International Journal of Science Education ISSN 0950–0963 print/ISSN 1464–5289 online © 2003 Taylor & Francis Ltd
. 11, 1299–1311
Concept maps and language: a Turkish experience
Gulsen Bagci Kilic, Department of Elementary Science Education, School of
Education, Abant Izzet Baysal University, 14280, Bolu, Turkey; e-mail:
Concept maps are being used by an increasing number of educators in Europe and the US. This paper has four
goals. First, it discusses problems in developing Novak’s style concept maps in Turkish caused by linguistic
differences between Turkish and English. Second, it reports the findings of a research study conducted to adapt
concept maps to Turkish. Third, it recommends three methods for the adaptation resulting from research
findings. Finally, it discusses the implications of the adaptation for educators worldwide and for future
Many techniques have been developed to understand learners’ cognitive structure
and to organize the knowledge as described in Preece (1978). Semantic networks
(Quillan 1967), roundhouse diagrams (Trowbridge and Wandersee 1998), concept
circles (Wandersee 1987), Vee Diagram (Novak and Gowin 1984), and concept maps
(Novak and Gowin 1984, Novak 1998) are just a few of them. This paper focuses on
the problems arising in developing Novak’s style concept maps in Turkish.
Concept maps are two-dimensional representations of a set of concepts. The
concepts are arranged in a hierarchy with a superordinate concept at the top and
subordinate concepts below. Examples of concepts are presented at the bottom of a
concept map. The related concepts are linked by lines labeled with linking words
that form the propositions uniting the concepts. There are cross-links that bridge
branches of the map to create insightful propositions (Novak 1990, Trowbridge and
An enormous body of research has been published concerning concept maps.
For instance, a key-word search of ‘concept map’ in the Educational Resources
Information Center (ERIC) database resulted in 649 hits including 376 journal
articles for years 1980–2001. In science education, concept maps have been mostly
used in the study of biology (Pearson and Hughes 1986, Lloyd 1990, Okebukola
1990, Schmid and Telaro 1990, Briscoe and LaMaster 1991), chemistry (Cullen
1990, Zoller 1990, Wilson 1994, 1996, Markow and Lonning 1998), physics
(Pankratius 1990, Roth and Roychoudhury 1993), and earth science (Ault 1985).
Concept mapping is used for several purposes including determining students’
alternative conceptions (Zoller 1990, Ross and Munby 1991, Abrams and Wandersee
1992, Roberts 1999), examining changes in cognitive structure (Novak and
Wandersee 1990, Wallace and Mintzes 1990, Novak and Musonda 1991, Trowbridge
and Wandersee 1994), and for assessment and evaluation purposes (Moreira 1985,
Barenholz and Tamir 1992, Gaffney 1992, Roth 1992, Holmes and Leitzel 1993,
Markham et al. 1994, Laffey and Singer 1997, Rice et al. 1998, Edmondson 2000,
Stoddart et al. 2000).
In recent years, concept maps have also been used as a qualitative research tool
(Raymond 1997, Rye and Rubba 1998) and in learning groups to extend the
exchange of ideas during collaboration (Roth and Roychoudhury 1993; Van Boxtel
et al. 1997, 2000).
Concept mapping was originally developed in the US for use in the English
language, but it is now being used in other countries. There have been some
publications on the use of concept maps in China (Huai 1997), in Taiwan (Chou
and Lin 1997), in Germany (Rhoneck 1985, Lang and Olson 2000), in the
Netherlands (Boschhuizen 1988), in Italy (Regis and Albertazzi 1996, Matricardi et
al. 2000), in Spain (Aleixandre and Gayoso 1996, Gonzalez 1997), and in Israel
(Hashweh 1986, Barenholz and Tamir 1992). These publications did not report any
problem using concept maps in their language. On the other hand, Lee (1999)
examined the use of concept mapping with Korean-speaking students in the US,
adapting the technique to the Korean language whose sentence structure is different
from that of English. Educators in Turkey have also begun to use concept maps in
science education (Kaptan 1998, Gunay and Hamurcu 2000, Sokmen and Bayram
2000, Bagci Kilic 2001). However, the author has experienced problems in using
concept maps in Turkish, arising from linguistic differences between Turkish and
In a concept map, concepts are organized in a hierarchy and related concepts are
connected by lines. The relationships between these concepts are expressed by
writing connecting words on the connecting lines. Writing the relationships between
concepts makes the concept maps more meaningful by showing how students relate
concepts to each other in their cognitive structure. In English, complete and
meaningful sentences are formed if one works through a concept map; reading a
concept first, then the connecting words, then the next concept, and so on. In
Turkish, however, complete and meaningful sentences are not formed in this
paradigm because of the linguistic structure of Turkish. This is caused by two
differences between Turkish and English. One of the differences is the fundamental
word order. The second difference is the system in Turkish of attaching suffixes to
words and using postpositions rather than prepositions.
