Living in Mongolia – Language
A brief hiatus to the islands of Thailand or the canals of Italy gives you an excuse to only be able to say “hello” “thank you” and “can I have a beer” in another language. But when you move to a country for 11 months, it is somewhat expected you will at least attempt to learn more than “My name is Sarah” and “I don’t speak Mongolian”.
To say it has been a steep learning curve is an understatement. When we first arrived we had language training 3 hours a day every day for 2 weeks. For even the sharpest of minds this is language overload. By the end of the last week I felt sorry for our poor Mongolian teacher; by then we couldn’t even string together a sentence in English.
Nevertheless amongst the chaos, my brain is high on the endorphins produced after the workouts I’ve been giving it. My butt on the other hand is wondering where its workout went but I digress….
The Mongolian language is a cousin of Russian. They acquired most of their Cyrillic alphabet but still the two languages are very distinct. I’ve never tried to learn Russian but I hope it isn’t as hard going as the time I’ve had with Mongolian.
Firstly, the alphabet is hard. There are new letters and letters that are the same as English and then letters that LOOK the same as English; but wait they’re not. R is actually G, P is R, C is now S and H suddenly morphs to be N. So Sarah becomes Capa and all words become harder. Our first lesson was like going back to Reception, we all got a gold star and a lollipop when we could recite the alphabet from the big book.
Secondly, the pronunciation is hard. The mouth is required to make a whole lot of new movements that produce sounds I’ve never made before. Spitting is encouraged if not essential to excellent pronunciation. The more phlegm the better. There are many words without any hard sounds which gives the brain no reference point, so it all just comes out in one long soft sound with no emphasis on any particular part. It’s like chasing peas around your plate with a fork; it doesn’t work and you look ridiculous trying.
Thirdly, the grammar is hard. Like the process of learning any language the last thing you want to hear after a one hour lesson on how to add “‘s” to words to show possession is the old chestnut: “oh but remember there are about 45 exceptions to those rules I just taught you….” Kill.Me.Now.
In Mongolian there is a word for ?, well actually to be correct there are 6. I swear they did it just to confuse English speakers who are used to just going up at the end of their sentences to indicate it is a question. Or for Queenslanders, every sentence they say.
When describing verbs in the present tense there is a word for “-ing” to show you are doing it now. Like: I am reading (insert annoying additional Mongolian word here). Throughout all of my lessons, I have not once remembered to use it much to the delight of my teacher.
C’mon Odnoo I already said the verb at the end of the sentence what more do you want from me!
And although after two months we are definitely making progress, the more we learn the more we realise we didn’t know. We were going around conversing like pros when really we were barely managing to say: “Me, Sarah” and “This, how much?”. So much for thinking we were nailing it. #thinkagain
So as demonstrated by the tortoise and the hare, I’ll keep plodding along with the dream of becoming fluent in Mongolian getting closer everyday. Millimetre, by millimetre.
Who knows maybe I’ll become a pro and be flaunting my new found linguist prowess all of the world. But of course I choose to bust my ass to learn a language only spoken by one country with a comparatively tiny population of only 3 million people.
Typical. Knew I should have gone to Spain….
So wish me luck as I continue down this winding path towards becoming half decent in Mongolian. Just remind me that if you say the word for “and” too slowly it means “to poo”.
Cause they didn’t do that on purpose just to trick foreigners or anything…..
Much love and till later!