanted to stop the course, and when I knew that teacher Hale was coming back soon I was very happy.

    I will never forget teacher Hale, nor will I forget my experience in the course. And I honestly say that anyone who knows the teacher Hale will gain a lot, not only in learning the language, but in getting to know a real teacher who’s close to heart, likes her students, and succeed in making you love the language❤️
    Thank you a lot

  12. Hi, This is Aneeqa. I had a privilege to attend the Turkish Language classes with Hale Hocam. I always believe that a teacher plays the most important role when it comes to the understanding and learning of the students. I was always excited to participate in the class because of her engaging and enthusiastic personality. I remember how she used to help us with our lessons and she was so good in reflecting her knowledge about the subject as well. She really knows how to reflect the knowledge to her students. It was a pleasure for me to attend the classes with her. I really learned the basics very well while taking Turkish classes with her.
    She always made learning fun for us in different ways. There are a few teachers who really cares about the learning of their students, She is truly one of them. I personally adore her teaching skills and the way she teaches and make her students learn is awsome!
    I shall always be grateful for making the basics of Turkish language so easier and enjoyable for me!
    Thanks and I wish you Good Luck in all the aspects of your profession Hocam.

  13. I was really lucky person to start A2 with teacher like Hala Ozcan , Really she was so active and kind with us , her ways in teaching are very interesting every day in her lessons she has new ideas new game she is that teacher when teach you you will feel like you are in home with your family, this teacher focus in sharing learning she make you share with all classmate sometimes when you enter classes you will face some shy from some friends but with this teacher you will never feel like that because she really focus in sharing learn with all student ,you will never feel you are alone in her class she really make magic

  14. Merhabalar !… when i hear this word , I know that the magic has begun.
    It is the word of our teacher, Hale, the moment she enters our class.
    Every person has magic in his heart, we rejoice living that, and so is every language. Every language has it’s magic.. and Hale knows how to introduce us to the magic of the Turkish language..
    I am 65 years old, and like every doctor at my age, I teached medical students for years. With all my teaching experience, it is difficult for me to imagine the talent and mastery of teaching like what my teacher Hale has .
    Me and a few of our classmates find it difficult to speak Turkish, yet she patiently takes the hand of each one of us and goes up with him step by step to improve our pronunciation and forming our phrases.
    What intrigued me mostly was how she taught us to distinguish between subtle linguistic differences..such as the difference between the words : (çıkmam ) and (çıkamam)..a difference that if we do not understand it, we will be misunderstood so much that it means that I, as a speaker, is not tactful at all..

    All the students in our class feel joy, happiness and productivity in her classes. She is thirty years old as i suspect, but she has a teaching experience that like she has taught for thirty years..
    Thank you, Hale.. I am sure that you are happy in everything you do because you always do it with love for it.. and remarkable creativity.

  15. Professional, fun, hardworking and passionate. I’d use these words to describe Hale hoca to anyone who’d ask me about her.

    I took A2 level with Hale hoca at istanbul akademi in October 2021, the course took 6 weeks to complete but I felt like it was a breeze and was done in no time between learning new things and having fun. Hale hoca’s teaching methods are interactive and never got boring, every day throughout the course there was some new technique or way of making the day interesting and intriguing. Personally I really really loved the way the course was done, because I cannot describe how much I appreciate when teachers go through alot of effort to make things engaging and interesting for the students, because I can only imagine how much effort, work and dedication goes into making these methods.

    Once again, Thank you Hale Hoca for being such an awesome teacher, I wish you all the best :).

    P.S I’m extremely sorry for my late feedback

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