English language has a basic word order of subject–verb–object (SVO). In
addition, suffixes are not added to words in English to nearly the degree they are
in Turkish. In English, the relationship between two concepts is easily expressed
by writing the verb or a preposition on a connecting line. As a concept map is
read, the basic SVO structure of the sentence is established and a correct sentence
is formed. For example, suppose two concepts, children and mother, are placed in
a concept map as in figure 1 and linked by using the verb ‘love’. The reader will
read the sentence: ‘Children love their mother’. This is a complete and meaningful
sentence in English. Because basic SVO word order is established, the adjectival
pronoun ‘their’ was not combined with mother, but rather could be written on the
CONCEPT MAPS AND TURKISH LANGUAGE
On the other hand, the basic word order in Turkish is subject–object–verb
(SOV). As a SOV language where objects precede the verb, Turkish has
postpositions and suffixes rather than prepositions and adjectival pronouns.
Moreover, unlike English, relative clauses precede the verb. Turkish is also
agglutinative; that is, grammatical functions are indicated by adding various suffixes
to stems (UCLA Language Materials Project, 2000). The same concepts expressed
in figure 1 are represented in Turkish in figure 2.
‘Çocuklar’ means children, ‘Anne’ means mother, and ‘sever’ means love in
Turkish. If one reads figure 2 through first concept–connecting words–second
concept order, the resulting sentence is ‘Çocuklar sever anne’. This is not a complete
and meaningful Turkish sentence. This is merely a group of Turkish words placed
into an English grammatical structure. The meaningful and correct Turkish
sentence would be ‘Çocuklar annelerini severler’. Now, the Turkish SOV order is
established. The subject is at the beginning of the sentence, the verb comes at the
end of the sentence, and object is between the two. The suffixes ‘-ler’ in ‘annelerini’
and ‘-ler’ in ‘severler’ are added to make them plural. The tense of the sentence is
indicated by combining a suffix ‘-er’ in ‘severler’ to the end of the verb.
In order to represent the problem on real concept maps, an English concept
map on atom concept is shown in figure 3. A Turkish concept map on the same
Figure 1. An illustration of complete sentence formation in English when
one reads through first concept–connecting words–second concept.
‘Children love their mother’ is a complete English sentence.
Figure 2. An illustration of incomplete sentence formation in Turkish
when one reads first concept–connecting words–second concept.
‘Çocuklar sever anne’ is an incomplete Turkish sentence.
Figure 3. An English concept map on the atom concept.
concept is represented in figure 4 for comparison. The concept maps were kept
simple so as to prevent the reader from getting lost in long sentences.
If one reads the concept map in figure 3, the following complete sentences are
[An] Atom consists of neutrons, protons, and electrons.
Neutrons and protons exist in nucleus.
Nucleus is at the center of the atom.
Protons and electrons attract each other.
Electrons rotate around nucleus.
If an English-speaking student were asked to describe the relationships between the
concepts in figure 3, he/she would explain relationships in similar, but complete,
sentences. In English, it is not difficult to locate these sentences in the concept map.
It is also easier for the reader to understand the concept map since complete
sentences are formed as one reads through the concept map.
For comparison, a Turkish concept map on atom concept is represented in
figure 4. As one reads through the concept map in figure 4, the following phrases are
Atom olusur n¨otronlar, protonlar ve elektronlar.
N¨otronlar ve protonlar bulunurlar çekirdek.
Çekirdek merkezindedir atom.
Elektronlar etrafında d¨onerler çekirdek.
Protonlar birbirlerini çekerler elektronlar.
These phrases are not grammatically correct and meaningful Turkish sentences. If
a native Turkish speaker were asked to express the relationship between concepts
represented by the concept map, the following sentences would emerge.
Atom, n¨otronlar, protonlar ve elektronlardan olusur.
N¨otronlar ve protonlar çekirdekte bulunurlar.
Çekirdek atomun merkezindedir.
Elektronlar çekirde˘gin etrafında d ¨onerler.
Protonlar ve elektronlar birbirlerini çekerler.
When the last set of Turkish sentences are compared with the previous set of Turkish
phrases read from the concept map in figure 4, it can be seen that the Turkish
concept map breaks the sentence structure and obscures the meaning for the
Figure 4. A Turkish concept map on the atom concept.
