If you are thinking about learning Mongolian or have even started taking classes already, these tips will definitely help you. The following are some crucial grammar and pronunciation rules beginners should know and apply, as well as the most common mistakes, explained in an easy and practical way. In addition to these tips, you may check out some of these free resources.
1. Pronounce the long vowels correctly
One of the main features of Mongolian language are the long vowels: two of the same vowel consecutively (аа, ээ, ии, оо, уу, өө, or үү). These must be pronounced longer than if it were a single vowel. To do this, simply hold the vowel sound more or less twice as long as you would a single vowel. Many learners confused words in this manner, especially if they have yet to see the word written (this is one of the reasons why reading is so important). The meaning of the word can be changed or misunderstood completely if pronounced as a single vowel. For example, if ‘’цаас’’ the word for ‘’paper’’ is pronounced short, its meaning will change to ‘’цас’’ which means ‘’snow’’. Let’s look at a few more examples:
хол (far) хоол (food)
зун (summer) зуун (century)
бодол (thought) боодол (wrap)
зах (market) заах (teach)
будах (paint) буудах (shoot)
The most commonly mispronounced long vowels are (incorrectly) as follows: ‘’Уланбатaр’’ and ‘’Надаам’’ the correct pronunciations are ‘’Улаанбаатар’’ (Ulaanbaatar) and ‘’Наадам’’ (Naadam).
Let’s try one more. Which is correct: Цагаан сар or Цааган сар?
Remember to make flash cards for the new vocab you are learning, and be sure to note longer vowels wherever you find them!
2. Dropping the single vowels (except for the first syllable)
This is one that even some advanced learners in Mongolian tend to forget. In Mongolian, the stress
automatically falls on the first syllable if there are no long vowels or diphthongs. Therefore, short vowels for the next syllables are not pronounced. For example, мөнгө, бодол, даалгавар, эхлэнэ. Бодол would just be pronounced бодл or баярлалаа (which commonly cofuses learners), which just becomes баярллаа (remember to pronounce the last vowel longer because it is double). However, remember that this rule doesn`t apply for loan words such as вино, кино which are originally Russian.
3. Pronouncing Diphthongs (especially “ай”) correctly
There are five diphthongs in Mongolian. Those are –ай, -эй, -ой, -уй, -үй which are pronounced how they are written with the exception of ай which is pronounced ‘æ’ as in ‘’map’’. For example, сайн, байна, найз, хайр:
- байр (apartment)
- цай (tea)
- зайрмаг (ice cream)
- Май (here)
- найм (eight)
- сайхан (nice)
- Тайвандаа (nothing much)
- хайрцаг (box)
4. Master the sentence structure!
The sentence structure of Mongolian is quite different than that of English or most of the romance languages. In fact there is one crucial difference, which is that the verb always, no matter what, comes at the very end of the sentence. Thus, here is the Mongolian sentence structues: Subject-time-object-predicate(verb). Which can be remembered as STOP.
Here is an example:
‘Би өчигдөр монгол хэл сурсан.’
‘I yesterday Mongolian studied.’
Here is a longer example:
‘I yesterday, with my friend, at the library, Mongolian language studied.
‘Би өчигдөр найзтайгаа номын санд монгол хэл сурсан.’
And even longer,
‘Yesterday afternoon, after drinking a cup of coffee at the cafe and thinking about my future, I met my friend John at the library downtown and studied Mongolian all night while eating cookies.’
‘Би өчигдөр үдээс хойш кафед аяга цай ууж, ирээдүйнхээ тухай бодож суусны дараа найз Жоннтойгоо хотын төвийн номын санд уулзаж, оройжингоо печень идэж, монгол хэл сурсан.’
As you can see, despite the length of the sentence, the final word remains the same,
(сурсан=studied), which is always, the verb!
It is not easy to get used to understanding this pattern for English speakers as they tend (as many do) to try translating sentences directly in their mind from English to Mongolian before speaking, thus making sentences come out in the wrong order. As a student, it is wise to try and understand the concept of what the speaker is saying, rather than the words in your own native language. For example, if you see someone eating an apple, and they say to you: би алим идэж байна, try to associate this sentence and its word order with the concept of eating an apple, rather than seeing the words in your mind (I-am-eating-an-apple) and then taking the extra step of translating from your native language. This is quite difficult and can take some real immersion.
5. Be aware of the difference between the subject and the object of a sentence, as well as the different cases!
In Mongolian, this difference is so crucial, as it determines which case/suffixes need to be added (as Mongolian is an agglutinative language).
In general, the best way to tell the difference between the subject and object is to look at the suffixes (or lack thereof). Suffixes in most sentences (although not all) are added to objects. Below are the cases in Mongolian. Pay attention to the objective case, which specifically denotes an object:
-ын, -ийн, -ны, -ний is the genitive case, which is possessive and in English is usually expressed as of or `s (the teacher’s book, the top of the mountain). (Ex: түүний ном = her book , Оросын ой = Russia’s forests)
-д, -т, -нд is called the locative case. By its name you can probably guess that it is used often with locations (but not only locations). In English it is expressed as to, for, at (give the book to him, this gift is for her, I am at the library). Note that the locative case can also be used for possession since Mongolian does not have the common verb to have as many languages do. Thus, ‘I have money = надад мөнгө байна)
-ыг, -ийг, -г is called the objective case which makes object specific. This can often be the difference between an object and a subject. Whereas this apple = энэ алим; I ate this apple = Би энэ алимыг идсэн, and for example, the pronoun ‘I’ as a subject is Би, whereas, I as an object (using the objective case) would be намайг. For a chart of the basic pronouns in different cases click here.
-аас, -ээс, -оос, -өөс this suffix is the ablative case often appearing in English as from or since. It is used to express the idea of ‘away from something’ usually a time or place. For example:
нэгдэх өдрөөс = since Monday
гэрээс алхах = walk from home
-аар, -ээр, -оор, -өөр is called instrumental case, used when talking about a method, material, manner, or means of an action, expressed in English by the words: with, by, using, during, etc. For example:
Энийг модоор хийсэн. (This is made with wood.)
Би галт тэргээр Италируу явсан. (I went to Italy by train.)
-тай, -тэй, -той is the comitative case, used to express the idea of a relationship between multiple items, conjoined, related or connected to/with. This almost directly translates to the word ‘with’ in English. For example:
Би Жоннтой пицца идсэн. (I ate pizza with John.)
Тэр мөөгтэй пиццанд дуртай. (She likes pizza with mushrooms.)
-руу, -рүү, -луу, -лүү is the directional case expressing for, to, towards, at (usually towards a location). This is often used when talking about going somewhere:
Би дэлгүүрлүү явж байна. (I am going to the store.)
Xүүхэд сургуульруу явсан. (The child went to the school.)
Many people say that learning the cases is one of the hardest aspects of Mongolian. We think that with awareness, some memorization, and lots of practice (including reading and writing), students can master the cases. The best first step is to know the common pronouns with all the cases by heart. If you can master these and focus on some of the other tips we explored today, you will be taking your Mongolian to the next level. Good luck and feel free to contact us at Nomiin Ger!