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English in Mongolia (Looking to Singapore as a Model)


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"Chinese is very boring," Anuudari Batzaya, a fashionably dressed 10-year-old, said in the Santis language lab, pausing an interactive computer program that intoned in crisp British vowels: "When he lands in London, he'll claim his baggage, and go through customs."

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/02/15/international/asia/15mongolia.html

February 15, 2005

For Mongolians, E Is for English, F Is for Future

By JAMES BROOKE, New York Times

ULAN BATOR, Mongolia - Even here on the edge of the nation's capital, in this settlement of dirt tracks, plank shanties and the circular felt yurts of herdsmen, the sounds of English can be heard from the youngest of students - part of a nationwide drive to make it the primary foreign language learned in Mongolia, a landlocked expanse of open steppe sandwiched between Russia and China. "We are looking at Singapore as a model," Tsakhia Elbegdorj, Mongolia's prime minister, said in an interview, his own American English honed in graduate school at Harvard. "We see English not only as a way of communicating, but as a way of opening windows on the wider world."

Its camel herders may not yet be referring to one another as "dude," but this Central Asian nation, thousands of miles from the nearest English-speaking country, is a reflection of the steady march of English as a world language. Fueled by the Internet, the growing dominance of American culture and the financial realities of globalization, English is taking hold in Asia, and elsewhere, just as it has in many European countries.

In South Korea, six private "English villages" are being established where paying students can have their passports stamped for intensive weeks of English-language immersion, taught by native speakers from all over the English-speaking world. The most ambitious village, an $85 million English town near Seoul, will have Western architecture and signs, and a resident population of English-speaking foreigners.

In Iraq, where Arabic and Kurdish are to be the official languages, a movement is growing to add English, a neutral link for a nation split along ethnic lines. Iraqi Kurdistan has had an explosion in English-language studies, fueled partly by an affinity for Britain and the United States, and partly by the knowledge that neighboring Turkey may soon join the European Union, a group where English is emerging as the dominant language.

In Chile, the government has embarked on a national program to teach English in all elementary and high schools. The goal is to make the nation of 15 million people bilingual within a generation. The models are the Netherlands and the Nordic nations, which have achieved proficiency in English since World War II....

The rush toward English in Mongolia has not been without its bumps. After taking office after elections here last June, Mr. Elbegdorj shocked Mongolians by announcing that the nation of 2.8 million would become bilingual, with English as the second language. For Mongolians still debating whether to jettison the Cyrillic alphabet imposed by Stalin in 1941, that was too much, too fast. Later, on his bilingual English-Mongolian Web site, the prime minister lowered his sights and fine-tuned his program, developing a national curriculum devised to make English replace Russian in September as the primary foreign language taught here.

Still, as fast as Mr. Elbegdorj wants the Mongolian government to proceed, the state is merely catching up with the private sector.

"This building is three times the size of our old building," Doloonjin Orgilmaa, director general of Santis Educational Services, said, showing a visitor around her three-story English school that opened here in November near Mongolia's Sports Palace. This Mongolian-American venture, which was the first private English school when it started in 1999, now faces competition from all sides....

"If there is a shortcut to development, it is English; parents understand that, kids understand that," Munh-Orgil Tsend, Mongolia's foreign minister, said in an interview, speaking American English, also honed at Harvard. "We want to come up with solid, workable, financially backable plan to introduce English from early level all the way up to highest level."

After trying in the 1990's to retrain about half of Mongolia's 1,400 Russian-language teachers to teach English, Mongolia now is embarking on a program to attract hundreds of qualified teachers from around the world to teach here.

"I need 2,000 English teachers," said Puntsag Tsagaan, Mongolia's minister of education, culture and science. Mr. Tsagaan, a graduate of a Soviet university, laboriously explained in English that Mongolia hoped to attract English teachers, not only from Britain and North America, but from India, Singapore and Malaysia. Getting visas for teachers, a cumbersome process, will be streamlined, he said.

Mr. Tsagaan spins an optimistic vision of Mongolia's bilingual future if he can lure English teachers. "If we combine our academic knowledge with the English language, we can do outsourcing here, just like Bangalore," he said.

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marcopolo79

The Mongolians are outta their freakkin minds, perhaps all that koumiss went to their heads, if they should be studying anything, it ought to be Chinese. I'm not familiar with any statistics, but I'm willing to wager that when it comes to foreign investment, trade, and cultural exchange, Mongolia has a hell of a lot more going on with China than with either the U.S., Canada, U.K. or any other English speaking country.

Everyone seems to think that if the Nordic countries and Holland can achieve English proficiency, then their respective country can as well, but linguistically the affinity between English and Scandinavian languages, and especially between English and Dutch, is probably the closest English has to any foreign language. Not to mention the difficulty they'll face in recruiting enough capable teachers with meager resources and a harsh climate.

