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Azerbaijani vs English

Azerbaijani or Azeri Turkish has over 30 million speakers based in both Azerbaijan‏‎ and the surrounding countries.

It’s closely related to Turkish and is, to a certain extent, mutually understandable.

Although there are a couple of major varieties (Northern Azerbaijani and Southern Azerbaijani) and many local dialects, they do not differ substantially and speakers don’t usually have a problem understanding each other.

Northern Azerbaijani is spoken by about 7 million speakers mainly in Azerbaijan itself and Southern Azerbaijani is spoken by about 23 million speakers, mainly in Iran.

This article looks at a few major differences between Azerbaijani and English and the kinds of problems that native speakers of Azerbaijani have when learning English.

Alphabets

Prior to 1929 Azerbaijani was written using an Arabic script. However in 1929 Northern Azerbaijani was written using a form of the Latin alphabet‏‎; this was later changed to the Cyrillic alphabet. In 1991 the current Latin alphabet was introduced.

This means that although some speakers of Azerbaijani will be familiar to the English alphabet, most will not and find it new. As a TEFL teacher you will most likely need to offer extra instruction on how to write the English alphabet as the chances are most of your students will not be used to it.

Grammar

There are many differences in grammar between Azerbaijani and English. This section covers a few major ones.

articles

There are no articles‏‎ in Azerbaijani. One of the main problems comes when looking at whether something is definite or indefinite.

For example, in English we can say:

tea is very cheap
the tea is very cheap

In the first case I am talking in general about the cost of tea. In the second case I am talking about the cup of tea in front of us now.

However in Azerbaijani this distinction can only be made through context. Thus as a TEFL teacher you will have to show your students explicitly what articles we use in English and how we use them.

plurals

Azerbaijani adds an affix‏‎ to a noun to make it plural.

However, whereas in English we add the affix to the end of the word to make it plural (e.g. bookbooks) in Azerbaijani it can go at either the beginning or end depending on the word.

pronouns

Unlike English, there is no grammatical gender‏‎ in Azerbaijani. This means, for example, that a single pronoun can refer to he, she or it.

In teaching English, you will specifically need to show how pronouns refer to gender in English. Fortunately this is fairly simple for the majority of cases:

  1. male animals are masculine
  2. female animals are feminine
  3. everything else in neuter

In addition, since Azerbaijani verbs‏‎ change form depending on who they refer to, often the pronoun is dropped since it’s not needed. You can thus see sentences like this:

* took my car!
* went on holiday last week.

* An asterisk at the beginning of a sentence shows it is ungrammatical.

For the teacher this means you need to explicitly show how English sentences‏‎ are formed and will almost always require a subject:

She took my car!
We went on holiday last week.

prepositions

Whereas in English prepositions‏‎ usually come before the noun phrase, in Azerbaijani they usually come after it.

* I walked the bridge under.

Instead of:

I walked under the bridge

Word order will need to be explained carefully then.

Useful Links

Learn Azerbaijani – a simple guide to beginner’s Azerbaijani; useful if you are teaching Azerbaijani speaking students

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