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Essential Mongolian Phrases

Useful Mongolian expressions

    Mongolians are very surprised when a foreigner starts to talk to them, or at least says some words or short phrases, in Mongolian. From the Mongolian point of view, it is very nice that the Westerners visiting Mongolia try to speak some Mongolian with locals even though it is not so easy to pronounce Mongolian words or there is no serious reason to learn it. However, there are many foreigners who speak Mongolian very fluently and amaze locals. Here are some of the most frequently used words, phrases and simple sentences, useful for travelers. All entries begin with the English term, followed by original Mongolian and a pronunciation guide for English speakers.

English translation Mongolian Pronunciation
     
Hello (How are you?) Сайн байна уу! [Sain by noo!]
Fine, how are you? Сайн, та сайн байна уу! [Sain, ta sain by noo!]
Fine (well, good). Сайн. [Sain]
What’s the news? Сонин сайхан юу байна? [Sonin saikhan you bain?]
Nothing really. Юмгүй дээ. [Yumgui de]
Good morning! Өглөөний мэнд! [Ug-loe-nee mend!]
Good afternoon! Өдрийн мэнд! [Ud-reen mend!]
Good evening! Оройн мэнд! [O-roin mend!] 
Goodbye! Баяртай! [Ba-yar-tye!]
Bon appetite! Сайхан хооллоорой! [Sai-khan kho'l-lo'-roy!]
Thank you! Баярлалаа! [Ba-yar-la-laa!]
It is delicious. Сайхан амттай байна шүү! [Sai-khan amt-tye bain shoo!]
Not at all(no problem). Зүгээр.  [zugeer]
I don't understand. Би ойлгохгүй байна.  [Bi oilgohgui baina]
Good/bad сайн/муу  [sain/muu]
What is this? Энэ юу вэ?  [ene yu ve]
What's that? Тэр юу вэ?  [ter yu ve]
What's your name? Таны нэрийг хэн гэдэг вэ?  [tany neriig hen gedeg ve?]
My name is ... Миний нэрийг ... гэдэг. [minii neriig ...]
I came from ... Би ... улсаас ирсэн. [bi ... ulsaas irsen]
Japan    Япон  [Yapon]
America    Америк  [Amerik]
Germany    Герман  [German]
England    Англи  [Angli]
France    Франц  [Frants]
Italy    Итали  [Itali]
Holland    Голланд  [Golland]
Spain    Испани  [Spani]
Austria    Австри  [Avstri]
Switzerland    Швейцари  [Shweitsari]
Do you speak ... ? Та ... ярьдаг уу? [ta ... yaridag uu]
English    англиар  [Angliar]
German    германаар  [Germanaar]
Japanese    японоор [Yaponoor]
Russian    оросоор  [Orosoor]
Where is the restroom? Жорлон хаана байна? [Jorlon haana baina ?]
What does this mean? Энэ юу гэсэн үг вэ?  [Ene yu gesen ug ve?]
When? Хэзээ ? [Hezee?]
Where? (location) хаана ? [khaanaa]
Where? (motion) хаашаа ? [khaashaa]
Yes Тийм  [tiim]
No Үгүй  [Ugui]
Sorry! Уучлаарай!  [Uuch-laa-rai]
How much does this cost? Энэ ямар үнэтэй вэ? [Ene yamar unetei ve?]
1 нэг  [teg]
2 хоёр  [khoyor]
3 гурав  [gurav]
4 дөрөв  [duruv]
5 тав  [tav]
6 зургаа  [zurgaa]
7 долоо  [doloo]
8 найм  [naim]
9 ес  [yus]
10 арав  [arav]
100 зуу  [zuu]
1000 мянга  [myanga]
Don't know. Мэдэхгүй  [Medekhgui]
Don't have. Байхгүй  [baikhgui]

Do's & Dont's

Cultural Tips

    In general, Mongolians are quite friendly and very hospitable people, especially if their guests are from a far away country like yours. On the other hand, without knowing the rules and traditions, one might break one or several of the many traditional, religious and superstitious customs. If you get confused, do not panic, minor indiscretion will be tolerated and forgiven.