CONCEPT MAPS AND TURKISH LANGUAGE
Turkish user. This occurs because the verbs (olusur, bulunurlar, d¨onerler, çekerler)
come at the end of the Turkish sentences, but are written and read in the middle on
the concept map. Furthermore, Turkish language has suffixes rather than prefixes.
Suffixes (‘-dan’ in ‘elektronlardan’, ‘-te’ in ‘çekirdekte’, ‘-un’ in ‘atomun’, ‘-in’ in
‘çekirde˘gin’) are added to concept words to define grammatical relationships. In
addition, the tense of each sentence is indicated by a suffix (‘-ur’ in ‘olusur’ and
‘bulunurlar’, ‘-er’ in ‘d¨onerler’, ‘-er’ in ‘çekerler’) added to the stem of the verb.
Suffixes indicating plural (’-lar’ in ‘bulunurlar’, ‘-ler’ in ‘çekerler’ and ‘d¨onerler’) are
also added to verbs.
Because of these linguistic differences, Turkish students using concept maps
developed strictly on the English model are reading incomplete Turkish phrases.
They must cognitively manipulate each phrase to grasp its meaning. A student
encountering an unknown concept might form misconceptions by misinterpreting
such phrases. After recognizing these shortcomings in Turkish concept maps, the
author conducted a research study to find ways of adapting concept mapping into
How would native Turkish speakers represent relationships on a concept map if they
are not taught a method of writing such relationships?
Participants in this study were 134 third-year undergraduate elementary education
students registered to four sections of an ‘Elementary Science Teaching Methods’
course. Participation in the study was voluntary.
This research study is a qualitative enquiry into how native speakers of Turkish
would express relationships between concepts in a concept map. This research study
was applied in a 2-hour class session for each section of the course. The researcher
explained the steps for developing a concept map in the following order, but in
1. Choose a concept.
2. Write a list of concepts related to the main concept.
3. Organize the concepts in a hierarchy placing the superordinate concept at
the top and subordinate concepts below. Circle each concept. Write the
examples of the concepts at the bottom.
4. Connect related concepts with lines.
5. Write the relationship between two concepts on the line connecting the two
concepts. Do the same thing for each pair of connected concepts.
6. Revise your concept map until you are satisfied with it.
Although the researcher explained these directions, she did not teach the
participants how to write the relationships between concepts. The assumption here
was that if participants were not instructed on how to write the relationships
between concepts, they would find a way that seemed the most logical to them. The
researcher also asked them to indicate on their paper whether they had prior
knowledge about concept mapping. Since concept maps developed on the English
model are being published in textbooks, students who were already familiar with
such concept maps could be expected to construct theirs on this model.
After students stated that they had no more questions and were ready to begin,
they were asked to develop a concept map of a concept that is familiar to themselves.
The researcher did not set any time limits. The 2-hour class session was enough for
all participants. When each participant was satisfied with his/her concept map, he/
she handed in to the researcher. The researcher quickly examined the concept maps
as they were handed in. If a participant wrote relationships between concepts on his/
her concept map, he/she handed in the concept map and left the classroom. If no
relationships between concepts were written on a concept map, the researcher
conducted a short, unstructured interview with the participant to establish the
reason(s) for not writing any relationship. The researcher took interview notes on
each interviewee’s concept map.
The researcher started with 134 concept maps. The researcher first excluded the
concept maps developed by participants who indicated on their paper that they had
prior knowledge about concept mapping. The remaining concept maps were then
analyzed. Since this was a first-time experience for the participants, some of the
concept maps actually looked like flow charts. These ‘flow charts’ were also
excluded from the analyses. In the end, the researcher analyzed 55 concept maps,
which were developed by participants who had no prior knowledge about concept
The researcher applied the content analysis technique in analyzing the concept
maps. As a first step, the researcher examined the concept maps to decide the codes
emerged from students’ concept maps. Some of the students stated the relationships
between concepts by writing a few words on the connecting lines as is done in the
English model. Some of the students wrote relationships between concepts on the
connecting lines as complete sentences. As mentioned earlier, some other students
did not represent any relationship on their concept map. Thus, three codes emerged
from students’ concept maps. They were ‘a few words’, ‘complete sentence’, and ‘no
representation’. The second step was to determine the frequency of each code. The
researcher examined the concept maps again, matched concept maps to each code,
and tabulated the number of concept maps falling into each category. The last step
was to analyze the interview data of participants who did not represent the
relationships between concepts.
In total, 55 concept maps were analyzed. Eighteen students (32.7%) wrote the
relationships as a few words on their concept map as it is in English. Twenty-nine
students (52.7%) wrote complete sentences on the connecting lines. Eight students
(14.5%) did not write any relationship between concepts on their concept map.
