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Istanbul English cafe caters for 'chattering classes'

Turkey's enthusiasm for talking and tea finds a new use as locals work hard on improve their English

09.06.2015 - Update : 09.06.2015
Istanbul English cafe caters for 'chattering classes'

By Nilay Kar Onum


A busy cafe on the third floor of a historic building in the heart of Istanbul. Not a word of Turkish is heard. Everyone is speaking English – or struggling manfully to speak.

‘English Spoken’ is located in the touristic Beyazit district, just meters from the historic Istanbul University and is the first and the only cafe of its kind in the city.

The tiny cafe was opened in 2010 by a 33-year-old visionary English teacher Altan Carikcioglu, with the aim of guiding people who cannot speak the tongue practically despite their grammar knowledge.

“We do not teach the tongue here, we provide people a natural atmosphere where they can improve their skills before or without going abroad,” Carikcioglu tells Anadolu Agency.

This is actually what many Turks look for, as the traditional education system in the country generally focuses on grammar and exams, rather than natural conversational English.

Spoken by around 1.5 billion people, according to current estimates, English is one of the most widely used languages across the world.

It is accepted as a language of diplomacy, business, higher education and popular culture. So, especially for business means, interest in the tongue and in the cafe has been increasing.

“Some people are coming to our cafe from other cities, especially during the summer,” Carikcioglu says.

“Those who come here thank us as we provide them a kind of natural atmosphere to make them learn the language."

"They are also making themselves prepared for speaking and building trust here."

The numbers of companies with foreign capital in Turkey exceeded 40,000 in 2014, according to the Economy Ministry. This number was around 6,000 in 2002, revealing the increasing need for English-language ability. 

“Interest [in learning English] is more and more in Turkey … because of the necessity of using English in more globalized circumstances and because Turkey is more and more open to outside countries,” says Steve O’Farrell, general manager of Istanbul-based Pace Training and Consultancy, which specializes in English training, translation and studying abroad.

O’Farrell, who has been living in Turkey for over 15 years, stated that people learn the tongue for many reasons including business, tourism, education, technology and science.

In order to meet people's speaking needs, the cafe is open six days a week. For those who want to go to the cafe regularly there is a scheduled program which is directed by foreigners and Carikcioglu between 7.30 p.m. to 9.30 p.m. weekdays and 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturdays.

Student groups from different schools also come to the cafe in the afternoons. 

For the speaking program, specific subjects to be discussed at the cafe are published every day on its Facebook page so participants know what they will speak about before they go and can prepare accordingly. 

In total, 13 foreigners contribute to the cafe. They are happy to be a part of "an enjoyable and beneficial atmosphere" as one describes it.

"Why I enjoy teaching at the cafe: it is a fun way to get to know new people from different walks of life and backgrounds in a low-stress environment, without problems like tests and discipline issues – because all the students want to come," says 35-year-old American Jeff Patterson, who has been going for around a year.

Patterson, who has been in Turkey for five years, says: “Turks often have grammar knowledge, which they know how to recognize, but struggle to use this in informal conversation.

“English Spoken gives them exposure to real native speech on a variety of topics as often as they would like to come and practice."

Cafe-goers agree.

"There is no exam stress and no boring atmosphere. We are improving our speaking skills in a social place, joyfully and comfortably,“ says Ugur Koca, a doctoral student, who has been going to the cafe for around three months.

From academics to students, shop owners to retired people, all ages and professions are coming here, according to Carikcioglu.

“I am having fun here while improving my skills,” 22-year-old Bahar Akdeniz, a student, says: “I am quite pleased to be here, instead of attending a course.”

Akdeniz has been going to the cafe for around one month.

People do not just gather, speak and leave. “They sometimes play a guitar, sing, play backgammon or watch a movie," the café owner says.

As Carikcioglu saw potential for growth, they opened another branch in the Kadikoy district, on the Anatolian side of the city, two months ago.

"We are sure it will see the same interest," he says.

Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.
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