Do's:

  • Say hello (Sain bain uu!) when you arrive.
  • After entering a ger, always move around the stove in a clockwise direction.
  • Keep your sleeves rolled down, if you have any (or pretend to, if you have short sleeves); try not to expose your wrists
  • Bowls of food and drink will be offered to you with either your host’s right hand or both hands. Receive them also with both hands or your right hand.
  • Receive everything with an open hand, with your palm facing upwards;
  • Take at least a sip, or a nibble, of the delicates offered;
  • Squat or kneel on the floor and if seated on a stool, tuck your feet underneath – do not stick them straight out in front of you.
  • Sleep with your feet pointing towards the door;

Don’ts:

  • Do not shake someone’s hand with your gloves on.
    Remove them even if it is -40°C.
  • Do not lean against the ger wall or furniture.
  • Do not lean against a support column.
  • Do not whistle inside a ger.
  • Do not stand on, or lean over, the threshold.
  • Do not walk in front of an older person; or turn your back to the altar, or religious objects (except when leaving).
  • Do not take food from a communal plate with your left hand.
  • Do not touch other people's hats.
  • Do not have a long conversation in your own language in front of your hosts.

Rituals & Superstitions

  • Don't write anything in red pen
  • Don't point a knife in any way at anyone; pass a knife handle first; use the knife to cut towards you, not away
  • Don't spill any milk.
  • When offered some vodka, dip your ring finger of your right hand into the glass, and lightly flick a drop (not too much - vodka is also sacred!) once towards the sky, once in the air 'to the wind', and once to ground. If you don't want any vodka, go through the customs anyway, put the same finger to your forehead, say thanks, and return the glass to the table.
  • Don't point your feet at the hearth, the altar or at another person
  • Don't walk over an uurga, a lasso on a pole.
  • If you have stepped on anyone, or kicked their feet, shake their hand immediately.
  • Urinating in water (such as a stream or river) is sacrilegious. Don't do this. At the time of Chinggis Khaan, only death could repay such an offence.
  • If someone saddles a horse for you to ride, do not refuse the offer. Unsaddling a horse that has not been ridden is bad luck. If you do not want to ride, have the courtesy to trot about for a bit (a test drive, if you will), and then dismount.
  • When arriving in sight of a ger, it is absolutely vital to bring your horse to a walking pace. Arriving at a gallop would be taken as an aggressive act.
  • Fire, the god of life, represents the link between the ancestors and their descendants, and symbolizes the succession of generations. So don't stamp out a fire, or put water or any rubbish on it. Don't even think about urinating on a fire to extinguish it.

When at Rome, do as the Romans do !

Camel Riding in the Gobi Desert

    Camel Trekking is one of the many amazing features included in our tours to the Gobi desert. Discovering the beauties of the Gobi nestling yourself between two humps of the Bactrian camel is something you cannot do often anywhere else and you would enjoy very much. So it's worthy to try a ride on this gentle and easy-paced animal for fun. But before you jump on for a ride, you should be aware of the following instructions to make your ride more enjoyable.

  • Loose-fitting, shiny and/or noisy clothes as well as the high-heeled and thick-soled shoes should be avoided for camel riding.
  • Don't use any strong perfumes before and during camel riding.
  • Bear in mind that you should not approach a camel from its back, front and right sides.
  • Approach the camel from the proper side (the left side), hold the leading-rein short and mount the camel with support of your guide or camel man putting your left tiptoe on the plate of the left stirrup first. While the camel is standing up, hold firmly its front hump, lean over backwards and then forwards to keep your balance. Because the camel is so tall and no one can jump on it when it is standing. You have to make it lie down on the ground to mount or dismount. When the camel stands up, it stretches its back legs first, then the front legs.
  • When you are on the camel, the stirrups should be fixed so that you can stretch your legs halfway. Your guide or camel man will shorten or lengthen the stirrup straps if necessary.
  • You should keep your tiptoes on the stirrup plates and sit your legs stretched halfway.
  • While riding a camel you should steer the leading rein loosening a bit in the direction that you want to go to.
  • You always should keep the leading rein short.
  • Keep in mind that you shouldn't frighten your camel by a sudden movement or loud scream. If you want to take a picture while on the camel, stop it first.
  • You shouldn't drink alcohol before and during camel riding.
  • If your camel will run fast and you want it slower, hold the leading rein back and keep it short.
  • If you want to dismount from your camel or your camel to lie down, say "Soeg, soeg!". Say "Chu, Chu!" to make your camel go ahead, "Ha, ha" to run faster.
  • Camels are easily startled animal so you should be vigilant while you ride them.
  • It is liable to get sunstroke while riding a camel, so you should keep your sun-hat on.
  • Talk to each other from time to time to be awake because one can fall asleep while riding a camel for a while as you would feel like being lulled like a baby.

The sun is closer from the camelback!

Visiting Mongolian Monasteries & Temples

     Thanks to the democratic changes in 1990, freedom of religion was restored in Mongolia and there has been a phenomenal revival of Buddhism in the country, resulting in the construction of dozens of new monasteries, and the restoration of temples destroyed in the 1930s. The busy and popular Gandantegchilin Hiid (shortened to Gandan Khiid) in Ulaanbaatar, the magnificent Erdene Zuu Hiid, built on the ruins of the ancient capital of Karakorum, and the remote Amarbayasgalant Hiid near the Darkhan City are the biggest monasteries in Mongolia.