CONCEPT MAPS AND TURKISH LANGUAGE
The following information was obtained from the interviews conducted with
eight students who did not represent any relationship. Two participants said that
writing the relationships would have taken too much time. This might imply the
difficulty of writing the relationships in Turkish. Four students replied that it was
easy to explain relationships between concepts verbally but difficult to depict them
on a concept map. The researcher then asked them to describe the relationships
between the concepts. The participants were able to verbally describe the
relationships between the concepts. These interview results showed that those
participants have the relationships in their cognitive structure, but could not write
them on their concept map. Two of the students who did not write any relationship
on their concept map said that they could not figure out a way to write the
relationships on connecting lines and thus preferred explaining the relationships
between concepts in a few short paragraphs just below the concept map.
Interview data indicated that some of the students had difficulty in writing the
relationships between concepts. Four of them preferred to state the relationships
verbally, while two others preferred to write them out in paragraph form.
Only 18 of 55 students wrote the relationships between concepts as a few words as
in English concept maps. Twenty-nine students wrote the relationships as complete
sentences, four students preferred to explain the relationships verbally, and two
students explained the relationship between concepts in paragraph form below their
concept map. In total 35 (29 + 4 + 2) out of 55 students (63.6%) found other ways
of expressing relationships in their Turkish concept maps. Since they did not get any
instruction in writing the relationships between concepts on a concept map, these
students might have been expected to find what seemed to them the most logical
way to express the relationships on their concept map.
Based on the research results, the researcher proposes three recommendations
for writing relationships between concepts on Turkish concept maps.
Recommendation 1: writing relationships between concepts on connecting
lines as complete sentences
In this research, more than one-half of the students (29 out of 55) wrote the
relationships between concepts as complete sentences. This method, then, would be
one option for Turkish students. As a concrete example, the concept map in figure
4 has been reorganized and is presented in figure 5.
In figure 5, relationships between concepts were written as complete sentences
on the connecting lines. The reader no longer has to read incomplete Turkish
sentences and then reorganize them. Grammatically correct and meaningful
sentences are displayed on the lines connecting the concepts. Writing the complete
sentence on the connecting lines is also easier for the developers of concept map.
They just write the complete sentence in their cognitive structure to represent the
relationship between two concepts. The concept map in figure 5 seems to cause
cognitive overload at first look, but as one starts to read the map it becomes easier
to comprehend because the reader does not have to manipulate incorrect sentences
to grasp the meaning. In order to prevent cognitive overload, the concept map may
be drawn on larger size paper. Another way of preventing cognitive overload would
be assigning numbers to connecting lines on a concept map and then writing the
sentences that represent the relationships with corresponding number below the
Recommendation 2: writing relationships between concepts in short
paragraphs below a concept map
Two of the students who did not write any relationship between concepts on their
concept map preferred explaining relationships in a few short paragraphs below
their concept map. This could be another option for Turkish students. Indeed, if one
collects the sentences read from an English concept map, these sentences could be
organized into paragraphs. Because of the sentence structure of English language,
these sentences in the paragraphs can be displayed on a concept map in English.
However, in Turkish, it is not possible to spread those sentences throughout the
concept map without breaking the sentence structure and, thus, the meaning.
Therefore, it would be more meaningful in Turkish to explain the relationships
between concepts as short paragraphs below a concept map rather than spreading
them throughout the concept map in a meaningless way. The concept map in figure
4 was reorganized to be an example for this recommendation, and is represented in
In the concept map in figure 6, concepts were organized in a hierarchy and
related concepts connected by lines. Relationships between concepts were described
in a paragraph below the concept map.
Recommendation 3: explaining the relationships between concepts verbally
Four students who do not write any relationship between concepts on their concept
map said that it was easier to state relationships verbally, but it is difficult to place
them on a concept map. Indeed, they verbally described the relationships between
Figure 5. Option one for Turkish concept map: relationships between
concepts are written as complete sentences on the connecting lines.
CONCEPT MAPS AND TURKISH LANGUAGE
concepts on their concept map to the researcher in the interviews. Thus, another
option for Turkish students might be to draw the concept map by organizing the
concepts, connecting the related concepts, and then explaining the relationships
between concepts on their concept map verbally to the teacher and other
Conclusion and implications
Research findings indicate that there are reasonable methods for expressing
relationships on concept maps developed in the Turkish language. Writing the
relationships between concepts as complete sentences on connecting lines,
explaining relationships between concepts in short paragraphs below a concept
map, or explaining the concept map verbally are three methods that emerged from
this study. These would be choices for the use of a concept map in the Turkish
language, but more research studies should be conducted in adapting concept maps
to Turkish. There might be more options for expressing relationships on Turkish
concept maps. In addition, the three methods emerged from this research study
should be tested with experimental research to find out which option is more
effective for Turkish students.
