Dragoman Akademi (clients: Statkraft, KVK Teknik Servis, 1000 Volt, Emlak Konut, Novartis, Anadolu Grubu, DenizEmeklilik/MetLife, Mercedes-Benz, Abdi Ibrahim, DenizBank, Sekerbank). Also taught private lessons to adults at all levels of fluency. Istanbul, October 2010–July 2012.

Letter of reference

Istanbul has dozens of language schools, most of which have the ambience of a factory without a union. Despite having previous teaching experience and a freshly minted CELTA, I was offered salaries in the range of what I earned in Moscow 15 years ago. So I focused on tutoring Business English and felt very lucky when I found Dragoman Akademi (now: Affina) and its director, Cagatay Donmez. Totally cool guy, honest, and very careful to spell out the drawbacks of being a traveling tutor.

“The traffic is very bad in Istanbul,” he warned, “and the students are located all over.”

“No problem!” I chirped. “It’ll be a great way to learn my way around the city!”

I still can’t believe I ever said that.

The saving grace is that my students are worth every minute I spend in buses, minivans, dolmuses, funiculars, and subways. Their levels range from elementary to advanced, which is a big stretch for me. The elementary-level students are working with course books; for the others, I have to develop lessons tailored to their individual (and often business) needs. I’m pushing my intermediate-level students to give presentations that we record with a pocket video camera, upload to my YouTube channel, and review for grammar and pronunciation errors. My one advanced student doesn’t tolerate grammar reviews, so I’ve introduced him to the nonfiction essays of David Foster Wallace and an independently produced documentary about overeducated parking-lot attendants in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Besides teaching, I’ve also developed the curriculum for a two-day Business Writing workshop and written the marketing pitch for a program called English 155—for business people who need short-term, targeted language training prior to giving an important presentation or taking a trip abroad. (Turks dial 155 for emergency services, hence the name.)

English Business Writing Techniques

When Cagatay found out I had experience as a writer and editor, he asked me to develop the curriculum for an intensive two-day workshop on business writing—the only one of its kind in Istanbul. Dragoman Akademi sold the workshop eight times in one year, and I presented it to employees at five major companies (Anadolu Grubu, Mercedes-Benz, Abdi Ibrahim, DenizBank, and Sekerbank). A total of 79 students took the training, and 49 of them submitted written evaluations afterward.

Average rating (out of a possible 10):

Workshop content: 9.2

Trainer’s abilities and style: 9.8

Workshop met or exceeded expectations: 9.5

Private Lessons

Serdar was my first landlord as well as my first friend in Istanbul, and he kept insisting that lots of professional-level people in the city wanted private English lessons. I thought he was exaggerating, so he gave my phone number to his friend, Melik, and told us to work something out. After a couple of lessons, Melik gave me his seal of approval, and the gates opened even wider. Serdar introduced me to his sister-in-law, Kubra, and her coworker, Ercan. Then Melik introduced me to his sister-in-law, Tugce. Serdar also introduced me to his wife’s friend’s husband, Baris, who in turn introduced me to his boss, Teoman. Serdar has been like a Turkish Kevin Bacon—but instead of six degrees of separation, all of my private students can be traced back to him in just one or two steps. He’s put me in touch with his business associates, Naip and Aykut, who are beginners and prefer very informal lessons. Aykut just set me up with his friend, Aylin, and she mentioned that she has a friend who also wants lessons. It’s no exaggeration: Word of mouth is everything in Turkey.


Meliksah: financial-data software sales director

Ercan: retail manager

Kubra: retail window designer

Baris: regional sales manager

Teoman: national sales director

Tugce: model/actress

Naip: gold dealer

Aykut: online magazine publisher

Aylin: retail trader

Selva: retail merchandise coordinator

Elif: textiles designer

Aysegul: architect

Burcu: marketing manager

Ozan: investment banker

Business Hand Writing Workshop

Business Writing Workshop, Abdi Ibrahim, November 2011

Business Writing Workshop, Abdi Ibrahim, November 2011

Business Writing Workshop, Anadolu Grubu, November 2011

Business Writing Workshop, Anadolu Grubu, June 2011

Business Writing Workshop, Anadolu Grubu, June 2011

Student Profiles

Cem is the highest-functioning student I’ve ever worked with. Whenever we meet, I’m reluctant to call it a “lesson” because his grammar, vocabulary, and fluency are often better than a native speaker’s. Cem is the general manager of a company that specializes in CRM (customer relationship management), so I asked him to give a presentation on using social media in Turkish marketing. I also played the role of Skeptical Audience Member, but none of my pointed questions fazed him.

Whenever I get cranky about the travel demands of my job, Seyhmus always settles me down. Not with words, but by his example. He’s the project manager for a renewable energy company, and he travels frequently to oversee a dam that’s under construction. Some days begin at 5:00 a.m. for him, on the other side of the country, yet he always shows up for our lessons in good cheer. I like this clip because it reveals his personality as well as his personal history.

When we started working together, Hakan had studied English for only a month previously. The safest bet would’ve been to continue working with a bilingual teacher, but he opted instead to work with me, a monolingual native speaker who can’t explain the grammar to him in Turkish. Despite his demanding job as general manager at a telecom company, Hakan has proven to be a dedicated student with a voracious appetite for homework. His teenage daughters attend a high school where most of the curriculum is taught in English, so they help explain the grammar at home while I focus on speaking practice during our lessons at his office. Here he talks at length about a home bookcase project.