The best time to visit a monastery is in the morning around 10 am, when chanting and prayers are usually in progress. You may enter a temple during chanting but must not stand in front of the monks. Instead, go clockwise around the back. You can even go up to the altar, make a small cash offering, and then bow before the altar. However, it is advisable not to offer a torn or old bank note. If you want a blessing from a certain monk, then offer your money with two hands and bow down so that the monk is able to bless you by touching your head with his prayer book or hand.

When visiting a Buddhist temple refrain from talking loudly, pointing with an outstretched finger or laughing.
Some temples have wooden benches and believers can sit and enjoy the reading of sutras or other ceremonies. If there are not enough benches it is acceptable to stand near the door or gate.

You should never take photos of anything or anyone inside a temple, but you can do that outside of temple.
Feel free to turn the prayer wheels as the Mongolians do and note that each will have sutras both inside and outside - this message will influence your environment. Buddhists believe that virtue will be bestowed upon anyone who turns these prayer wheels.

At some temples you will be able to have your fortune told by an astrologist. Buddhism is rich with a variety of sutras and it is believed that they all have certain effect on your life. You can request a monk to read a certain sutra for a token fee. There are plenty of other sutras which will supposedly protect your health during travel, life, work and business. There are even sutras for children. These sutras can be read if your child behaves badly or when they have inferior marks at school.
Buddhist relate to objects like bells, vajra, drums, printed sutras and all these items are usually available for purchase outside monasteries like Gandan, Lamrin and Dashchoilin. After purchasing any sutras, vajra or drums, avoid keeping them in a dirty place and do not place them near shoes or socks. If they are kept nicely and reserved, then these items will protect you from bad luck, evil spirits and health problems.

If you want to purchase a gift then do not buy consecrated items, stick to pieces that do not have spiritual meaning.

Om Mani Padme Hum
(Hail to the Jewel in the Lotus)

Horseback Riding

     Riding on horses in Mongolian wilderness is a great fun and it helps travelers to meet locals on a level footing and experience the country as Mongolians have done for centuries. Mongolian horses are renowned for their speed, strength and dexterity.
Unlike Westerners, Mongolians don't give their horses names. They designate horses by their colors and ages. The Mongolian vocabulary is rich in precise terms for the nuances of horses' colors. When the inexperienced eye sees only a "white" horse, the herder will see a "snow white" or "ash white".
The Mongolian horses are fairly simple to ride, and although you do not need to be an expert horse person, some experience will undoubtedly be useful. Here are some guidlines you should bear in mind if you would choose one of our tours that involves horseback riding:

  • It is important to wear suitable clothes and boots for horseriding and you should avoid any loose-fitting, shiny and/or noisy clothes as well as the high-heeled and thick-soled shoes.
  • Mongolian horses are trained to accept human appoach from the left, so mount and dismount from horses from the proper side or the LEFT side only, with support of your guide or horseman. They may rear or kick you if you approach the wrong way. So never approach a horse from its back, front or right side!
  • After saddling a horse, approach the horse from the proper side (the left side) without sudden movement, then shorten the reins and mount the horse with your guide's or horseman's support putting your left tiptoe on the plate of the left stirrup.
  • When you are on the horseback, the length of the stirrup straps should be at the long that your legs are stretched halfway. Your guide or horseman will shorten or lengthen the stirrup straps if necessary. You should keep your tiptoes on the stirrup plates and sit your legs stretched halfway.
  • Mongolians say "chu!" to make their horses go, so tell your horse "chu!" to go ahead.
  • If you gallop, you have to stand up on the stirrups a little bit so that your butt does not bang the saddle all the time. Do you understand now, why the stirrup strap should be shorter than you thought?
  • While riding a horse you should steer the rein loosening it a bit in the direction that you want. You should keep the leading rein short otherwise.
  • Keep in mind that you shouldn't scare your horse by a sudden movement or loud scream. If you would take pictures while on the horseback, stop the horse first.
  • You shouldn't drink any alcohol before and during horseback riding.
  • If your horse starts trotting or runs fast and you want it slower, pull the leading-rein and keep it short.
  • Another important thing you have to know is that you should NOT wind the rein round your hands. Hold it folded if the rein is too long.
  • You must dismount from a horse only after it stops. If your horse stops too close to other horses, make sure it stops away from other horses, otherwise they might kick you.
  • If you have to go downhill or up a slope, or thru many obstacles, you would better dismount from your horse and lead it with the rein or make sure to tighten the saddle girth by your guide or horseman.

Enjoy your horse riding!

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