The history of interaction between the peoples of the steppes and China is as old as the history of China itself, I think the Mongolians should take try to devise a strategic education plan that recognizes this fact as well as their geopolitical situation.

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I bet it'll be much more easier for them to become proficient in English than in Chinese, though.

Here's a genuine question: If you are doing business in China, will you get more respect if you speak mediocre but not quite fluent Chinese or if you speak mediocre but not quite fluent English, given that you only have sufficient time to learn one but not both?

Furthermore, if as is likely that it may take at least twice as long to acquire the mediocre Chinese as it would be to learn the same level of English, I can understand why the government would have chosen to promote English rather than Chinese.

English is the global language for almost everything nowadays, business and pop culture and many things in between. When the Mongolians do business in China, they can use English with their Chinese counterparts like most other foreigners do, and if they want to sell to the Chinese public, they can hire locals for the sales pitch, like others do.

Another thing is if the reputed relation of the Mongolian language to Korean and Japanese is true, is it easier for them to learn Korean and Japanese? There're a few wons and yens to be made there.

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Actually Chinese language never loses ground in Mongolia because it has never gained ground there.

Since 1921, Mongolia had become a de facto Soviet Republic and Russian was their second language just like English has been to the people in the 3rd world country.

But now after Russia lost clout, Mongolians are finding their new second language.

Naturally English supersedes Chinese.

Why? Very simple.

Hardly is there sufficient supply of Chinese teachers in Mongolia. And most likely the Mongols in Mongolia cannot ask help from their kins in Inner Mongolia since the Mongols scripts they use vary.

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"the nation of 2.8 million" - shocking. This is a really small population for such a big country ...

BTW, will they go back to using the traditional mongolian script? I like traditions, but it seems difficult in this computer age.

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wushijiao
The history of interaction between the peoples of the steppes and China is as old as the history of China itself, I think the Mongolians should take try to devise a strategic education plan that recognizes this fact as well as their geopolitical situation.

Wouldn't this be reason enough to choose English? If I were Mongolian, I'd be happy, but slightly nervous, about Chinese economic and military power. :conf I'd try to encourage as much trade and communication with the non-Chinese world, if only for diversity's sake.

I mean, I think it was Stalin who convinced Mao to drop the Chinese claim on all Mongolian territory. I'm pretty sure the KMT dropped that claim only very recently (2001 or 2002).

They sometimes compare Canada to a country sleeping next to an elephant. All is well until the elephant gets mad and rolls over. Mongolia is like a small donkey sleeping next to a stegasoarus-size dragon.

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marcopolo79

All I'm saying is that Mongolia is a poor country that is very geographically isolated and, as far as I know, lacks the infrastructure and the resources to implement a successful program that would impart real skills to the population.

When you look at the contrast between the other places mentioned in the article such as Singapore, a former British colony and a center of international trade and finance, or Korea, another wealthy trading nation closely integrated with the rest of the world, the hurdles facing Mongolia become all the more apparent.

Mongolia has internationally recoognized borders that are not contested by China, as the most democratic country in Central Asia it's territorial integrity and soverignity are not in doubt, either by regional powers or by the main global powers. I feel that if the Mongolians want to rapidly develop their economy, they would be best served if they were able to reap some of the benefits from China's rapid growth and integration into the global economy.

As far as Skylee's comment is concerned, I think that the idea of someone who is Chinese questioning if someone else's alphabet is too complicated to use in the modern age to be utterly ridiculous.

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wushijiao

Beijing annexing Mongolia proper would be highly unlikely, almost an impossibility, but not completely inconceivable. However, I think it is much, much more likely that Mongolia would economically feel the tremendously strong gravitational pull towards China, to the extent that it might lose some sovereignty in foreign affairs. China is by far Mongolia's biggest trading partner. From the little I have read, other Central Asian countries are weary of China's increasing influence, but still optimistic that they can benefit.

On the other hand, perhaps I'm wrong and Mongolia should integrate more fully with China in order to ward off Russia, its more historically oppressive foe.

In any case, I agree that some countries do need to look at their economic situations and ask whether it is really worth spending huge amounts of money and effort trying to educate all of their young in English. That's probably the case with Mongolia. But even China, Japan and Korea might want to reconsider whether it is sane to expect all young students to master English in such a hostile learning environment.

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I think that the idea of someone who is Chinese questioning if someone else's alphabet is too complicated to use in the modern age to be utterly ridiculous

I think the main reason why Mongolians haven't been successful at ridding themselves of the loathed Cyrillic letters is that the traditional Mongolian alphabet is a vertical script.

Software engineers at Microsoft and elsewhere have been racking their brains for a long time to accomplish the difficult task of accomodating languages written from right to left (like Arabic or Hebrew) into their operating systems and software. However, vertical scripts, as far as I know, remain a daunting task. I can't imagine a Mongolian version of Windows with a vertical taskbar, vertical menus, and so on coming out to the market any time soon.

