Depending on whom you ask, one of the upsides of being in the Foreign Service is that it affords you time to learn a new language. This is required not for all but for many Officers and language courses are open to spouses on a space available basis (that is when there is at least one officer already enrolled in the class; which is why the class I initially signed up for never formed – anyways….moving on).
Since January, a friend and I met weekly with one of John’s teachers to decipher the alphabet, sound out words, and try to communicate in a language filled with lots of “ch” “u” and “o” sounds that caused more than a few instances of one of us laughing it off saying “yeah, I can’t replicate that sound – I hear it but it’s not coming out!”
Add in that the Roman alphabet H is pronounced as an “n” sound and the X as an “h” – you can begin to understand some of the fun we had.
The numbers 3 (гурван) and 4 (дөрвөн) remained a challenge for us to remember and pronounce correctly until the last day of class where we ultimately decided that to survive in Mongolia, we will either need to buy 2 or 5 things of a kind if faced with the dilemma of ordering 4 glasses of something (I am sure someone will drink the 5th vodka, right?).
Fortunately, we – from the get-go – had no problem differentiating the similar sounding nouns of “нөхөр” (husband) and “нохой” (dog) as I am sure that could have led to a few fun misunderstandings.
So, despite the mystery of learning a language that uses “vowel harmony” to build words rather than conjugating them (that sounds so pretty, doesn’t it?) and one that does not contain the words “please” or “have” (they are more or less suffixes to verbs/nouns), we have learned a lot and had tons of fun along the way.
And while I have spent nowhere near as much time and energy as John to learn Mongolian language and culture, I have had a few moments of “things that make you go hmmm:”
- like the time we learned that there is an actual verb that means “to be cold” (даарах; oh, never mind; I guess that does make sense!)
- or the time that John reported back there are no true Mongolian words for ocean animals (ok, fine; I guess that also makes sense if you consider it’s a land-locked country)
- or the time I tried to look up the word for “no one” in the online dictionary (because google translate – well, let’s not even pretend it works for Mongolian) only to find the first example sentence using the key term was to “catch one with one’s trousers down” – hmmm…
- or when for that very same homework assignment, I was looking up the word for “young” and boom … the first sentence using the key term was “a half-baked young man” ….
Yes, it’s been a fun ride – and now I feel more or less prepared with a few flash cards in hand to help navigate the first taxi ride and attempts at grocery shopping and eating out.
But before we packed out, it was time for us to say баярлалаа (thank you) to our wonderful teachers who taught us and our husbands for the past few months.
Cue in a pool and BBQ party to say баяртай (good-bye). While the weather didn’t cooperate (well the kids got wet and soaked alright but mainly due to the monsoon rain storm and not the intended swimming fun), we made do, had some food and fun …. and an awesome Mongolian themed cake!
See my little helpers in putting the finishing touches together?
Not to be missed – the oviraptor fossil. Our in-house dinosaur expert was assigned with the task of researching dinosaurs that lived in Mongolia and finding a suitable one to add to the 5 traditional Mongolian animals on the cake (yes, the green M&M’s are dinosaur eggs).
Luca proudly reported his research to our teachers:
Also, not to be missed on the cake: the sumo wrestler – yes that is a Lego wrestler on the cake – a little too skinny if you ask me but hey, we had to make do with what we had!
So thank you Naraa and Saarul for your patience and teaching us your love for Mongolia and the culture. We truly can’t wait to start our journey there. Cynthia, many thanks for studying with me – week after week – and for being a great partner (we each always understood about half of what was going on – each of us complementing the other – so as long as we stick together in Mongolia, we should be fine; unless we really need to order 3 or 4 of something!).