I knew very little about Azerbaijan before coming here. I first learned of it when I was a high school exchange student in Kayseri, Turkey. There was an Azerbaijani language center in the city center that I would see everyday on my way to school. I learned from my Turkish friends that Azerbaijani and Turkish were similar languages. According to the Turks, Azerbaijani was always sounded a little strange to them.
When I found out I would be coming to Azerbaijan instead of Turkey I was a little apprehensive about studying Turkish in a country were Turkish is not the official language. It was sort of a game trying to figure out what people were saying in my first few months here. Due to my knowledge of Turkish, I could at least decode the topic. As Azerbaijan is a former Soviet state, many words from Russian have infiltrated the Azerbaijani language. Another interesting aspect of Azerbaijan is their manipulation of vocal tones in order to ask questions. Whenever an Azeri asks a question the image of a swooping fishhook comes to mind, as their tone shifts from low to high.
Needless to say the program I am in has done a good job in creating an artificial Turkish language environment in our classroom. This semester from Monday – Wednesday we are in class from 10am-5pm, and on Thursdays we have internships that we have to work at. Although the hours are challenging, I can say that my Turkish has improved. I am happy with the way I am able to control the language now. Last semester before we left for Winter break, I had to take an Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI) test. I scored at the Advanced High level on the test (this translates to a 3 on the Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR) scale).
If you end up in a situation like me, studying Turkish in Azerbaijan, just know that it is possible. You’ll come out of this experience with a better understanding of Turkish and will pick up some Azerbaijani along the way.