Hello everyone! Thank you so much for the support so far. I did not expect to get this much traffic and interest from people around the world.
Because more and more people have been interested in learning about Mongolia and the Mongolian language, I will be releasing the 2nd edition of the eBook with revisions and fixing any link errors, adding more worksheets, audio files, etc.
I do this as a hobby, but I will be spending more time on improving the quality of the lessons and make this website into a much better resource for learning Mongolian.
Again thank you for all your support! I hope to have the second edition done by the end of this month.
So in our last lesson we talked about the alphabet pronunciation, so in today’s lesson we will learn in detail about the pronunciation and harmony of Mongolian language vowels.
Depending on how long you hold a vowel and subtle pronunciation differences, specific words can mean completely different things.
Take for example:
тэр (ter) – Means it
тээр (te er) – Means nuisance.
ур (ur) – Means talent
урь (uri) – Means invite
Masculine Vowels: а, о, у, ё, ы, ю, я
Feminine Vowels: э, ө, ү, е
Neutral Vowels: и, й
Vowel softener: ь
Vowel hardener: ъ
While conjugations in the Mongolian language has no masculine and feminine differences, there are still masculine and feminine words, so a word with masculine vowels can only have masculine and neutral vowels.
A feminine word, can only have feminine and neutral vowels.
UNLESS in rare situations where they word is a loan word or a name, the rules sometimes don’t apply, but very rarely.
**Neutral vowels can go with both masculine and feminine vowels.
How to pronounce longer vowels vs shorter vowels
While the pronunciation of longer vowels sound pretty much the same, it just sounds a bit longer and held a bit longer than short vowels.
How to pronounce Diphthongs, what’s the difference
A Diphthong is a combination of differenct sounding vowels that make a unique sound of its own. If you remember, masculine and feminine vowels can never mix, but neutral vowels can mix with both, so you get few interesting sounds from the combination:
A lot of people often criticize Mongolia for losing its heritage and culture for not using the traditional script anymore and argue that Mongolians have adopted the Russian language.
However, though modern day Mongolians use the Cyrillic alphabet, we still speak our own language and learn Mongolian. It would be wrong to assume that Mongolians have lost their language and speak other foreign languages, because the language is alive and well with more and more people speaking it with each passing day.
How is traditional script different from Cyrillic
The traditional script is written vertically top to bottom and progresses to the right, whereas Cyrillic is written from left to right and progresses downwards.
The Mongolian Script
In written form, Mongolian script is more complex because depending on where a letter is placed, there can be different variations. Most commonly a specific letter has 3 variations, when it’s in the beginning of the word, in the middle the word, and at the end of the word. Sometimes the same letter can be used for different sounds.
Cyrillic is definitely much more straightforward because the letters each represent only 1 sound and don’t have different variations based on the placement of the letter in a word.
Why Inner Mongolia and Mongolia have different writing systems
For political reasons when Mongolian and Inner Mongolia split during their independence movement, Mongolia (Outer Mongolia as some people wrongly refer to) adopted the Cyrillic alphebet for political and economic reasons to further distance themselves from Chinese colonial ties.
Whereas, Inner Mongolia, being unable to gain their indepence, stuck with Traditional Script, but more and more people in Inner Mongolia are learning Mandarin Chinese for better opportunities in the future.
Why do Mongolians not use traditional script anymore
When people visit Mongolia for the first time, some are confused and wrongly think that Mongolians adopted the Russian language due to the use of the Cyrillic alphabet. Like the Latin Alphabet, many different languages use the Cyrillic alphabet for day to day use even though they may have no commonality and roots when it comes to grammar and structure.
For Mongolia’s case, since gaining its independence in 1911, we tried using the Latin alphabet, but settled with using the Cyrillic for practical reasons such as economics and politics. With the USSR as a major ally and trading partner, it made sense at the time to adopt the Cyrillic alphabet for improved relations, better communication, and most importantly to further solidify their sovereignty as a nation.
Although Mongolian and Russian relations are still good to this day; Russia is no longer the major trading partner as it used to be and Mongolians have started to trade more with Japan, Korea, and China.
Which raises the question, why don’t Mongolians revert back to using the traditional script for their language, but we will get into that topic soon enough.
Do Mongolians learn the traditional script
During middle-school, students are required to learn the traditional script. But because modern day Mongolians don’t use it day to day, it gets forgotten, but most people who have studied it, would be able to make out the general idea of a sentence written in traditional script.
Though the traditional script is not used for day to day occassions, you will find billboards, advertisements, and traditionally oriented things to be written in the traditional script for aesthetic and nationalistic reasons.
