Mongolia Monday- Sain Bain Uu!

Which is Mongolian for “Hi!” or “Greetings”. It’s pronounced, roughly, “sain” as in sandwich, “ban” as in bandaid, “uu” as in oval.

I’ve just downloaded what looks to be a very useful Mongolian language program from Transparent Language. The next trip is coming up in July and I want to be able to communicate better. Before my 2006 trip, I was able to  find a local Mongolian woman who tutored me in basic pronunciation and vocabulary, along with some simple sentences. It’s amazing how far you can get with: please, thank you, excuse me, yes, no, hello, goodbye, I like….., and knowing the numbers from one to ten. But it didn’t help when I heard a cool song on the driver’s MP3 player and had no way of asking who the artist was. I have a Lonely Planet Phrasebook and a “cheat sheet” from my tutor, but that’s not enough.

I have some familiarity with learning a new language. Spanish (see below), some basic Japanese (I can still count to ten!) when I was 14, two years of German in high school (wish I’d taken one year of German and one of French) and some Middle English and Anglo-Saxon in college. At one point I’d decided to teach myself Welsh. It was a short point.

Like many languages, Mongolian has sounds that don’t exist in English, so that’s a challenge. One travel writer describes spoken Mongolian as sounding like two cats fighting, but I’ve found that to be somewhat of an exaggeration. The guys seem to play up the gutteral sounds more than the women, especially in the countryside. There are rolled “r”s, which means that after 40 years, my stupid junior high Spanish class has finally turned out to be good for something. And there is a sound that is similar to the double “L” in Welsh. Vowels that are “doubled”, like in the sign below or in “Ulaanbaatar”, are audibly extended, as in Khan vs. Khaaan.  One of the sounds that I have found most challenging so far is “g”. It seems to be something like “uudo”, with a slightly rolled “d”, but I’m sure I’m mangling it into something hilarious. The Mongols are blessedly tolerant of anyone who takes a swing at their language and seem to appreciate the attempt.

Their alphabet is a close adaptation of  Russian Cyrillic and I’ll be learning that, too. It will be nice to be able to read at least some of the signs in Ulaanbaatar. Like these (I used to be a sign painter and still can’t resist taking pictures of signs that catch my eye). There’s just enough overlap with the Roman alphabet to be slightly maddening. You feel like you can almost read it, but no.

Khaan Bank, Hovd, western Mongolia
Khan Bank, Hovd, western Mongolia

Although, in this case, it was more the beautiful building that I wanted a picture of. But good to know that this is a bank, if one is running low of cash. One of the first signs I was able to read.

Gers and tents for sale at the Narantuul Market, UB
Gers and tents for sale at the Narantuul Market, UB

I took this photo partly because I had no time to inquire about details like prices and didn’t want to lose track of them since I would really like to get a tent like the one on the right.

Pet shop sign, Ulaanbaatar
Pet shop sign, Ulaanbaatar

Since my dog is a tri-color rough collie, the same breed as the dog on the sign, I had to get a picture. I’ve wondered since then if there are actually any collies in Mongolia. They certainly have a coat that would be handy in the cold weather. Lassie Forever!

Street sign, central Ulaanbaatar
Street sign, central Ulaanbaatar

Now, how could anyone resist a drink that will give them the energy of the Mongol Horde?

3 thoughts on “Mongolia Monday- Sain Bain Uu!

  1. How come “Energy; Pure Water” doesn’t translate?

    You’re right; looking at the language makes you nuts; you can almost read it, but not quite!


  2. I don’t really know, except that English is THE desirable language to learn and there seems to be a cachet in using it. The ad could also be targeted somewhat to expats. Many, if not most, Mongols can’t afford something like bottled water.

    This may call for some investigation on the next trip…..


  3. mongolians tend to use english words only to make it look “cool”. that’s the thing I don’t appreciate at all. and i don’t think many mongolians can’t afford bottled water. these words just look attractive, especially for youngsters … well i personally think that we shouldn’t copy allll the things.


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