… is a question probably asked by very few people, since the language is useful in all of two countries. It’s not an easy question to answer, either, since it’s asked by so few. But if you found your way to this blog by asking it, then you’re in luck, as I will endeavor here to answer it.
To begin with, let me clarify: most of the resources I know of teach Standard Khalkha, the main language spoken in Mongolia proper, but there are a number of other dialects. The dialects spoken in the Chinese province of Inner Mongolia, are phonologically and morphologically similar but written in Mongol bichig rather than Cyrillic; whether they are mutually intelligible, I’m not certain.
Peace Corps Materials
The Peace Corps has had a presence in Mongolia for 25 years, and most of its volunteers are placed in the countryside, among people who speak little to no English. Three of the PCVs who left Mongolia in 2013 tested at an “advanced high” language level. Obviously, you’re not going to get the same results without the two years of immersion, but I still have great respect for their teaching materials and methods.
- The 1993 edition of Mongol Language Competencies for Peace Corps Volunteers in Mongolia, though of annoyingly low quality, is long and thorough.
- Welcome to the Mongolian Language is a short pdf from 2007, but it covers the basics and has an accompanying mp3 track, all of which is easily and safely downloadable (and much easier to read!).
If you want to go the teaching-yourself-with a textbook route, the good news is that there are quite a few out there. The bad news is that most of the ones I have encountered are, quite frankly, terrible. UCLA’s Language Materials Project has a handy, if slightly out-of-date, list of available textbooks, many of which I’ve attempted to use, with mixed results. Some of them are (theoretically) available on Amazon, but I suspect you’ll have much better luck ordering from the Language Resource Center at the American Center for Mongolian Studies in Ulaanbaatar.
- While I have no experience with them, the three book Сайн Байна Уу? series is by far the best reviewed.
- Colloquial Mongolian: The Complete Course for Beginners is perhaps overeager where other textbooks underachieve: in its grammatical explanations. If you are a language teacher or grammar enthusiast to whom terms like “temporal converb” and “perfective verbal noun” have meaning, I highly recommend this book; if not, you will likely find yourself staring blankly at the explanations and wondering if they’re really written in English. My copy did not come with a CD, but I was able to find the audio online.
- Practical Mongolian-English Grammar uses side-by-side translations grouped via grammatical principle to demonstrate the workings of basic Mongolian grammar. In theory, this should allow the learner to induce the rules; in practice, I found that while I was able to observe a number of patterns, I understood very few of them and needed outside input to test my hypotheses. Which words take -d in the dative/locative, and which take -t? Is ажилчин (worker) pluralized ажилчид because it’s a people word, or because it ends in -н? I would recommend this book as a reference, but not a primarily learning tool.
- Gateway to Mongolian, if you are able to track down a copy with a CD, can teach you a number of things but will likely leave you frustrated. New vocabulary terms are often introduced in lists without illustration or translation (and are absent from the glossary); grammatical explanations are spotty. Some are helpful, others nonexistent: the new pattern is presented, but its meaning is not discussed. And I found some of the explanations to be completely unintelligible. It’s clear that this book’s authors are not native English speakers.
- Golden Key to Mongolian suffers from similar issues and is just as difficult to track down. I don’t recommend it.
- Bolor-toli is probably the most comprehensive online dictionary I’ve found.
- Byki is a notecard-style program that’s great for basic vocabulary. No grammar and a limited number of vocabulary lists, but it’s offered in Cyrillic or the Roman alphabet, and the basic model is free.
- Glovico.org offers online, Skype-based lessons. It’s not free, and I’ve never tried it, but I’d be fascinated to hear a review!
- LinguaMongolia has a detailed breakdown of the Uighur (Mongol bichig) script, as well as grammatical explanations particular to that writing system.
- Mazaalai (Mongolian for Gobi Bear) is a Mongolian dictionary app available for iOS or Android. It’s not particularly comprehensive but still faster to use than the average paper dictionary, especially if you’re less than familiar with the order of the Cyrillic alphabet.
- MongolHel is a YouTube channel with basic lessons for English speakers. There are only seven videos, but the one on vowels is a great supplement for those impossible-to-pronounce diphthongs!
- MongolUls.net has a few basic tutorials, though the Cyrillic is illegible unless you download the font. More helpfully, it offers a number of short articles on elements of Mongolian culture which, although obviously written by a nonnative English speaker, are still entirely readable.
- Omniglot has some basic information about the language, including a breakdown of the Mongol bichig alphabet in its initial, medial, and final forms. It also lists a number of language resources.
Colleges, Classes, & Libraries
- The American Center for Mongolian Studies has an extensive list of language, cultural, and other resources. And for the intermediate-level learner who still wants to learn more, it has an intensive summer language program in Ulaanbaatar.
- Indiana University‘s Mongolian Studies program is probably the best-known in the US; so far as I know, it’s the only school to offer undergraduate study in Mongolian.
- A number of American universities do have graduate-level study on Mongolia and professors who research it, but don’t actually offer classes in Mongolian, including: Brigham Young University (which also has a Mongolian Club), the University of Kansas, Western Washington University, and, of course, Harvard University. If you know of any others, let me know and I’ll add them to the list!
There are, of course, other lists of resources: this one from “So You Want to Learn a Language” is particularly extensive. It is not, however, concise, and I’ve tried to focus on what will be most useful. If you’ve got resources you particularly recommend, I’d love to include them here.
Hope this is helpful!