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Teaching English in Istanbul

A Cultural Crossroads in Turkey

Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey
One of the many smaller, but often no less distinguished, mosques in Istanbul dotting the Bosphorous shoreline.

Turkey is a fascinating place with a rich history. Secular in many respects, but with a large, relatively homogeneous and Muslim population, its ongoing quest to develop economically and progress socially, as can be seen by the present round of EU membership negotiations and a more general opening-up to foreign exchanges of all kinds, is bringing inherent political, economic, and social tensions and contradictions to the fore.

I came here several months ago to teach English as a foreign language (EFL) at a private merchant marine academy on Turkey’s rather splendid southeastern Mediterranean coast. I spent an intense month there before moving on to work at a Berlitz language center in Istanbul, the country’s financial, business, and cultural center.

Teaching English is a growing business in Istanbul and throughout Turkey. The Berlitz Istanbul franchise has two schools on the European side and two more up and running on the Asian side of the city. Work on a third is well under way.

English Time

It’s a Tuesday night in mid-March and I’ve been hanging around Berlitz Istanbul’s flagship school and office most of the day waiting to teach my first class. It begins around 6:30 p.m. and comes together in piecemeal fashion as five of my scheduled group of eight intermediate English language students assemble first in the kitchen to have a nosh of simit, something of a cross between a sesame seed bagel and a pretzel, and then head over to the small, efficient modern office style classroom.

As I’ve found is typical on the first day or night of a class, the students eye me somewhat warily. I’ve been told by my teacher trainer that they liked their previous teacher, so I expect that they will look to judge me against that standard.

The class turns out to be a mixed and friendly group eager to learn about foreigners and practice their English. Two are engineers from a company that manufactures boiler systems for export, another tough-talking but good-natured middle aged woman is a criminal lawyer, one is a young wife who has traveled abroad and just landed a secretarial job with a Turkish company that also does international business. The group is rounded out by a new father who is the limousine service manager for Shering-Plough’s Turkish subsidiary, two software engineers, and a well-read, middle-aged accountant who has also worked abroad.

Most come here on their employer’s tab and are taking English to help them at work and in their careers. But in class, which begins at 7:30 p.m. and lasts two hours every Tuesday and Thursday night, they mostly want to talk about life in general, their likes and dislikes, popular culture and to share their experiences and opinions.

Three of the five have taken the previous Level 5 class together while the other two are new to the group and to Berlitz. I quickly break the ice and happily find out that their English is better than I had expected and for the most part really is at an intermediate level. Though their comprehension and vocabulary are good, their spoken English lags a bit, particularly their grammar and pronunciation, which is not at all surprising or uncommon given that outside the classroom they don’t communicate orally in English much. This is English as a “foreign language” after all.

At language school franchises like Berlitz, you are trained to follow and urged to adhere strictly to a particular method, usually a communicative approach to second language acquisition that involves relying as exclusively as possible on the target language, using dialogues, conversations, role plays, and visual aids that have to do with common situations in order to model, illustrate, learn, and acquire spoken language skills and aural comprehension.

Invariably, teachers wind up meandering from the textbook and CD-ROM material a bit, going off on tangents suggested by students and mixing in their own materials that cover more practical aspects of the modern English language.

As the group is small and my students are adults honestly interested in other people, cultures, and the world any barriers quickly collapse. If you really tune in and listen to them, you can tailor the course to fit their needs, get along well, and still cover the material that is required. We hit it off well from the first night of class and as they are quick learners with a good basic foundation, I don’t mind meandering off the textbook path, letting students lead us into topic areas that otherwise would not be covered and using them to illustrate new language skills.

As to why Turks want to learn English, the reasons are numerous and varied. But there are a few common threads. Perhaps the single most important reason Turks are signing up for relatively expensive English language courses, such as those offered by Berlitz, is a very practical one: English has become the de facto international language of business, education and diplomacy. Even if you are doing business with a European, German or Japanese person, chances are that your common language will be English. And as is true in a large and growing number of countries, Turks are exposed to English at an early age.

Most Turkish primary schools provide a basic English language course or courses as part of their curriculum. This is even more true at the university level, where most students are either required to do a year’s worth of preparatory English coursework or where a sizable percentage of courses, typically around 30 percent, are taught in English. Most of the 30 percent, however, were given in the first year and a half of their studies and by non-native English speaking Turkish professors.

English Time in Istanbul, Turkey
Istanbul is filled with great architecture. Excellent examples of turn-of-the-century Beaux Arts buildings can be found along the Istiklal Mall. This one is home to English Time, one of the city’s many English language schools.

The Business of English

The Istiklal mall is home to around 10 English language schools, including other international franchises, such as Inlingua, as well as homegrown competitors, such as Dilko. Make no mistake about it, when you work for a language school franchise like Berlitz, you’ll quickly learn that English language teaching is a business. Sales and student satisfaction take precedence over everything else and the demands on teachers can be tough and rigid. Favored teachers were logging an excessive 40-plus class hours per week while those out of favor struggled to get 20. And don’t plan on saving up a nice nest egg.

Istanbul is an expensive city, and while the pay at language schools in Istanbul can be fair to middling, EFL teachers are in large part viewed as rather expendable and easily replaceable. In some respects, this attitude is justified and pragmatic as EFL teachers are a transient and, in too many cases, impulsive lot. There is no shortage of stories about teachers breaking their contracts and taking off without notice because they didn’t like one particular aspect of an organization, had an argument with someone or another in management, or just decided they would rather be somewhere else.

All things considered, I would recommend journeying to Istanbul and Turkey to teach English. If you have an M.A. in education or a related field and some experience, you will have a good shot at landing a position at a public or private university where conditions are better and more stable and where you will earn more money. If you have an undergraduate degree or have decided to try your hand at teaching after working in another field, I would recommend getting a TEFL or TESOL certification and gaining some teaching experience.

