A lot of people wrongly assume that Mongolians either speak Chinese or Russian or perhaps that the Mongolian language is somewhat related to Mandarin or Russian. However, do they actually speak either of those languages or is the Mongolian language related to them at all?
The short answer is no, Mongolians do not speak Mandarin or Russian. However, Inner-Mongolians, who are Chinese nationals mostly do speak Mandarin, but we will be mostly talking about modern-day Mongolians.
Do Mongolians Speak Russian?
No, most Mongolians DO NOT and CAN NOT speak or understand Russian. However, Russian is spoken to some extent among the older generation of Mongolians due to historical ties between the two countries, specifically during the Soviet era.
During this time, Russian was taught as a second language in schools, and many Mongolians became proficient. However, with the fall of the USSR, the use of Russian has gradually decreased in Mongolia. In more recent years, English has been increasingly taught as a second language in schools, reducing the prevalence of Russian even further.
Therefore, while you may find some Mongolians who speak Russian, especially among the older generations, it is not as common as it once was.
Do Mongolians Speak Chinese?
Due to Mongolia’s geographical proximity to China and historical and economic interactions, some Mongolians do speak Chinese, particularly Mandarin along the southern border. However, outside the southern border, it is very rare to come across a Mongolian who can speak Chinese.
But it’s worth mentioning that in Inner Mongolia, an autonomous region of China, both Mandarin Chinese and Mongolian are spoken, with Mandarin being the primary language of instruction in schools. So, if you are in the Chinese province of Southern Mongolia, most people will speak Chinese with a majority of the population being Han.
Is Mongolian Related to Russian?
Since the 1920s, Mongolia has been under Soviet influence and has had a pretty good relationship with Russians. You will find most modern-day words related to technology are Russian.
For example: лифт, машин, компютер, etc. You will find many other words that are Russian in pronunciation and in origin.
Not only that, but the Mongolian writing system today uses a modified version of the Cyrillic alphabet, hence a lot of people get confused that Mongolians speak or write in Russian.
Ultimately though, Mongolians do not speak or write in Russian. There is, however, a lot of older generation people who were born during 1940-1980 who speak decent Russian as a second language. But, the Mongolian language is completely separate from the Slavic languages in origin. The Mongolian language today just happens to borrow the Cyrillic alphabet from the Slavs and use some technology-related words that came from Russia in the 1920s.
Is Mongolian Related to Mandarin Chinese?
Since Mongolia founded the Yuan Dynasty and was also a former colony of the Qing Dynasty, most people would assume Mongolians would be able to speak Mandarin right?
Do Inner Mongolia, which is still part of China, Mandarin is becoming popular by the day due to the political and economic benefits that come with learning the language. However, if we are talking about modern-day Mongolia, then that would be incorrect.
The Mongolian language is also completely different from the Sino languages such as Cantonese, Vietnamese, etc. Some high school and college students do learn Mandarin in order to study or work abroad.
Will More Mongolians Learn Russian or Mandarin in the future?
It’s unlikely because there is so much emphasis on learning English nowadays. Most secondary schools teach basic English and a lot of Mongolians are able to understand some basic phrases.
If you are in the capital city, Ulaanbaatar, you won’t have much trouble getting by with English, but if you are out in the countryside then it’s a different story. There aren’t many good English teachers out in the countryside, so a lot of nomads and non-Ulaanbaatar residents won’t be able to understand you, just FYI.
In the future though, there is a possibility of Mongolians studying more Mandarin, because of the ever-increasing global influence China is having on the world. Most Southeast Asian countries are starting to learn Mandarin, due to increased tourism from China, so in the future, Mongolians perhaps would start learning Mandarin for logical and economic reasons.
Russian on the other hand has been slowly declining and losing popularity among Mongolian people. A few decades ago, Russian was heavily emphasized and taught to students, but since the fall of the USSR, Russian hasn’t been that popular anymore, so unless Russia’s economy and political influences increase significantly, it’s unlikely that more Mongolians will start learning Russian.
In the near future, it seems English is the language of choice and is becoming more popular by the day due to Western influence.
So What is The Mongolian Language?
The Mongolian language, though often heavily debated, is believed to belong in the Altaic language family. Recent studies show that Mongolian is actually a separate language family called Mongolic, but there is no denying that it shares a lot of similarities with other Central Asian countries like Kazakhstan, East Turkestan, Kyrgyzstan, etc.
To most Mongolian ears, Turkic and Central Asian languages sound vaguely similar, as if some of the sentences are making sense while at the same time not making any sense at all.
Is Mongolian A Dying Language?
While fewer and fewer Inner Mongolians learning Mongolian, the population of Mongolia itself is increasing day by day, and modern-day Mongolians all have to learn Mongolian. So it’s unlikely that the Mongolian language will die out in the future.
This is good news for people who have been wanting to study Mongolian!