The influence of foreign languages, especially English, has been increasing rapidly in Mongolia in recent years. The youth should grow up learning their mother language, traditions, culture and history to realize its value and pass it on to the next generation.

The surrounding environment has a strong impact on children’s under­standing about their motherland, mot­her tongue and even the importance of the independence and for cul­tivating patriotic values. Building add­resses and advertising banners written in foreign languages use to be found all around the capital some 10 years ago. Hence, the second chapter of the Law of Mongolia on State Official Language, adopted by Parliament in 2003 states, “The names of the city’s streets and entities and the name of the governmental organizations shall be written in the official state language.

These names can be written in English. “ At the same time, then Mayor of Ulaanbaatar M.Enkhbold issued Decree No. 102 on March 25, 2003, detailing that the standard of addresses “shall be written in Mongolian using Cyrillic. If the address is written in both Mongolian and foreign languages, the foreign one’s size shall be twice as small as that of the Mongolian one”. According to the implementation of the law, only some of the banners and addresses were changed, and also some Chinese, Korean and Japanese entities transcribed their former names into Mongolian alphabet.

Most Mongolians want their children to learn foreign languages as early as possible because it has many advantages, such allowing us to communicate with people all over the world and learn from other sources.

Additionally, if a resume includes fluency in a second language, the chances of employment in today’s market are much greater than those who speak only one language. Moreover, traveling through a foreign country becomes much easier if you can speak the language of that country. It is true that learning the foreign language has many good sides such as increased brain development, better multitasking skills, improved memory and increased attention span. Researchers also believe that multilingual speakers are more creative than monolingual speakers and they can stave off the effects of Alzheimer’s and dementia by years.

Probably for these reasons, almost all parents promote the policy to teach a foreign language at school and some of them even choose to send their children to costrly private kindergartens and schools where foreign languages are taught at an early age. Learning a foreign language at primary school has become a growing trend not only in Mongolia but in many countries in the world.

As Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein is credited with saying that “the limits of your language are the limits of your world”, it is important to learn foreign languages. Before this “learning-English” trend, learning Russian was essential to the extent that non-Russian speakers were not considered as suitable employees at many organization and they couldn’t apply for the higher position in Mongolia. There was a time when everyone used to learn Russian from fourth grade until they graduated high school. But after democracy was introduced, more international relations broadened and more Mongolians needed to learn English instead of Russian.

Nowadays, almost all well-paying job requires a good knowledge of English. Hence, every kindergarten, school and university teaches English as much as possible. For instance, the Ministry of Education Science snd Sports introduced a project to domesticate the Cambridge program at Mongolian primary schools and started implementing the project at 31 schools in 2012, with the plan to eventually cover all schools. The Cambridge program, recognized worldwide for high standards, high quality and academic rigor, lets Mongolian children gain the “gold standard” in international education by learning most subjects in English, the project initiators said. In order to implement the project, the ministry extended the school term to 12 years, published new textbooks (which were delivered to schools a semester late), and spent more money (2.6 times higher per student, 30 percent higher salary for teachers). Despite the promise of the project, some criticize that the program only serves those who are highly talented and skilled, while discarding those who fall behind.

Furthermore, parents want their children not only to learn foreign languages but also to be fluent in it and started choosing private schools despite the fact that their tuition is extremely high. While the average university tuition fee is 700 to 1,500 USD a year, some private primary school tuition is up to 50 times higher. For example, the tuition of private schools which offer advanced foreign language courses from the first grade (English, German, Russian, Chinese, Korean and Japanese) range from 1,100 to 36,000 USD. Also, private schools increase the fee each year by 10 to 50 percent. While a lunch of a state school per student costs around 700 MNT, private school lunches cost up to 6,000 MNT. According to latest data, around 50 percent of the primary schools in the capital are private.

These days, it is obvious that Mongolians pay a lot of attention on learning foreign languages well and do their best to send their children to private schools even at high cost when approximately 60,000-70,000 students enroll in primary school every year in Mongolia.

The tuition rates of some private schools in

Ulaanbaatar:
Ulaanbaatar Elite – 9.5-11.9 million MNT
Orchlon – 15-16.5 million MNT
Sant – 6 million MNT
Ulaanbaatar Empathy – 5.7-7.5 million MNT
Hobby – 7-9.5 million MNT
Shine-Mongol – 3.3-4.2 million MNT
Olonlog – 4.5 million MNT
British School of Ulaanbaatar –
10,000-19,300 USD
International School of Ulaanbaatar –
27,700-36,000 USD (Standard)
International School of Ulaanbaatar –
19,300-24,700 USD (Discounted)

In a non-English-speaking country like Mongolia, learning a foreign language like English may seem vital and necessary to many school kids. Just as a coin has two sides, early childhood foreign language learning also has its own advantages and disadvantages.

It is clear that learning a foreign language at primary school brings children two particular advantages. Firstly, young children learn new languages faster. They are enthusiastic to explore and learn new things. In addition, they pick up the pronunciation better and enjoy copying and learning through games. Learning a foreign language helps children gain better education and job opportunities.

