One of the first questions we are asked when someone finds out we’ve lived in Mongolia is, “Do you speak Mongolian?” usually followed up with, “Is that what the language is called?” In brief, our answers would be, “Yes-ish,” and, “Yes, but also…”
Let’s start with the basics. Mongolian is the name of the language spoken throughout the country of Mongolia. Because the Khalkha ethnic group is the majority of the population, Khalkha Mongolian is the “standard” dialect of the country. There are other dialects spoken in different regions of Mongolia as well as amongst Mongolic peoples in Russia and the region of Inner Mongolia in China. For a more detailed breakdown of Mongolian dialects, check out this article on Wikipedia (I know, I know…). Also, to get an example of how Mongolian sounds, here’s a great video. The YouTuber breaks down some of the sounds and similarities to other languages in English first, then essentially repeats the information in Mongolian so you can hear how it sounds.
Another key language spoken in Mongolia is Kazakh, which is spoken in western Mongolia among the Kazakh Mongol ethnic group. Kazakh is a Turkic language (like most languages in Central Asia) and has some similarities to Mongolian while remaining entirely unique. To be honest, I know very little about Kazakh because we didn’t live in Bayan-Ulgii Province, so I’ll just link to an article about that language because I’m no expert.
Most, if not all, Mongolians speak two or more languages. As Mongolia used to be part of the USSR, Russian is commonly known, especially in older generations. English is becoming increasingly popular for people who want to study or work abroad, but other commonly learned languages are Korean, Chinese, and Japanese. German and French would probably fall next on the list of language learning priorities. Many of our former students are studying abroad, and nearly all of them are doing so in a second or third language.
So back to the original question of whether or not we speak Mongolian. Well…we have enough language to navigate most day-to-day tasks. We might sound like toddlers doing it, but we can get the point across. Some areas that we were somewhat adept in were in navigating taxi rides, shopping for groceries and other necessities, basic small talk, and some medical. When we return to Mongolia, we are planning on focusing on language study so that we can finally master–hahahahahahaha–the language. In the next few weeks, we’ll post about more aspects of the Mongolian language.
Was there something I missed? Mongolian readers, did I misreport anything? What questions do you have about the Mongolian language?