Turkey is a modern secular yet Islamic country with an amazingly rich cultural and natural heritage that is opening its gates to the world once again. Its people are for the most part proud, open, and friendly. The rewards of living and working in Istanbul—a beautiful, fascinating, and diverse city at the crossroads of East and West— although not monetary, are there to be had. Just be sure you know the whys and whatfors underlying your travel plans; and prepare yourself a bit by reading some good, timely, accurate, and diverse sources of information before setting out.

Istanbul and EFL

Teaching EFL in Turkey

Colleges and Universities

If you have an MA and some teaching experience, you should be able to land a relatively well-paying teaching job at a private, or even a state-run public university in Turkey. These are considered the plum jobs by Turkish educators and are much sought after. Here are a couple of universities that have recently posted job opportunities for native speaking EFL teachers.

Bahcesehir College

Bahcesehir College has been seeking qualified Native English teachers of English for the 2006-2007 academic year to teach from pre-school to high school.

Contact: Serap Ogul. Email: Website:

Işik University, Şile Campus

The univesity has recently been looking for EFL instructors for the 2006-2007 academic year. Preferred qualifications are an M.A. or Diploma in EFL and two years relevant teaching experience. Preference is being given to candidates that are able to interview locally. To apply, send a cover letter, CV and three references.

Contact: Esat Ören. Email: Address: Arayicbasi Sokak 4, Kadikoy, Istanbul.

Language Schools

There are a host of language schools large and small in Istanbul. You can walk up and down the Istiklal mall and find them; fill out an application and leave your CV, a letter of introduction, copies of your academic qualifications and letters of recommendation if you have them. Here are contact details for a few.

Istanbul Via Lingua

Offers a high-quality intensive TEFL certification course with a very strong practical emphasis and a focus on develpoing teachers with the skills and confidence necessary to begin working in the EFL world. The course covers all areas of EFL teaching with principal traing areas being subdivided into those of Teaching Skills, Classroom Management and Grammar & Phonology.

International Cambridge CELTA Courses.
Course Times Feb., July, August; Course Length- 4 wks; Fees £1,050
Entry Requirements Degree or EFL qualifcation preferred
Contact: Laura Woodward, The British Council, Barbaros BulvariAkdogan Sokak No.43 Kat: 2-7, Besiktas, Istanbul 816901 Turkey. Email:


Interlang is a private language school that has been recently seeking EFL qualified native-speaker teachers for its five branches in Istanbul. Teaching mainly general English to adults from Beginner to Advanced level, plus some business, one-to-one and company classes. Competitive local salary, dollar relocation allowance and bonus according to contract. Free accommodation where available or rent allowance. Teachers need a university degree and CELTA or Trinity TESOL Cert. Apply with full CV/resume.

Contact: Liz Aykanat, Education Manager. Email: Phone: +90 212 244 8643.

Bilge Adam IT Academy

Location: Istanbul Bakirkoy and Fatih branches, Istanbul, Turkey

Bilge Adam IT Academy is seeking qualified native speaking English teachers, preferably already residing in Istanbul. Teachers will be responsible for preparation, delivery and evaluation of English courses for Intermediate to Advanced levels. Computer literacy (Windows and Office applications)is preferred although training can be provided in our center.

Dilko English

No experience required. Dilko English is a chain of language schools that has been operating in Istanbul since 1977. They offer classes in English and German for adults and children. Teachers will be expected to attend and participate in monthly workshops designed to continue teachers training, as well as the normal administrative duties of class management. Dilko teaches a syllabus that is designed to the criteria of the Common European Framework (CEF) and geared twards Standard English. North American teachers should be aware of the differences that seperatethe common language. Students are generally adults, but there is a children´s programme as well. Competitive hourly wages (USD 1,250 - 1,750 USD per month), housing allowance bonus, accommodation upon arrival, travel bonus, end of contract completion bonus and private health insurance are provided.

Address: Istanbul- Bakirkoy 34010. Contact: Brendan Ray, DOS. Website: Telephone: +90 538 320 3116.

The English Centre

No experience required. The English Centre is one of the oldest private schools in Istanbul. The school is one of the few language schools in Istanbul who still offer guaranteed salary-based teaching hours plus holiday benefits. They have recently been looking for TEFL, preferably CELTA, qualified EFL teachers for adults, children and business English. Compensation generally ranges from YTL 1400-1800 YTL (USD 1075-1385) for 26 teaching hours a week and 3 administrative hours a month.

Address: Rumeli cad. no:92., Osmanbey, Istanbul, 80220 - Turkey.
Contact: Mr. Kees Garman, Director of Studies.
Telephone: + 90 212 247 0983

Istanbul is a relatively expensive city and, as in any sprawling metropolis, finding housing can be difficult and time-consuming.  My advice: don't spend too much time searching for an abode.  If you find something that fits your needs, preferences, and budget, take it and start settling in.  But check the neighborhood, the apartment, and the landlord out as best you can.  And don't expect the standard you would typically find in a newer, more modern city in the U.S. 

I was fortunate in that my employer offered me a subsidized room in a shared apartment with two other teachers in Cihangir, a very nice, if expensive neighborhood, within walking distance from the Istiklal mall and the school. 

It's definitely worth inquiring about such a possibility with your employer, and anyone else at the office who seems open, friendly and willing to lend a new foreign teacher a hand.  Tapping into the knowledge and experience of other teachers is also recommended.  And then there's always the standard practices of browsing the bulletin boards at popular cafes, restaurants, bars and pubs where English-speaking are known to frequent.

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