A lot of people tend to have the misconception that Mongolians speak Chinese or Russian, however, the official language in Mongolia is Mongolian and the writing system is Mongolian Cyrillic.

The language itself is completely different from Russian and Mandarin Chinese. The Mongolian language shares a lot of similarities with Northeast Asian and Central Asian languages, however, there are many borrowed Russian and Chinese words.

For example: Mashin, means car in both Russian and Mongolian. Shivgua means watermelon in Mongolian and Mandarin Chinese. You will most likely notice these shared words in nouns and things that were introduced to Mongolians. A lot of food names have Chinese origins while a lot of technological inventions have Russian origins.

Asking if Mongolians speak Chinese is Offensive

Most Mongolians are proud of their historical achievements and their culture, so asking a Mongolian if they speak Chinese (while innocent and genuinely a reasonable question) it is taken as an offense by Mongolians.

When I say Mongolians I am talking about Mongolians who live in Mongolia. Most Inner Mongolians who live in China wouldn’t probably take much offense and a lot of them would be able to speak in Mandarin.

Do Mongolians learn Chinese or Russian?

Before the 21st century, most Mongolians were taught Russian as a second language because USSR and Mongolia were very close allies. There were many exchange students, and summer camp exchanges when there was still a Soviet Union.

If you ever meet a Mongolian in their 40s and 50s, he or she will be able to at least know basic Russian and get by if necessary, but nowadays, not a lot of people learn Russian anymore and instead opt to learn English for better future prospects since it’s a more commonly used language around the world.

Mandarin Chinese is surprisingly not a favourite among Mongolians even though Mongolia and China are close trading partners, perhaps there is historical and cultural stigma attached to it. However, students who are seeking to study abroad in China do learn Mandarin Chinese, but a majority of international Mongolian students decide to apply for American, European, or Japanese/Korean schools.

Will Mongolians learn Russian or Chinese more often in the future?

Who knows, as Western influence declines perhaps Mongolians will opt to study Russian or Mandarin Chinese more. The Chinese economy is growing day by day, so Mongolians might have to learn Mandarin or Cantonese in the future for logical and practical reasons.

If Russian economy grows and has more of an influence in the world as it did back during the Soviet Union era, then Mongolians will probably pick it back up again. However, Mongolia today is influenced by Korean, Japanese, and Western cultures so English is currently the second language of choice.

We will just have to wait and see.

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