Will Mongolia revert back to traditional script
There have been talks and questions raised by traditional Mongolians, but there are no plans to change and revert back to Mongolian script, because it would require a major change in the Mongolian infastructure.
The whole of Mongolia as a country is built on Cyrillic and changing Cyrillic to Mongolian script would require time, money, and education reforms that Mongolians don’t want to deal with at this moment.
Most likely Mongolians will keep using the Cyrillic alphabet for the centuries to come.
People would assume that Mongolians and Inner Mongolians would be able to understand each other if they were to communicate.
Mostly it is true. A Mongolian and Inner Mongolia would be able to communicate with one another fairly well but there might still be some misunderstandings on certain occasions if not clarified. However, this is assuming both parties are able to speak in Mongolian.
But let’s go into the nuances behind the topic.
What’s the difference between Inner Mongolia and Mongolia
But before we go in detail, there needs to be a short explanation for the difference between Inner Mongolia and Mongolia (Outer Mongolia as some people wrongly refer to).
Though it’s a topic that needs its own article, Inner Mongolia and Mongolia were once part of a larger empire before the decline and the eventual colonization of Mongolia in 1691 by the Manchus/Qing dynasty. After 200 years of rule by the Qing, when Mongolia gained its independence in 1911, it didn’t have the full support and backing to reclaim independence as a whole, so to this day, the greater whole of Mongolia remains divided, where Inner Mongolia remains a part of China.
Since 1911, Inner Mongolia and Mongolia have gone through cultural changes that furthered the divide.
Can everyone in Inner Mongolia speak Mongolian?
Without getting into history too much, let’s get into the main the topic. Not every person in Inner Mongolia speaks Mongolian, because ethnic Mongolians in Inner Mongolia are actually only ~10%, while the remaining are mostly Han Chinese.
The 10% of ethnic Mongolians, numbering around 5 million don’t all speak in Mongolian due to political and economical reasons. More and more people are opting to further study Mandarin Chinese. Based on my personal experience travelling to Inner Mongolia, people spoke Mandarin and I had a difficulty communicating with people.
Does everyone in Mongolia speak Mongolian?
Usually yes, they all speak Mongolian, but some sub ethnic groups are the exception, such as the Kazakh people. If you go to Bayan Ulgii, you will most likely encounter people speaking in either Kazakh and sometimes Mongolian.
The difference between accents and words
This is where miscommincation might occur if both parties are not able to clearly pronounce the words in ways that the other can understand. Other times, words and phrases used in Mongolia does not always apply to Inner Mongolians vice versa.
Since 1911, Mongolians have been influenced by the USSR and Inner Mongolians by China, so Mongolians had to learn Russian as a second langauge and Inner Mongolians had to learn Mandarin Chinese.
When people listen to a Mongolian speaking, they often comment on how it has a slight resemblance to the Russian language, so being culturally influenced by Russia might have affected the pronunciation of certain letters.
When I listen to Inner Mongolian speakers however, it certainly seems like they have a blend of Chinese accent with pronounced Z and SH sounds that are common in Mandarin.
Future outlook and trend for Mongolian speakers
Nowadays, Mongolians are being culturally influenced by Western values, and it’s already pretty visible in the manner which the youth speak today. They will blend in some English words in their sentences, so who knows how that will affect the way Mongolians speak in the future.
As for Inner Mongolians, more and more people will adopt Mandarin Chinese for practical reasons and the Mongolian language in Inner Mongolia will be something of a cultural past and heritage for Inner Mongolians, like Amerindians.
When it comes to Mongolian culture, you have to understand that we don’t specifically talk in numbers nor street names when pointing for directions, but rather landmarks and in relational space.
For example, it would be common for a Westerner to point to a specific direction like “Go north 5 blocks and once you are at Francois street, take a right for 3 blocks and the building should be on your right”
However, if you ask a Mongolian, they will most likely answer in such a manner “Walk straight until you see a red 3 story building, then turn left where you will come across a playground. There should be billboard that says State Department Store”.
Do people know how to use Google Maps?
Some do and some don’t so depending on how technologically savvy the person you are talking to is, you are betting on luck.
Digital technology though has been rapidly developing, is still an issue for older people. The fact that Mongolian address and postal service is underdeveloped does not help. There have been campaigns to improve address and location mapping for the past few years by What3Words, so hopefully things will change in the future.
Aside from some younger generation, you won’t see people using GPS or Google Maps. Since taxis don’t have any GPS, you will have to just tell the driver a specific landmark or a place that everyone knows or guide him/her every step of the way on the road (which is annoying).
Asking for general directions
Now that you know some of the cultural aspect of it, let’s get into basic phrases that will help you.