This lack of software support for vertical scripts makes it very unlikely that Mongolians will be able to stop using the Cyrillic alphabet in the near future. Notice that unlike Chinese characters, letters in Mongolian are joined together (as in Arabic), so it is not possible for Mongolians to start writing horizontally as the Chinese or the Japanese have done. They would have to reform their letters altogether to do that.

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Jose, thanks for your post. Vertical script was what I meant to say. I sometimes only have a vague idea of what I think and cannot make myself clear. :oops:

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Ironically some predecessors of the traditional script were written horizontally. Somewhere between Sogdian und Uyghur the direction was changed, though.

The traditional script was officially reintroduced in Mongolia around 1993, but so far is almost exclusively used for ornamental purposes, many adults can not even read it. That the classical aphabet is not particularly well adapted to the Khalkha dialect (OTOH it has not changed cince the times of Genghis Khan :clap:-? ) doesn't make things easier.

I don't think the different scripts are such a big obstacle for hiring teachers from Inner Mongolia. There is just very little demand, at least for the moment.

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  • 2 weeks later...
elizaberth
"Chinese is very boring," .....

Such voice is a norm in Singapore. But I won't encourage such mindsets. :nono

We are looking at Singapore as a model.....

Looking at Singapore as a model?

I will give such idea a thumb down. :tong

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  • 1 month later...
woodcutter

Mongolians have not been "historically more oppressed" by the Russians and in fact owe the fact of their independent existence to the Russians. Therefore, despite wanting to get rid of cyrillic, they are hardly likely to want to learn the language of a nation which, in general, scarcely feels they have a right to independence.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Hmmm.....You won't believe it......Mongolian President thanked China for preservation of Mongolian culture in Inner Mongolia:

http://www.jamestown.org/publications_details.php?volume_id=408&issue_id=3322&article_id=2369703

In fact, on a visit to Inner Mongolia, President Bagabandi observed that he "was impressed with China's efforts to protect the culture and education of the Mongolian minority,"........

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I just gotta comment how sad Mongolia looks. I mean, a few hundred years ago they owned the largest land empire on earth. They already got to central Europe and would have likely ripped across the rest if one of their Khan's didn't die...Hungarian's nearest language relative is Finnish, then Mongolian. They're responsible for the Asian-looking features throughout all those "stan" republics (Afghanistan, Uzbekistan...etc...), and apparently 1 in 200 of all men alive today are genetically related in some way to Genghis Khan.

Now they're this shit-poor country of 2.8 million people, bullied by Russia on one side and China on the other (both people that they had slaughtered in the past), while trying to learn the language of a European-based nation 7000 miles away.

Funny how things turn out :shock:

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That is strange and it is a bit sad that people are allowing English to dominate the business world. Sure English is the most useful language in the business world at the moment, but it doesn't mean that it dominates in every part of the world. If you're in India it would make sense to use English, but for other parts of the world, Chad for example would have a lot more business deals with French speaking nations, and Mongolia I think would have much more business deals with Russia or China than with an English speaking nation. Since many speak or learn Russian already they should work on including Chinese in their curriculums as China's economy grows, and they being China's neighbour. In Ülaanbaatar, you rarely see any English, or even Latin lettres. Just the Coca-cola sign is in English while the other side shows the Russian. Everything else are imports from Russia and China. Singapore was colonised by the British and had contact with the British and English speaking people ever since, Mongolia has very little to do with English speaking people. Just to institue English like this because of its reputation in other parts of the world is not very logical, I think. Also, in Inner Mongolia, they still use the traditional (vertical) script, but in Mogol Uls"Outer Mongolia", they use the a modified Cyrillic script. The Mongol Uls"Outer Mongolian" government are trying to bring back the traditional script and are taught in schools now. Finally, the Republic of China under the Nationalist government officially recognised "Outer Mongolia" (4 banners "qi") as an independent nation in 1945. But the independence of the "Inner Mongolian" banners was not recognised, and still isn't. When the People's Republic of China and the communist government took over, the situation stayed the same, "Outer Mongolia" recognised as an independent nation while not "Inner Mongolia". For some reason, the de facto Nationalist government on Taiwan reverted back to not recognising "Outer Mongolia" as an independant nation but part of China. But that's another problem.

-Shibo :mrgreen:

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"I need 2,000 English teachers," said Puntsag Tsagaan, Mongolia's minister of education, culture and science. Mr. Tsagaan, a graduate of a Soviet university, laboriously explained in English that Mongolia hoped to attract English teachers, not only from Britain and North America, but from India, Singapore and Malaysia. Getting visas for teachers, a cumbersome process, will be streamlined, he said.

That's an incredibly open-minded position. The minister of education must know that you get what you pay for, so he can't hope to attract many North Americans and English with the pay they can offer. That's in contrast to other leaders who make bold plans to hire droves of North American English teacher's with Master's degrees, etc., but then offer salaries that can only attract a few missionaries.

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