Besides the benefits, early learning a foreign language also has some possible disadvantages. Firstly, children need to concentrate on learning their mother tongue rather than learning a foreign language. Also there are also some reasons why it might be disadvantageous, including language interference, mixing language, foreign accent, and additional effort for children and cultural discrepancy. This learning may delay development of the child’s first language.

Also there are some scientific reasons for avoiding early childhood foreign language learning, such as learning a new language puts extra cognitive strain on children. According to psychology professor Erika Hoff, author of the book “Language Development”, learning multiple languages simultaneously limits the number of words that a child can learn in a set amount of time. For example, toddlers have the cognitive capacity to learn approximately 20 new words a month, but this number is for total words. When a toddler’s language input comes in the form of two languages, she might only learn 10 words in her native language a month, learning the other 10 words in her foreign language, which puts her behind in her native language.

Because of these problems, it might be better for Mongolian children to begin learning a foreign language like English after they have a good grasp on, or are actively using their first language. Also it may be a wise decision to send children to English language classes as soon as they are performing well in their native language courses.

More than that, having insufficient knowledge about one’s mother tongue, customs, culture, tradition, history and national identity causes big problems in the future. In my opinion, every Mongolian should become a patriotic citizen who has a broad understanding of the importance of their mother tongue and motherland before learning any other language and cultures. Destroying the language and history of a particular group of people is the same as destroying the nation.

Language learning is not only about learning how to speak in another language but also it requires people to learn the culture and history, and that information becomes an irremovable part of the person’s mentality. A trend in the society that values knowledge of foreign languages and cultures more than the native ones through food, movies and fashion can create a whole generation who neglect the value of their nation. It is even worse when society ignores people who seek to promote their national heritage instead of supporting them.

No matter how good someone’s knowledge of foreign languages, he or she cannot change who they are. I want every Mongolian to put Mongolia first at all times. But the current condition of the society might produce many citizens who have knowledge of two (or more) cultures but doesn’t consider Mongolia as the top priority due to lack of basic education regarding their national heritage, which they were supposed to have learned at a young age. It is still unknown how many parents talk and teach about the importance of learning about one’s own tradition, culture and languages with their children and send them to the countryside letting them learn from elders about who they really are and the essentials of Mongolian life before teaching them foreign languages.

Motherland is the only home. Our country is blessed with abundant mineral resources, cultural heritage and independence. Do you want your children to inherit what you inherited from your ancestors? Do Mongolians want their children to be Mongolian? If so, we need to start educating our children about the importance of their own culture and heritage instead of forcing them to assimilate others and lose their own identity.

 

15 COMMENTS

  1. This is such a Nationalistic post ..wonder why it was even allowed to be posted in a English new site. Most Mongolian textbook are so outdated and copied from their Soviet masters and totally a misfit for the current demand of the market. English will surely open open up world of opportunities for young kids and English will also help these kids the spread the customs and culture of Mongolia to the outside world.

  2. The title is very misleading when the subject matter makes clear that it is about language, not nationality. Of course, the mother tongue, culture, customs and heritage of any country are of primary importance, and it really depends on a child’s apptitude as to how well s/he takes up another language if offered the opportunity. In general, this should begin at around 10 or 11 years of age, by which time children have, or should have a good grounding in their native tongue. Without this vital understanding of grammar, composition and structure, a child would be at a disadvantage trying to learn the complexities of another language.
    As to choice of 2nd language, while English is more universally spoken, there may be other considerations based on a country’s geographical location and economic ties or opportunities, where potential employment benefits play a part.
    The article poses a strange question about inherited culture, particularly when not many years ago the culture of nomadic pastoralism dominated Mongolia, employing 50% of all citizens. It still is a major cultural element, hence the annual celebrations of Naadam held across the country with its roots in nomadic customs. Since more than 25% of the population still practice pastoralism, and at least 10% more are dependent on it, surely this is the cultural glue that binds, or should bind and unite Mongolians as a nation apart. It is still very much alive, and uniquely so in a world that has largely lost or cast aside its ancient customs and traditons. In spite of its future mineral wealth, for Mongolia to foresake this past would be to do so at peril of losing global recognition of such a precious quality.

    • English is not more spoken, it’s much more than this. It is planet Earth’s language and it will continue to be within a foreseeable time frame. Most Mongolians reject Chinese and Russian is on a headlong slide towards extinction, so: English!

  3. A purely jingoistic article typical of a mind stuck in the 19th century!
    “Destroying the language and history of a particular group of people is the same as destroying the nation.” Was Ireland destroyed by choosing English instead of their original Gaelic? Was Singapore destroyed by English???
    ” I want every Mongolian to put Mongolia first at all times.” Plagiarism of Trump’s America First idea? Copying Americans while trying to promote an obsolete form of nationalism is simply risible!
    “Motherland is the only home” No, nay, never. Earth is our common home, and that’s bigger and more edifying than any outdated concept of love of an enclosure!

    Mongolian public schools, with their soviet text books full of lies that pupils have to learn by rote and just copy as homework, cause more brain damage to kids than educate them. In fact, most Mongolian kids are being dis-educated out of creativity by the totalitarianism, lack of cognition and rudeness of their teachers. I teach them; they talk to me!

