15 Nov 2021
By: Nil Kaya

Learning a local language is vital in migrant and refugees’ integration into their new homes as the ability to communicate in a local language eases their daily lives in many ways. Moreover, it builds self-esteem as they feel more confident and get used to a new country faster. As they learn the language, they get to know the local culture, make friends with locals, and develop a sense of belonging to a host community.  

In Yayla, one of the neighbourhoods of Sultangazi district of Istanbul, those women from migrant and refugee communities who are willing to learn the Turkish language signed up for a two-month online speaking club organized by IOM’s Psychosocial Mobile Team (PMT) in Istanbul, Turkey. The club's sessions helped them to learn the basics and lay the foundation for practicing the language in daily life, gradually building on the vocabulary. The club’s sessions inspired migrant and refugee women to continue learning and practising Turkish with more confidence and enthusiasm.

One of the participants, 27 years-old Nadia, mentions that before joining the sessions she was hesitant to join any social gatherings with her Turkish friends. She felt very uncomfortable as she mostly listened to the conversations and could only communicate with a few words in Turkish with her friends. However, now, after advancing her Turkish language skills through these sessions, she can communicate more easily with her friends and use idioms and colloquial phrases and words that Turkish people naturally use.

“The Turkish speaking club improved my communication with my children. Before, my Turkish was relatively poor, so I did not want them to pick up wrong words or pronunciations. But now, I can communicate with them fluently and we spend more time together learning from each other!”

shared Nadia, as another impact of the sessions. Indeed, one of the goals of the Turkish Speaking Club activities is to strengthen mother-child relations through a shared learning experience. 

Another participant Samer, who also lives in the same neighbourhood, learned about the language sessions from her neighbours. She participated in all speaking club sessions and continued practising every day after the sessions. She adds that each time she does the grocery shopping or talks to her landlord in Turkish, she feels grateful for the new language skills that help her settle in a new country.

Asking for an address, arranging a doctor’s appointment, describing physical features, or doing grocery shopping are the basics of the course curriculum that is designed to ease the daily routine of migrants and refugees in Turkey. However, some of the participants took more from the course. For instance, 47 years old Servan, who works as a tailor uses her newly developed language skills to scale her business and interact with Turkish customers and her employer.

Servan, who provides for her family as the sole breadwinner, advises all migrants and refugees to find ways to overcome challenges, love, and respect the people around them. In this way, she adds, migrants and refugees can make their dreams come true in their new home and be respected.  

IOM’s Social Worker who conducted the online activities adds that they wanted to create an environment to encourage women to continue their learning journey and empower them to share their experiences. At the end of the programme, the Social Worker observed that the participants did not see the sessions as just language classes, but as a creative and safe space to express their feelings and emotions freely.