Where is X? OR Where can I find X?
X haan baidag ve? X хаана байдаг вэ?
Which way is X?
X haashaa ve? Х хаашаа вэ?
How far is X?
X endees her hol ve? Х эндээс хэр хол вэ?
Hol, хол = far
Oirhon, ойрхон = close
Are we at X station?
X buudal deer irsen bol u? Х буудал дээр ирсэн бол уу?
Are we here?
Bid irsen bol u? Бид ирсэн бол уу?
Is this X station?
Ene X buudal mun u? Энэ Х буудал мөн үү?
Telling people where you want to go
You can ommit the “bi” part if you prefer since it will still make perfect sense, but it’s up to you.
I want to go to X
Bi Х yavmaar baina. Би Х явмаар байна.
I am going to X
Bi X yavna. Би Х явна.
Most common response you will get
In some cultures people will walk with you to your destination, but in Mongolian culture we expect people themselves to find their way, so unless you come across a really nice Mongolian, don’t expect them to guide you to your destination.
Usually they will point towards the general direction and say “teeshe”, meaning “that way” if they assume you can’t speak Mongolian that well. If however your Mongolian is decent, they might answer in a bit more detail as described above.
Want to learn the proper pronunciation?
Give the Mongolian language course a try. It’s specifically for tourists and language enthusiasts who want to grasp the basics of the language in a short span of time.
The Cyrillic Alphabet is an alphabet system that was founded by Cyril during the 9th century. They were Byzantine missionaries who travelled to Eastern Europe spreading the theology of the Orthodoxy and the writing system. Over the years, Eastern Europe and Slavic people started adopted the teachings of Cyril.
The Cyrillic alphabet we know of today consists of around 30 letters, however depending on what language uses the alphabet, there may be some extra letters. When it comes to Mongolian Cyrillic there are 35 letters, 2 more than Russian Cyrillic, because the 2 extra letters allow the full range and sound of the Mongolian language to be expressed.
Why do Mongolians use Cyrillic “Russian Letters”
Mongolians have used many different alphabets during its history. From the Traditional Mongolian Script, to Buddhist Sanscript, to Cyrillic, the Mongolian language was influenced by different cultures and languages.
Though the root grammar and the origins of the language is very different from its northern and southern neighbors, many words were borrowed and adopted, but nothing that affected grammar.
However, for political and economical reasons since Mongolia’s independence in 1911, Mongolians needed a new alphabet system to further solidify their independence from Qing rule. After unsuccessfully trying to implement the Latin Alphabet during the 1930s, the Mongolian government made the decision to go with Cyrillic.
There was heavy influence from the USSR to adopt the Cyrillic alphabet because they were the major trading partner of Mongolia and a much needed ally, so for mostly political and economical reason it made the most sense to adopt the Cyrillic alphabet.
There is the wrong misconception that Mongolians speak Russian or adopted the Russian language, which is false. Mongolians speak Mongolian but just happens to use the Cyrillic Alphabet for everyday use.
How different is it from Traditional Script
The Cyrillic alphabet differs from Traditional Script in many ways. While the script is written from top to bottom, the Cyrillic is written left to right.
The Traditional Script also has filler letters and words that requires more space to written, which poses problems with spacing. The rules for Traditional Script is different and direct translation from Cyrillic to Traditional Script would cause spelling errors.
The Traditional Script also poses challenges when it comes to modern technology because there isn’t much support due to its low usage.
Will Mongolia ever revert back to Traditional Script
Since the foundation of Mongolia’s infrastructure is built on Cyrillic, reverting back to the Traditional Script would pose a lot of challenges. Though Mongolians do use the Traditional Script on certain occasians such as the holidays, cultural festivals and events, only a minority of people are fluent in the Traditional Script.
While students have to learn the Traditional Scipt in school for cultural reasons, the Cyrillic alphabet is here to stay because as of now, there is no need to switch.
The Cyrillic Alphabet also signifies Mongolia’s independence from Qing rule.
Learning a new language is never easy, but it is one of the most fun things you can do with your free time. You could surprise your date by ordering in French, Spanish, or Italian when going out to eat, or you can eavesdrop on other people’s conversations while standing right in front of certain language speakers because they would assume you don’t know.
Learn the alphabet
First and foremost you have to learn the alphabet when it comes to learning whatever language you want to learn. Without the alphabet you won’t be able to read, listen nor write anything so it is imperative that you start from the basic building block
The first thing you need to learn to do is writing the alphabet letters. Depending on the language, it may use different alphabet system. There are many alphabet systems in the world, most notably you would know the Latin alphabet.
