Diaries of a Couch Potato: How to Learn Turkish via Kiralık Aşk (Love for Rent)

I have received a mixed bag of reactions from Turkish people when I explain that Kiralık Aşk is “my dizi.” It’s a barely-realistic technicolor drama that depicts life in the urban setting of Istanbul that tells the story of how Ömer and Defne fall in or out of love, depending on the episode. It starts like this: boy meets girl. Actually, rich boy meets poor girl at a cafe. Boy’s pesky aunt spies girl and notices a spark. Aunt hires girl to be boy’s assistant for a large sum of money. Aunt intends to get boy to fall in love with girl and to marry her. They fall in love, of course. But, because it’s a set-up, girl feels guilty, risks seeming fake, has to keep a big secret, and has to cope with her own familial and financial problems, etc.

Kiralık Aşk

Especially for people who are just getting to know me, my taste in Turkish television may give the wrong impression. They may start to think of me as one of those girls who gets swept up in the fantasies of love at first sight, rags to riches, and fairy godmothers. On the contrary, I’m usually the realist who gets complaints from close friends for being too serious about politics shmolitics or other heavy topics. Yet, one’s taste can depend entirely on context.

Why am I, a happily unmarried thirty-something, watching this show, then? Am I watching it for the plot? No. Am I watching it for a deep, emotional impact? Not really. Am I watching it for the humor? Değil. So, why am I watching it? I’m just watching for the Turkish! (I swear—wink, wink!)

The back-story is this. I was in my fourth Turkish language class at Dilmer about a year ago. I went to a cafe with a friend who had previously taken just one or two classes at the same school. When she spoke Turkish, the waiter continued speaking to her in Turkish. As soon as I started speaking Turkish, the waiter immediately switched to English. Even though my friend technically knew less grammar, she was convincing enough in Turkish to carry on conversations. I asked her to divulge her secret and that’s when she recommended watching Kiralık Aşk. She had already watched all of the old episodes to get up to date for weekly viewings. She would watch it with the rich family whom she worked for as a live-in French tutor in Kanlıca. Her eyes glowed when she talked about how “cute” the show was. And it is!

I tested out my first episode in small doses: twenty minutes here, twenty minutes there. Against my natural inclination, I soon got hooked. It’s not that I watch it religiously, but I do use it to bolster my Turkish now that I’ve discovered that it has hidden benefits. Most of the aspects that make people squeamish about the show are precisely the reasons why I can use it to my language-learning advantage.

Let me explain:

1. It’s not hard to guess what’s happening
A show with a predictable plot is very helpful for learning a new language. You can watch it without knowing a lick of Turkish and still comprehend the general idea. That’s enough to let you to sit back comfortably as your ears try to interpret the flood of new syllables and intonations coming at you like a hurricane. Whatever grammar you’ve learned in your Turkish classes will be reinforced by this show, because you can observe how and when to use all of those daunting Turkish suffixes like a natural.

Thanks to this, you won’t even need subtitles. I actually recommend watching Kiralık Aşk without subtitles, unless you’re a complete beginner. The more real-time verbal exposure you encounter, the better, according to my couch potato approach to language learning. However, it may entail a ready willingness to suspend your full understanding, which you already have to do living abroad, anyway. Get used to it, and enjoy!

2. This lighthearted melodrama will satisfy you for almost eternity
That is, if you can stomach it. The show feels like a full-animation feature made by Disney at times, but without the annoying musicals or fairy tale magic (although I did see Neriman shoot lasers from her eyes on the show, once). The color palette is primary, the hair and makeup are impeccable, and the main characters are all as attractive and as airbrushed as cover models. The theme song is almost too catchy and it will surely get stuck in your head. Any instance of conflict is quickly followed up with comic relief or swoon-worthy romance. All of these cheerful elements are designed to lure you into an unwinding plot that has already resulted in roughly seventy 120-minute episodes of easy-going entertainment. You certainly won’t lack for material by watching this show and it will greatly help you to master the everyday speech patterns of Turkish. Personally, I prefer to watch it in bits and pieces, rather than sitting through full episodes. This way, it’s like having little listening-practice snack-breaks.

3. Think of it as a bridge from classroom speech to natural speech
If you’re taking Turkish classes, you may have noticed the stark contrast between your ability to speak Turkish in class and speaking Turkish in public. Let this show serve as a bridge to help you transition out of the classroom. The characters may speak fast, but they also speak really clearly compared to what you’ll find in most natural speaking settings. The show is also filled with a ton of everyday, useful dialogue. Once you get the hang of Kiralık Aşk-style Turkish, mastering street-Turkish and different accents will become less challenging.

I noticed that the show builds confidence if you use it alongside other methods of learning Turkish. If you’re taking Turkish lessons, you’ll notice words and suffixes start to become clearer each time you watch the show. What’s more, your comprehension of the show’s conversations can serve as a good litmus test for your advancing level of the language.

