Istanbul Bilgi University is school to over 10, 000 students, which includes Turkish students as well as students from all over the world. Bilgi advertises itself to exchange students as a university where classes are taught in English. This is the problem many exchange students as well as Turkish students have with Bilgi; classes are taught in English, Turkish, and some times in a combination. There seems to be no requirement to how the classes are taught.
Turkish students who attend Bilgi are required to do an introductory year of English prior to starting their studies in their given field. The prep year is supposed to be an intensive year of English that prepares the students for courses and assignments in English. This however is not really enforced and many students finish their first year with very little understanding of English.
What do the students say?
I tried to find out what do the students think about the whole affair. First I asked a Turkish student. What did he think of the Preparation year when he was supposed to learn his English.
“I spent my first year partying, we had very little work and the teachers did not expect a lot from us. After my first semester after the prep year I realized that I could speak very little English and would have troubles in the classes,” he told me. As I learned from him, he had to take an additional English course that was much more intensive in order to be able to attend his academic courses.
But he was an exception. Most Turkish students do not take more English classes after their first year. So they eventually have to follow academic courses that they hardly understand.
Ahmed, a student from Istanbul described to me the situation in more detail, how it is to be part of a course where the teaching language is Engish, “Sometimes it is OK when the teacher will talk in Turkish. But then at other times they will only talk in English. It is OK for me to talk a little in English but to understand is much more difficult. But the hardest thing to do, are the assignments in English and the readings in English. It brings my GPA down. I know the subjects in Turkish, not in English.”
This is not only a huge problem for Turkish students at Bilgi but it also affects students from abroad as well. The non-Turkish speaking students have the opposite problem.
Hunter Klaus, a student form the USA gave his side of the story: “Out of five classes I only have real language problems in one: the teacher will speak mostly in Turkish and then, when the discussion is finished, he will give a quick synopsis of what the conversation was about in English. It sucks because I would like to participate but I can’t.”
I tried to find out how much of this problem stems from the students. A professor at Bilgi who did not wish to be named explained, “It is a tough spot to be in when half of your class speaks very good English and the other half speaks hardly any. I lose so much time explaining things in both English and Turkish, but I want all of my students to have an understanding, not just the English-speaking ones or the Turkish ones. It is very frustrating for me and I wish there was just one language that all the students would speak at a similar level, so they could also communicate with each other.”
There are also teachers that only speak English and visa versa. To me this appears to be a huge problem, how can you have a university where there is not one universal language being spoken. Some Turkish-speaking students can go an entire semester without having to speak any English and then the next semester all of their courses are in English.
Ahmed continued “I can get away speaking in Turkish so why would I speak in English, and that is good. But if I have a class that is all in English and I can only understand one out of every five words, this is very hard.” There seems to be no constancy to the language spoken in the classes and it will continue to make life much harder for all of the students at Bilgi.
And to borrow a few last words from the professor, “If a Turkish student does not have to speak English then he won’t. But it is not fair to them. I hope that Bilgi starts to recognize this problem so students can focus on their studies but honestly I don’t know how to fix it, I don’t think anyone does.”