Speaking in Whispers

Recently, I read an article about how being an expat changes people. While living abroad, people tend to become better listeners and to take a step back. When you don’t speak the language and aren’t with the people that know you the best, I think this seems normal enough. And in many cases, you are just hoping for the best. You hope people are being fair and kind because you have no idea what they are saying. I will give you an example.

When I first arrived in China, I took a taxi home at night and to make a long story short, the taxi driver stopped the car in the middle of nowhere, turned around, and began yelling at me in Mandarin. I thought, this is it; I’m toast. No one knows where I am. I don’t speak the language, I am alone. I am a woman. It’s night. Not a good feeling. But then he started pounding on the meter at which point I let out a big sigh of relief. He was just going to rip me off (saying his meter was broken, I guessed). I would rather pay an extra $20 then all of the other scenarios that went through my mind at that moment.

I have tried to learn Turkish three times before without much luck. In a nod to Goldilocks, the first time was too soon, the second time was too intimidating, and the third was not a good fit. But the fourth seems to be working. I started with a private tutor about two months ago. It began with a lesson every Tuesday but because I am horrible at studying, I have kicked it up to twice a week.

For whatever reason, I find Turkish really difficult to grasp. Aysegul, my wonderful tutor, has said that this is normal. Turkish is very difficult at first but then gets easier because there are many patterns and structures that repeat. I think she is just being kind.

Aysegul obviously loves her job and she has more patience than a saint. I feel very comfortable with her and that has made all of the difference in the world. Also, I am know the people at work much better and I am beginning to practice more and more. It’s funny because when I speak in Turkish, I find myself speaking in whispers. I have zero confidence. I will keep practicing and most likely make mistakes. However, I have faith that Turkish people with show me kindness and patience, no matter how much I quietly stutter and grasp for the correct words and sentence formations! Wish me luck.

notes and beyond!


  1. Susan Wachowiak

    Just hang in there, Claire, I know you will be speaking Turkish before you know it!!!!!

  2. Debi Mauricio

    Thank you for sharing this Claire. I appreciate your honesty, you are so stellar in everything you do, I know it will be just a quick moment of time before you get it. I struggle the same with sign language. I know the basics well now, but the grammar, what words in a sentence you need to say and not say, are kicking my booty. So you have inspired me to hang in there today, not give up! Thanks. Wishing you success!

  3. I am shocked, shocked I tell you! Your Turkish was fluent while you were showing me how my computer works. This sure explains a lot to me.

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