Can you introduce yourself briefly and tell us a little about your background?
Hello. Thank you for having me. My name is Nyamgerel. I am from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Before this program, I worked as an English teacher for six years. It was the greatest achievement of my life being selected as a finalist for the program and the chance to work as an assistant teacher at Indiana University.
How many sections of Mongolian are you teaching, and how many students do you have? Why should students learn Mongolian?
For this semester, Fall 2022, we had 8 students in total, 3 in advanced, another 3 in intermediate, and 2 in the elementary level.
For the latter question, Mongolia is a country rich in history, language, religion, and a unique way of living. Mongolian history is also related to the histories of other Central Asian countries. Many scholars visit Mongolia to do their research. To study successfully, they have to learn Mongolian because Mongolian is the main language of communication throughout the country.
What classes are you taking here at IU, which one do you like the most, and why? What is different about taking classes in the US?
Great question! 2 courses I took for the semester were "The successful language learner" with Yucel Yilmaz, and "Teaching less-commonly taught languages" with Alwiya Omar. Both were insightful for me. The courses enabled me to strengthen my teaching skills by reviewing contemporary teaching approaches based on ACTFL [American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages] and knowledge of second language acquisition. In particular, I found “Teaching LCTL [Less Commonly Taught Languages]” more interesting since the Fulbright FLTAs took this class together, and we shared our own experiences of second language teaching, including how to teach grammar without teaching grammar, how to use technology, games etc.
A big difference about taking classes in the USA is that every student takes classes individually here in the USA while students in most of the universities of my country take classes as a group until they graduate. We have a cohesion system.
Is this your first time visiting the United States? If so, what are your thoughts?
Yes, it is my very first visit to the USA. My answer may sound superficial. In general, the USA is a vast country with real diversity. I have met a lot of people who are not originally from America. And also, once I got to Miami, I asked our driver a question in English, and he did not understand me; later, we learned that many local people speak in Spanish. It was like we crossed the USA border to a different country. Another thing I’ve noticed about Americans is that it is easy to have a conversation with a person you haven’t met before. People here are usually open to speaking to someone.
Is there anything you miss from Mongolia that you have not been able to find here?
I am missing authentic dairy products like dried curds and "airag" – a fermented beverage made from mare's milk. It is slightly alcoholic (usually 0.5% or 2%) but a very widely used drink. Children also drink it because it has many benefits for health. The traditional way of making airag is very unique. We use a cowhide sack as a container and a wooden stick to churn the milk at least 1500 times. Children in nomadic families learn to count in this way. We often use dairy products instead of snacks like potato chips or airag instead of sodas.
What is your favorite thing to do at IU so far (when you're not teaching or taking classes)?
I like going to different events around campus; they let me experience different cultures and foods. I try to not to miss the events held by different departments at the School of Global and International Studies. Most recently I attended an event on Finnish culture and Finnish literature in translation – I was astonished by the tone of the Swedish bagpipe! I also like being able to hang out around campus and do my work around the Kelley School, the law school, or Wells Library or do sports at the RSC.
Is there anything you would like our readers to know about Mongolia?
In my time as a Fulbright teaching assistant, I’ve felt intensely proud of my language, unique culture, and my experience with the traditional way of nomadic living. From a general perspective, visitors find the wide Mongolian steppe breathtaking and the nomadic way of life mind-blowing. It seems most foreigners have a limited understanding of nomadic people, but nowadays, it is not surprising if you see a herder using an iPhone 13 or earning a bachelor's degree. Most nomadic families nowadays use solar power to keep their phones or TV on and other appliances working. At the same time, people have preserved their unique way of nomadic living.
Do you think learning the Mongolian language is difficult for a native English speaker?
Language learning depends on an individual for sure. But generally speaking, native English speakers find Mongolian phonemes hard to deal with, such as guttural sounds "gh, kh, r, l," especially when the consonant comes together in a word like "khalbaga" (spoon) or "bayarlalaa" (thank you).
Do you have any advice for learning languages from your own experience?
The most important thing is to make yourself familiar with the real language and culture at the same time. If you notice no progress in your language class, try to find an interesting activity to do. I had an excuse not to listen to music or watch movies because doing exercises seemed easier. Once speaking was required, my mind went blank. Later I realized that movies, daily news reports or music are the primary resources that lead to spontaneous language. So, having some input before starting the language program helps you become a successful language learner.
What is a fun or interesting phrase in Mongolian that you want our readers to know?
People say "us, tsas", it literally means "water and snow", but actually, it means "fluent". For example, “his Mongolian is us, tsas.”