The foreign language education in Turkey can be traced back to The Tanzimat Period in the 19th century. This period was the beginning of a series of westernization movements in the Ottoman Empire. Foreign languages, especially French, played an important role in the movements. The government hired French military officers to train its army, and the Ottoman scholars also translated French books. Due to the long-turn diplomatic relationship between the Ottoman Empire and France since the 16th century, French gained importance over other languages. In the mid-19th century, English was also introduced to the empire mainly via missionary schools. Robert College, which was later transformed into Boğaziçi University in 1971, was the first education institution in Turkey that adopted English as an instruction language.
After the republic was established in 1923, westernization became one of the major principles of nation building. English gained precedence over other foreign languages, particularly French, which was previously preferred in diplomacy, education, and art (Kırkgöz, 2007). After World War II, Turkish government started paying more attention to the learning and teaching of English (Sarıçoban, 2012). In the 1950s, the first Anatolian high school was opened. This is regarded as the first step of the spread of English through schooling (Doğançay-Aktuna, 1998). Compared to expensive private high schools, Anatolian high schools are public and also offer foreign language courses. Teachers use English, German, or French as the instruction language in the classroom. With the advent of globalization, English became more and more important. The number of English-medium schools has been growing since the 1990s (Kırkgöz, 2007). English as an instruction language became gradually prevalent. At the level of higher education, Boğaziçi University in Istanbul and Middle East Technical University (ODTÜ) in Ankara are the major two English-medium public universities. Depending on the requirement of departments, other public universities and colleges may also use English to teach students. Due to the fact that the Higher Education Law also allows private universities to offer English-medium education, several newly-established private universities also require students’ English proficiency. Bilkent University in Ankara, founded in 1983, is the first English-medium private school.
In 1997, the Turkish educational system experienced a series of important reforms regarding foreign language teaching (FLT). The reform was introduced by “The Ministry of Education Development Project”, which aimed at promoting effective English teaching in both public and private schools (Sarıçoban, 2012). English became one of the standardized compulsory school subjects in primary schools and started to be taught from the 4th grade, in order to expose students to English learning as much as they can (Ministry of National Education, 2001).
For the needs and quality of English teachers, the government offered the curricula of teacher training. Teacher education departments were re-designed, both to increase the number of methodology courses and to extend the teaching practice time in primary and secondary schools, thereby providing student teachers with hands-on experience in schools (Kırkgöz, 2005 and 2007). Later on, in order to adapt EU standards, the Ministry of National Education (MONE) also made further improvement in new curricula which includes detailed theoretical knowledge for curriculum design, selection of materials for young learners and adolescents (Ministry of National Education, 2006).
The critical challenges that FLT faces in Turkey are methods and planning (Işık, 2008). Although communicative language teaching was initiated in the 1980s, the textbooks used in English courses may not be able to meet students’ needs. Most of the academic content for language teaching are usually supervised by the officials of MONE, instead of by field experts. In addition, another critical problem is the lack of coordination between MONE and the Council of Higher Education (HEC) (Sarıçoban, 2012). This also results in the instability of language education policy and the preference for individual opinions of the bureaucrats (Işık, 2008).