  4. While I can understand the general concern with keeping the culture and language alive, the author’s concerns are way overblown. At least when it comes to kids that are raised in Mongolia… my kids have cousins in UB who learned or are learning English at an early age and it doesn’t appear to affect their Mongolian fluency. This is more a concern for the Mongolian kids growing up in the US, Canada, European countries, etc (I’ve seen a number of Mongolian kids who grew in the US whose Mongolian is limited).
    I can’t say this strongly enough: Mongolian kids SHOULD be exposed to second (or even third) languages at an early age. Younger children pick up languages very easily (mine are doing amazing at picking up more Mongolian here). English is great, but Japanese, Korean, German, Spanish or any major language is good too. Having as much of the future generations fluent in other major languages will help Mongolia stay on a more even footing with the rest of the international economy. The alternative is Mongolia remaining highly dependent on foreign corporations and expertise.

      • No particular reason; I was just thinking of countries that already do a lot of business here are are likely to. While China is one of those and I can see Mandarin being highly useful from a business and economic standpoint, it’s a very challenging language to learn (if one was to try though definitely start it at a young age). Russian might have some utility just being one of the big neighbors, but from an economic or investment perspective Russia is not likely to be a major investor in Mongolia or buy a lot of its minerals.

        • I learned Mandarin at 42, and after a couple of years living in China became fluent to the point that I can teach for basic levels today. It is a myth that Chinese is so hard. After overcoming the initial difficulty with pronunciation and tones it is just a gentle, smooth rise to mastering it, and besides it hardly has any grammar at al and that’s easy! I know several Mongolians who excel at Mandarin after only a couple of years studying in China, whereas many lived in English speaking countries for years but still struggle and can never adapt to the Western way of communicating.

        • As for Russian, sorry pal, but you are wrong. Russia is the only country on Earth that can save Mongolia from the Chinese. They did it in the past as they built modern Mongolia, this country would’t be here today without the USSR, it’d be just a province of China. As for the future, things may get pretty tough for Mongolia to preserve its sovereignty even with the big brother up north!

          • Note that I did say ‘from an economic and investment perspective”, right? Yes Russia is important to Mongolia from a diplomatic point of view and as a counterbalance to Chinese regional power, but from an purely economic and investment perspective?… not so much. I’m also well aware of Russia/USSR past political & economic involvement in Mongolia (both the good and the bad), but it’s unlikely to ever reach anywhere remotely close to that level in the future. So I’m not saying learning Russian has no value, only that some other major languages would likely be more useful in the business world (unless one were to spend a lot of time in Russia).

            As for Mandarin, my comments are largely from my own experience trying to learn some years back. The tones were very difficult for me to parse out with listening, and remembering the written characters quite frankly kicked my butt. I have no doubt immersion like you had helps greatly in learning, but that wasn’t an option for me (probably not for many Mongolians either). You also may simply have a knack for languages that I don’t have.

  5. As for paying the tuition fee of a good private school that cost around 5K U$ per year, parents are making a much better investment than buying a second hand SUV. In Mongolian public schools kids are psychologically tortured by ruthless and unprepared teachers, must reading and learn by rote from old soviet text books, and lunch is just a grub packed with MSG. Most have no facilities for physical education, no field trips, no labs. To add insult to injury their Mongolian English ‘teachers’ teach them wrong grammar and pronunciation that don’t even exist. Mongolian public schools are madhouses run by ex-soviets with more than 50 pupils per classroom. All middle class parents who love their kids should do the utmost to enroll them in private schools.

    • I’ve only seen some of what you describe here (particularly the shortcomings in facilities), but then I’ve only been at the one public school that my 9 year old son goes to. The teachers seem to be equal parts hit or miss (so far), and the books are a little dog-eared but not THAT old. The Math curriculum seems more advanced than equivalent US public schools (though that’s not a high bar to get over). But it is in one of the better areas of the city, and I can easily see big variation between various khoroos.

      All that being said, our son probably won’t be going there for very long. My wife’s primary reason for choosing the public school was to improve his Mongolian through immersion, and I admit it certainly worked wonders in that area over the past 6 months. Sadly, from what I can tell bullying seems to be pretty bad just as in US schools… though I see a little more emphasis on the physical bullying/fighting, and a little less on the emotional/social bullying. I could see Mongolia benefiting greatly from Internet-assisted homeschooling programs, provided the government doesn’t stand in the way of such programs and options.

      • Nicholas, any country in the world, be it Albania or Bolivia, has more advanced math than US schools! That said, advanced math isn’t necessary as it only overburdens a child with too much unnecessary homework, stuff that they should learn in college in case they choose a science major. It takes precious time away from the entertainment, sports, and art that children need much more than math. If a deep knowledge of math really made people more intelligent and promoted science Russians wouldn’t have been so humiliated by those ‘dumb’ Muricans who walked on the moon! As for the GoM, standing in the way is an understatement. They are actually blind men in a shootout pilfering public money and occasionally using a fraction of it to paint the facade of an old school building!

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