Heading out to Mongolia? You feel like you should learn some Mongolian phrases? We are here to help you. Mongolians find it surprising when foreigners speak their language because not many tourists come to Mongolia and learn the local language compared to other travel destinations like Thailand, Japan, or Vietnam. They love when foreigners speak Mongolian. Here are the 10 basic Mongolian phrases you might want to say when you interact with local people.
1. SAIN BAINOO?
The very first phrase you should learn is greetings. Sain bainoo? (Сайн байна уу?) Which means ‘How are you?’ Sain means good, bain is the verb ‘to be’. Basically, it means ‘Are you good?’ The answer would be sain (сайн) which means good.
There are some other versions of Sain bainoo. These are Sainoo? (Сайн уу?) a less formal version that you can use with friends and younger people like kids. Also, Sain baitsgaanoo? (Сайн байцгаана уу?) Which means also how are you but for two or more people. It’s basically Hello, everybody! In summary:
Sain bainoo? Сайн байна уу? How are you?
Sainoo? Сайн уу? Hi.
Sain baitsgaanoo? Сайн байцгаана уу? Hello everybody!
2. BAYRALLAA (Thank you)
This is one of the first phrases you want to learn but you might find it difficult to pronounce. This is how you say it by syllables: Bayral-laa. You may have seen it spelled Bayrlalaa but it actually sounds like Bayrallaa. The reason why it’s spelled that way is in it’s written Bayarlalaa (Баярлалаа) in cyrillic, but the short ‘a’ is not pronounced. The response for Bayrllaa is Zugeer (zugeeree, or zugeer zugeer) which means no problem as well as it’s okay. Here is the conversation drill:
Bayrallaa Баярлалаа Thank you
Zugeer Зүгээр No problem/it’s okay.
3. BAYRTAI (GOODBYE)
When you leave and you want to say Bye, you would say Bayrtai. You might mix it up with Bayrallaa because of same root. Bayar means joy. It’s basically saying Bayrtai-be joyful or happy, bayrallaa-I am happy or joyful because you did something good for me.
Bayrtai Баяртай Goodbye
4. Neg piiv avii (i’ll get one beer)
You’ll definitely need this phrase. It doesn’t have to be a beer. It can be something else. The main word in this sentence is avii (авъя) which means literally ‘I’ll get it’. You can put any nouns in front of it for example: neg coffee avii-I’ll get a coffee. More examples:
Neg us avii Нэг ус авъя I’ll get one water.
Hoyor coffee avii Хоёр кофе авъя. I’ll get two coffees.
5. Hed ve? (How much is it?)
You need to be able to say this phrase at some point. This can be the magical word. You can say it even though you don’t know numbers in Mongolian because most shop people have a calculator and immediately show you the price. They might assume you know Mongolian and answer, but once they understand that you don’t, they will show you the price on the calculator.
6. Noil Haan Ve? (Where Is The Toilet?)
This phrase is always a handy one wherever you go, except for the one situation where, you cannot get an answer, which is when you are in the car traveling in a remote area. Mongolians may just point out into the countryside. When relieving yourself in the steppe, remember not to do it in a lake or river, as Mongolians consider these to be sacred. Let’s get back to the phrase and look at it closely. The word ‘noil’ comes from the Russian word ‘zero’. In Soviet times a bathroom was the room numbered zero among the other numbered rooms.
Noil haan ve? Нойл хаана вэ? Where is the toilet?
7. Oilgohgui Bain (I Don’t Understand)
This is another phrase that is useful but sometimes difficult to pronounce. You need to keep practicing saying it until your mouth is used to it and makes the right sound.
8. Uuchlaarai (Sorry And Excuse Me)
One phrase with 2 meanings. Sometimes foreigners complain that Mongolians do not say sorry enough. The literal meaning is actually ‘Forgive me’ which is stronger than just sorry. That could be a reason that people don’t say this much, as it has such a strong meaning. People may only want to say this only when they make a big mistake.
9. Zuugch Ooh! (Waiter/Waitress)
Зөөгч өө! You will use this word at any type of restaurant. Zuugch is waiter or waitress and ooh is an emphasis that you use when you call someone. You might think to call out the waiter or waitress is rude but this not the case in Mongolia. A waiter may not even assist you unless you call them; especially when you ask for the bill or when you order. Now you can say:
Zuugch ooh! 1 piiv avii. Зөөгч өө! Нэг пиво авъя. Waiter, 1 beer, please.
10. ZA (OKAY, many meanings)
За, this is the one of the easiest and most ubiquitous words that you can learn. You may hear people say: za and za za, zaaaaa, or za za za, and indeed even za za za za za in cases where they want to hush the speaker.. Here are some uses of the word za:
Za a general ‘ok’ or affirmation
Za za can be a signal that things are wrapping up (in some western cultures, when a gathering is winding down, guests will start to say things like, ‘well.. that was great’, or, ‘it sure is getting late, it was nice seeing you’, or, ‘well tonight was fun, what are your plans for tomorrow?’ to indicate that they are about to say goodbye and start leaving. Mongolians skip all these pleasantries and just say ‘za za’ and everybody understands that it is time to move on.
Zaaaaa can be used for many things, for example, when entering a room, one wants to make oneself known and open to conversation or other discourse.
Za Za can also be used to say good bye or end a phone conversation.
Zazazazaza Many quick za’s in a row can be used to express an unwillingness to continue a conversation. If someone says this to you, it is best you don’t continue to belabor a point.