Learning a new alphabet system might be completely foreign and alien to you, but it is the first step you have to take when learning a language.
Now that you have learned the basics of writing, you must learn the pronuciation of those letters. Keep in mind that some letters sound different when connected together with different letters, so a letter might sound a particular way by itself, but once it connects with a vowel the sound might completely change.
Learn to count
Learning to count is essential. Especially when you are travelling abroad, you will need to know the phrase ”How Much” ”How many”, and being able to understand numbers will give you an advantage over ignorant tourists. Sometimes you just have to ask ”How much” in the native language with a perfect accent and keep your mouth shut because you might just get the real price, instead of the tourist price.
Learn the basic conjugations
If you want to be somewhat grammatically correct when speaking, you need to learn the basic conjugation rules for present tense verbs. Some language don’t have any conjugations while some other languages have varying rules for conjugating a verb.
Once you learn the basic conjugations for I, you, he/she, etc, you can go ahead and learn past tense, future tense, and other nuanced tenses for whatever language you are learning.
Improving your vocabulary
Once you know all the steps above, you can start improving your vocabulary and start adding words to your library. You can download certain applications that give you a new word of the day, or just look up a random word that might be useful everyday. However, reading someone and trying to understand the sentence has always been a good way for me to learn new words and vocabulary.
When you start reading books, you are now starting to put it all together. Depending on what level you feel comfortable with, you can always start from children’s book and keep going to more challenging books.
It’s a good way to cement your understanding of the basic conjugations, future/past tenses, and other rules that apply to a particular language.
Keep your dictionary or Google Translate at the ready, because you will probably need to look up a lot of words here and there.
For improving your listening, watching movies in the language you are trying to learn is a very good method. Who doesn’t like watching good movies? It won’t feel like a study session at all, becuase you will be trying to connect the dots together and for individuals who like solving puzzle pieces it might be a fun way to practice.
If you want to start a bit easy, you can turn subtitles on and then progress to having no subtitles, so that you now are forcing yourself to listen attentively.
So now that you have some idea of learning a new language, put it into practice and start learning the language you have always wanted to learn. With the digital age, there are so many resources and opportunities for you to learn.
When it comes to how Mongolian sounds like people have different opinions on the sound of Mongolian. Some say it sounds very similar to Russian, German, Welsh, while some other say it sounds somewhat similar to Korean, Japanese, etc.
To a degree, it’s correct, but do know Mongolian is not related to any of those languages and moreso related to Central Asian languages when it comes to grammar and structure.
The reason why Mongolian might sound similar to those languages mentioned is because Mongolian has a wide range of sounds that bear resemblance to many other languages.
General overview of what Mongolian sounds like
Here is a clip of the Mongolian language. The accent and the way of speaking is mostly that of modern day Mongolians who live in the capital city Ulaanbaatar. Though there can be some variation of accents based on region, there isn’t much of a difference between the provinces.
As you may hear, the Mongolian language sound has elements that have resemeblance to many other countries. It’s a language rich in many different aspects when it comes to sound.
Does Mongolian sound like German
There have been stories where some Mongolians mentioned they were mistaken for German citizens by foreigners when they were conversing in Mongolian.
This mostly has to do with the harsh sounds that Mongolian language has and also the similar vowel pronunciations.
Mongolian and German share Ya, Ye, Yo, Yu vowels and also very similar sounding Z.
Does Mongolian sound like Russian
Mongolian does use the Cyrillic alphabet, so since adopting it, the Mongolian language sound may have subtlely changed to become somewhat similar to Russian.
However, the most plausible answer to why some people think Russian and Mongolian sound similar is because a lot of loan words related to technology came from the Russians and during the 20th century, Mongolians were culturally influenced by the Soviets.
Mongolian modern art, drama, and entertainment were inspired by and borrowed from the Russians.
Does Mongolian sound like Welsh
People frequently comment on how Welsh and Mongolian sounds very similar. If you listen to the Welsh clip above, there is a resemblance on how the language flows.
However, Welsh seems to be lacking the guttral harsh sounds that Mongolian has, but the soft vowels do sound very similar. Welsh sounds more Elvish to be honest.
Does Mongolian sound Korean or Japanese
According to the Altaic language family theory, which is hotly debated, the Mongolian language is supposed to share similarities with Japanese and Korean, and people do comment on how Mongolian has a blend of Japanese and Korean sounds.
Korean – Korean and Mongolian seem to share the guttural and breathy sounds in certain instances and poetic Mongolian does have an eerie resemblance to how official Korean TV broadcasts.
Japanese – Mongolian and Japanese seem to share similar consenances sounds in certain sitiuations and have similar speaking pace.