This research study also has implications for educators worldwide. In the world
that is becoming global everyday, there may be Turkish speakers in any country. For
example, over one million Turkish speakers live in Bulgaria, Macedonia, and
Greece; over 1.5 million Turkish speakers live in Germany and other northern
European countries (Grimes 1992). About 24,000 Turkish speakers live in the US
(Grimes 1992). Most probably, Turkish is the language spoken at home by those
people. In most of these countries, concept maps are used in science education at
all levels for learning, instruction, assessment and evaluation purposes. If their
teachers are using concept maps, Turkish students may have additional difficulties
in developing concept maps. This might not be a problem if the students are very
competent in English. Less competent students would probably try to develop a
Figure 6. Option two for Turkish concept map: relationships between
concepts are written as a paragraph below a concept map.
Explanation of Relationships between Concepts: Atom n¨otronlar, protonlar ve elek-
tronlardan olusur. N¨otronlar ve protonlar atomun merkezinde yeralan çekirdekte
bulunurlar. Elektronlar ise çekirde˘gin etrafında d¨onerler. Protonlar ve elektronlar
concept map in Turkish first and then translate it into English. The language
characteristics being different for Turkish and English could cause such students to
have additional problems in developing concept maps. Turkish students might be
given the chance to explain their concept map either verbally or in writing to be sure
that they have clearly represented the concepts and the relationships between the
concepts as they have them in their cognitive structure. Future research in
multicultural classrooms needs to be conducted to find out whether bilingual
Turkish children experience similar problems with concept mapping.
The problems in developing concept maps in Turkish have their origin in the
language characteristics of Turkish being different from English language. Thus,
similar problems may arise in the use of concept maps in other countries whose
language characteristics being different from English language. Languages spoken
in the world are classified according to their characteristics by linguists. In this
classification, English belongs to the Anglo-Frisian group of the Western Germanic
languages. Western Germanic languages are a subfamily of the Indo-European
languages (Encarta 2001a). Other members of the Indo-European language family
are French, Italian, Russian, Greek, Hindi, Polish, Persian, Dutch, Spanish,
Swedish, Norwegian, Indian, Armenian, Icelandic, Kurdish, Albanian, and the
Baltic languages (Encarta 2001b). Since these languages share many of their
characteristics with English there may be much less of a problem in using concept
maps in these languages. This also explains wide use of concept maps in Europe. On
the other hand, Turkish belongs to the Turkic language family (Encarta 2001c). The
Turkic language family includes Azerbaijani (Azeri), Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Tatar,
Turkmen, Uighur, and Uzbek languages. The Turkic languages are a subgroup of
the Altaic language family (UCLA Language Materials Project 2000). Although
some dispute the point, many linguists also include Korean and Japanese in the
Altaic family (Encarta 2001d). In any case, educators in these countries should be
careful in using concept maps in their language, seeking ways to adapt concept maps
for use in their language. Hopefully, the Turkish experience with concept mapping
and this paper would provide some ideas for adapting concept maps into other
languages, particularly those that are not in the Indo-European family.
Limitations of the study
The main limitation of the study is that it was the first experience with concept maps
for all those students whose concept maps were included in the analyses. This was
done for several reasons. First, the researcher wanted to explore the natural
tendency of native Turkish speakers to represent the relationships on their concept
map. If the researcher told the participants how to represent the relationships, they
would represent the relationships on their concept map in the way they were taught.
Second, many concept maps are being developed and published in textbooks by
some Turkish educators in an English model. Students who saw such concept maps
would develop theirs on this model without trying to figure out any other way. This
is again did not reveal their natural tendency.
Another limitation of the study is providing short training on developing
concept maps. It may take 8–10 weeks for students to become fully accustomed to
concept mapping (Wandersee 1990). However, it is impossible to provide more
training and experience for students without teaching how to write relationships
between concepts on a concept map. On the other hand, the quality of the students’
CONCEPT MAPS AND TURKISH LANGUAGE
concept maps was not examined in this study. The purpose was to examine the
relationships; thus, it was enough to see how the students preferred to write
relationships on their concept map.
Although it has limitations, this study extracted some insights from native
Turkish speakers. Some students found out alternative ways of expressing
relationships on their concept map without breaking the sentence structure of
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