Language Learning … and How it Still Kicks My #!@!%

So this past weekend we had a whirlwind Language IST. The first of its kind for post apparently. We were sent two amazing Mongolian Language teachers from UB , accompanied by our regional programmer and an official Peace Corps observer. We set them up in hotels, arranged the classrooms and (at least I ) made sure there was chalk in each room. What did I learn ?

Meh… My Mongolian isn’t that bad.

To learn Mongolian was probably what I was most nervous about coming into Peace Corps. I had went the majority of my life saying “Oh, I am no linguist” and used that as a crutch to not try all that hard in classes and avoid any language learning opportunity presented to me. I did the bare minimum and scraped by. One reason I chose my college major was because , there was no language requirement.

Of course looking back on it.. That attitude was just dumb.

It took living in a village for three months, taking 3-5 hours of language lessons a day , and being totally immersed in a language that made me realize that a ‘linguist does not a fluent language speaker make’.

Am I a not human being ? In a world where there are infinite amounts and ways to communicate with people ?

What I’m getting at is that it is our very human desire to be able to communicate with people. Especially with people we surround our self with. The synapses will grow where they must with each stuttered sentence and new word learned. As I went through the three months of living with a family , my own expectations to what I can say and do surpassed themselves. While going to site faced its own challenges, I have never learned a language or been so functional in a foreign language as I am now in Mongolian.

That being said. I still have a lot to learn.

Our language teachers had group time as well as individual time to work with us, practicing pronunciation and different grammar points. I’m good at the small talk of a language ” oh , how is your work ?”, “Is your home warm?” and “Yes, of course I miss my family ” . Those being the staples of any conversation I have with my teachers and friends around town. It was nice having an opportunity to stretch our Mongolian knowledge. I think I spent two hours learning the uses of “нь” which can mean any of these 6 grammar points.

1) after an object – implying his, hers, its, theirs.

2) Implying something mentioned earlier (usually at the end of a sentence) .

3) all of the them (as in a group)

4) adding it after a verb – adds “-ing” (or a subjective clause)

5) after a word, like Mom, means yours but in a way that implies closeness.

6) Using it can also mean … “I found out that…” or “From that reason” …

I now have pages and pages of notes that are all of the above and more. I think I wrote around 6 large pages of notes about the dialogues we practiced and new vocabulary we learned. I still need to go through them and put them into some semblance of order.

We did have an experience learning session about how we felt about learning Mongolian. I related this experience. Throughout most of last year, I did a lot of book study , most of that knowledge just didn’t get any where. I felt myself plateauing and didn’t really know what do to with myself. Around this time last year I mostly gave up. What can I say , February is a miserable month. But what I found out ended up happening was that things started clicking once I wasn’t actively thinking about the grammar and the muddle of sounds coming out of someone’s mouth. The more I talked to Mongolian friends the more I found myself improving. Every language learner is different, and while its important to learn, no one learns anything well while stressed out.

Overall, I’m glad that post put in the effort for us to have this training. While there were the marathon days ( I think one day we had 8-9 hours of class time ) It was a nice break from some of the usual monotony of site. Even If I only have a little bit more time left at site ( 6 months-ish) , the training has made me more motivated to pick up a Mongolian book more often, to learn more words and expect more of my language learning. As one of the Mongolian language teachers said to me “You just need to speak more … and maybe make less mistakes” .

Challenge accepted 🙂

One bit of news… while I was speaking with my Regional Manager (who is also my Programmer ) she gave me the impression that my Close of Service date (COS) might be more around August, as versus July. She told me this at my site visit meeting with my Training Manager and English Teachers, to which they told me “Oh good! You will be here for your schools 50th anniversary”. To everything there is a silver lining :-). But I won’t know for sure until April, the news of which I will keep you all apprised!

Hope this finds you warm – V.



  1. Albert T. Chandler · · Reply

    Nice posting.
    I should have learned more Thai, but still can street talk.

  2. I have plenty of language slips here as a PCV in Mozambique. I can’t imagine Mongolian. More power to you

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