Does Mongolian sound similar to Spanish
Mongolian people who learn Spanish most often seem to naturally have a better grasp of pronunciation of Spanish words.
It’s not difficult for Mongolians to roll their R and produce the throaty KH sound like Spanish speakers, because a lot of Mongolian words have both those elements, so it comes naturally to Mongolians. Hence, this might explain why Mongolian can sound somewhat similar to Spanish.
So what does it sound like then?
Depending on the listener’s background, there are many answers and how it sounds to them. Because Mongolian has so many elements of sounds such as the guttural R, H, soft vowels such as o e, and harsh aggressive sounds, people’s interprations vary person to person.
I’ve heard French, Icelandic, Chinese, Russian, Japanese, Korean, German, Spanish, Amerindian languages, and sometimes even African… so it’s up to you to decide.
While Mongolia technically was colonized by the Manchurians during the Qing rule in 1691, yes Mongolia did share a lot of history with the Chinese and was part of the Chinese dynasties.
However, while Mongolians and Chinese may share some cultural similarities, the two languages are very different and don’t sound similar to each other, don’t use the same alphabet, nor have the same grammar structure.
Chinese is a Sino language, while Mongolian is Mongolic or Altaic (debated) in origins. The Mongolian language shares more similarity with Central and Western Asian languages when it comes to grammar and structure.
However, Mongolians did loan many words from the Chinese, mostly nouns that are related to food. For example: Guanz, buuz, shivga, etc.
Why does Mongolian sometimes sound like Russian
While personally as a native Mongolian, I don’t find Russian and Mongolian sounding similar at all, a lot of people seem to mention how it has some Russian sounding elements. However, many other people think it sounds similar to Welsh and German, so depending on the person I think it varies.
The most logical explanation might be that since Russians and Mongolians have been a close ally for the past century, Mongolians perhaps adopted some Russian accent compared with the Mongolian language from a few hundred years ago.
If you actually watch old Mongolian films from the 1930s-1960s, Mongolians spoke a little differently and also sounded a bit differently.
Don’t Mongolians use Russian letters?
Many countries use the Cyrillic alphabet, so calling it Russian letters would be incorrect. If interested in the Mongolian Cyrillic alphabet, you can read more here.
While Russian and Mongolian use the same alphabet, the Mongolian Cyrillic has 2 extra letters in order to capture the additional sounds of the Mongolian language.
Even though they use the alphabet though, Mongolian and Russian still sound very different from each other and the words are pronounced very differently. Mongolians adopted the Cyrillic Alphabet during the 20th century for political and economical purposes.
Slavic language speakers and Mongolian language speakers can read each others’ languages, but the accent and the pronunciation just sounds very funny and weird.
Comparison of Mongolian and Chinese
Comparison of Mongolian and Russian
So as you may have heard, in general Mongolian sounds different from either languages. While there may be some similarity due to geographical proximity and loan words, the origins and the history behind the Mongolian language is very different from Chinese and Russian languages.
You have to remember to distinguish between Chi and Ta. Chi means ”you” but it’s used for friends and people around your age, whereas Ta also means ”you” but it’s used for when referring to someone older than you or if you are trying to be polite.
While in English context, the questions below will seem a bit weird to ask, but directly translated in Mongolian context, it is pretty normal and makes sense.
What is your name? Chamaig/Taniig hen gedeg ve? Таныг хэн гэдэг вэ?
This is the one of the polite ways to ask someone’s name without coming across inquisitive.
Can you introduce yourself? Uuriiguu taniltsuulaach? Өөрийгөө таницуулаач?
If you want to be playful or are curious about someone, you can ask this question. It’s not necessarily just for asking someone’s name, but rather what kind of person someone is in general.
Who are you? Chi/ta hen be? Чи хэн бэ?
Directly asking this is a bit rude and impolite, this is rather used when you are startled or a bit angry, so only ask it in a situation where you want to be inquisitive or taken aback by a stranger.
Your name is called what? Ner юу bilee? Нэр юу билээ?
This is mostly used in informal context where you can ask this question just to know who you are talking to or if you are curious about who they are.
Let’s get acquainted? Hoyula taniltsya? Хоёулаа танилцая
When you meet someone through a mutual friend or if you just want to talk someone out on the street or during an event, you can ask this. It shows you are interested in getting to know someone.
Introducing yourself to other people
When someone asks your name, you can simply respond with your name. However if you really want to make it clear who you are, you can say “Be bol (insert name)”.
If you are doing a presentation or in front a crowd of people and want to introduce yourself, you have to use a formal version. “Namaig (insert name) gedeg”
It literally translated to “I am called (insert name)”