4. The stock characters of the cast are fun to imitate
You’ll immediately fall in love with the crimson-haired protagonist, Defne, because she speaks in a less-polished but more-spontaneous manner than everyone else. Words blurt out of her mouth in a way that you can sympathize with. As a foreigner living in Turkey, you’re probably already making one faux pas after another. She, too, has become part of a society she’s unfamiliar with. The only difference is that her awkward slips come in the form of fast-paced, endearingly authentic, Istanbullu Turkish.

When to imitate Defne: When you’re obviously the amateur in the room and need to make up for it with charm.

Text sample: Düşününce işte çok sevimli geldi yani öyle tombiş tombiş yanaklarınız falan (0:28)

Translation: When I thought about it, I found it really cute, I mean, like, your chubby chubby cheeks and stuff.

Defne’s counterpart is the suave but volatile, self-assured businessman and talented shoe designer: Ömer. He acts dumbstruck around Defne, because he’s fallen in love, but that never seems to make him mince words. Yet, at times, he’ll lose his shit and punch a wall when he gets angry.

When to imitate Ömer: When you need to impress with your good breeding (calm Ömer) or you need to express primordial rage (angry Ömer).

Text sample: Benim kafam almıyor. Anlamıyorum artık. Herkes mi kötü? (0:11)

Translation: I don’t get it. I can’t understand anymore. Is everybody cruel?

Neriman is the charismatic aunt of Ömer who considers matchmaking not only her familial duty but also a fun gamble. She always puts money on the most probable match, for her younger relatives. She has to hide her habit of meddling in others’ affairs from her husband, Necmi, because he thinks it does more harm than good. Her ally and sidekick in matchmaking is Ömer’s (presumably) gay photographer, Koray. Together, they gossip about anyone involved in their charade. Neriman has some highly impulsive speech patterns that mostly include talking to herself for decision-making purposes (should I? Yes? No! No. Yes!), ordering her assistant Mine to run trivial errands, fawning to Necmi, and gossiping with Koray.

When to imitate Neriman: When you’re feeling spoiled by life and you just can’t choose from so many options.

Text sample: Bana bak. Ömer bu kızla evlenmezse köşk möşk* gider valla* (0:02)

Translation: Look here (literally: Look at me). If Ömer doesn’t marry this girl, the summerhouse will go.

*möşk adds the meaning of ‘and things’ to summerhouse.

*valla is a common filler word used to add emphasis.

Yasemin is the shrewd, scheming businesswoman who initially finds Defne unbearably naive and intolerable. She seduces, whether accidentally or on purpose, nearly every straight male character in the show. However, these romantic diversions do not sway her from her main target: personal success.

When to imitate Yasemin: When flirting with an agenda.

Text sample: Ben senden ne sakladım ki, bugüne kadar? (0:28)

Translation: What have I hidden from you until now?

Sinan is the warm, good-natured best friend and colleague of Ömer. His sympathetic speech usually involves shout outs to friends, playful remarks, or heart-to-heart talks. He’s a lot like a less-womanizing and more-clever version of Joey from Friends.

When to imitate Sinan: At a party or whenever you need to boost your friends’ morale.

Text sample: (Guten morgen, good morning, buongiorno) ne yapıyorsunuz ekip? Nasıl keyifler*?! (0:05)

Translation: What are you doing, team?

*This second phrase roughly means “What’s up?” but the literal translation is: how are the pleasures?

Koray is the flamboyantly gay (we can easily assume), pretentious, and quirky jester of the show. He has horrendously bad taste, uses meaningless conversations to distract people, and makes up nicknames, gestures and expressions to accent his chatter. You’ll start to know the characters’ names on the show based on Koray’s signature appellations for them.

When to imitate Koray: In a gossip sesh

Text sample: Yoksa aşık mısın ha? Çabuk anlat! Kime aşıksın? (0:15)

Translation: Otherwise, are you in love? Tell me quickly! Who are you in love with?

Occasionally, the show even features the dialogues of yabancı characters such as Ömer’s friend, an Italian shoe designer. Anytime the show features this character, you’ll have a good example of how not to speak Turkish. This is your opportunity to hear what Turkish people think of the way a yabancı speaks. Try your best to avoid the mechanically slow rhythms of his syllables.

5. Most of the characters talk to themselves.
You can learn how to do that, too! Think of the benefits for practicing Turkish. You won’t even need a tandem partner.

Finally, if Kiralık Aşk doesn’t whet your appetite for Turkish television, you can apply my approach to learning Turkish to any other series. There are plenty of others to choose from on Star TV.

Featured image intended as Fair Use.

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Erica Eller
Erica Eller is an American living in Istanbul. She collected degrees prior to moving abroad and now, she lives by teaching English. She writes obsessively and she's held in thrall by an addiction to literature and language, a deep concern for ecology, a love of art and aesthetics, and a nostalgia for her past as a performing musician. See her latest blog on biodiversity at biodivvy.com. See her blog on cultural commentary (book reviews, falan filan) at pompandintertext.com.

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