Nalan Kızıltan, who is an Assistant Proffessor at the University of Salento, told Today’s Zaman: “The number of students has doubled since they discovered the Turkish language was written in the Latin alphabet.”
In a southern Italian high school, many students have deemed the introduction of Turkish classes as an effort in vain because of the language's supposed difficulty due to what they mistakenly thought was caused by the use of the Arabic alphabet.
Apparently Asian and Middle Eastern languages are thought to draw in less interest compared to western European Languages. Still there have been a number of students who have wanted to learn Turkish and a campaign promoting the language doubled the number of those interested in Turkish. "The number of students has doubled since they discovered that Turkish is written in the Latin alphabet," Assistant Professor Nalan Kızıltan told Today's Zaman.
Kızıltan, a linguist, was assigned by the Turkish Embassy in Rome to give lectures in the department of Turkology at the University of Salento, Lecce, as part of an intercultural dialogue program. Her journey in Italy took her to Aristosseno High School in Taranto, two hours by car from Lecce, when she and the dean of the university's department of foreign languages and literatures decided to run a joint program with the school for students to take part in the Turkish Olympiads. The project was helped set up by one of Kızıltan's students, Severine Mafrica, also a teacher at the high school.
"I went to their school once a week to conduct a two-hour Turkish class in March and we launched the project. We made an announcement at the school and asked who would like to learn Turkish. We told them about the success the students had had the previous year [at the Olympiads], what the previous participants gained, and the contribution they would make to their country and Turkey if they attended the Turkish Olympiads. Several high school students in the 12-19 age group registered to join the classes," she explained, adding: “As part of the program, a language laboratory was given to them and they began studying Turkish. The first month passed with phonetic exercises as several sounds in Turkish do not exist in the Italian language. The students loved Turkish. Now you cannot differentiate their accents from a native Turk.”
Later the group continued by studying Turkish grammar. During their studies, one thing that students told Professor Kızıltan caught her attention. "They told me when they don't feel good, they feel the need to read something in Turkish and this comforted them," she said, adding, “This means Turkish has a rhythm, a beauty to touch the hearts of children; it is attractive." She thinks the words of her students are important to understand the psychology of children.
Olympiads about winning people over
Five students were selected from Aristosseno High School by an Italian committee to represent the country at the Turkish Olympiads. They were divided into different groups according to their talent. Among Kızıltan's students, those who were not selected by the Italian committee were still invited to Turkey as guest students by the organizers. "These Olympiads are not only competitions. They are there to win people over," the professor said.
Kızıltan also said the popularity of Asian and Middle Eastern languages has increased and that she had taught 106 students Turkish at the university in Lecce, and furthermore claimed that it made her proud that Italy is taking part in the Turkish Olympiads. While noting that the Italian group came to Turkey with the support of the Turkish Embassy, Kızıltan explained that the countries that are not represented at the Olympiads must also be invited. "It would contribute to the Turkish language if all embassies paid attention to the Turkish Olympiads and developed projects to do with it," she said, thanking the Turkish Embassy in Rome, which specifically supported Kızıltan's contribution to the Olympiads.