Lesson One: Introduction to Mongolian Cyrillic

Welcome to the first lesson of Beginner Mongolian. In this lesson the Mongolian Cyrillic alphabet, vowel harmony, and vowel and consonant pronunciation combinations are introduced. Using the materials in this lesson you should memorize the Mongolian Cyrillic alphabet and become familiar with each letter's pronunciation. Subsequent lessons assume you have learned the Mongolian Cyrillic alphabet, so it is important to make an effort to completely memorize the alphabet as soon as possible.

Introduction to Mongolian Cyrillic

The following chart shows the Mongolian Cyrillic alphabet as presented in the video above. Click on the speaker icon to download a recording of a native speaker pronouncing each sound. Vowels are highlighted in red. Letters highlighted in blue and bold do not have sounds, and the speaker in the recording says their names rather than their pronunciation.

Mongolian Cyrillic Alphabet
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А а Б б В в Г г Д д
Е е Ё ё Ж ж З з И и
й К к Л л М м Н н
О о Ө ө П п Р р С с
Т т У у Ү ү Ф ф Х х
Ц ц Ч ч Ш ш Щ щ ъ
ь ы Э э Ю ю Я я

The following chart provides a comparison of Mongolian letter sounds to English sounds. Compare this chart to the sound recording above.

Comparison of Mongolian Letter Sounds to English Sounds
SymbolsTranscriptionApproximate pronunciationExamples
А а [a] Like u in up ам, аав, ав
Б б [b] Like b in but би, багш, салбар
В в [w, v] Similar to w in want and v in rev (depending on position, between w and v sounds) тав, хавар, дэвтэр
Г г [g] Similar to g in got. гэр, өглөө, баг гар, гол, бага
Д д [d] Like d in do дээр, хэдэн, үүд
Е е [ye] Similar to ye in yes ер, үер, бие
Ё ё [yo] Similar to yo in your ёс, хоёр, гоё
Ж ж [j] Similar to j in join жижиг, хожил, явж
З з [z] An affriciate similar to z in zero зам, эзэн, олз
И и [i] Like ee in tree их, хийх
Й й [y] Used as part of diphthong, sounds like oy in boy and uy in buy байх, хойно, нохой
К к [k] Corressponds to k. Used only in loan words кино, компьютер
Л л [l] Similar to l in salt литр, олон, алт
М м [m] Identical to m in man мал, амар, журам
Н н [n] Before vowels sounds like n in no. Before consonant and in final positions of words sounds like ng in song ном, санал, хаана хүн, хаан, монгол, он
О о [o] Similar to o in or одоо, олон, бороо
Ө ө [o] Similar to ea in earth өндөр, мөрөн, өрөө
П п [p] Corresponds to p in part. Used only in loan words пүүс, пянз
Р р [r] Similar to r in trip, but stronger нар, орон, гар
С с [s] Like s in son сар, асар, хос
Т т [t] Like t in test том, хатуу, хот
У у [u] Similar to o in cone ус, сур, буруу
Ү ү [u] Similar to oo in moose and soon үс, дүрэм, дүү
Ф ф [f] Corresponds to f. Used only in loan words ферм, фонд
Х х [h] Similar to h in hot хол, эх, цүнх
Ц ц [ts] An affricate like ts in roots цаг, цэцэг, гарц
Ч ч [ch] An affricate like ch in check чанар, ачаа, хэрч
Ш ш [Sh] Like sh in bush шар, ашиг, хөрш
Щ щ [sch] A digraph for ш (sh) and ч (ch) Used only in loan words Хрущев
ь soft sign No sound. Indicates palatalisation of the preceding consonant and separates it from the following y-glide. Usually creates a diphthong like conversion of the preceding vowel. Ex. урь sounds like уйр. тавь, амь, морь харья, хэлье
ы [ii] A long back vowel. Similar to ee in bee ахын, номыг, оны
ъ hard sign No sound. Used to separate Hard consonant from y-glide following it авъя, бодъё, харъя
Э э [e] Similar to e in help энэ, хэн, тэмээ
Ю ю [yu] Similar to you in you юм, юу, оюутан
Я я [ya] Similar to ya in yawn ямар, хаяг, сая

The following chart displays the vowels in their three main forms as introduced in the video above. In Mongolian there are vowels, long vowels, and diphthongs. Click on the speaker icon to listen to the chart being read.

Vowel sounds
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Short vowelsLong vowelsDiphthongs
а аа ай
э ээ эй
и ий -
о оо ой
ө өө -
ү үү үй
у уу уй

Vowel harmony is a core aspect of the Mongolian language, and understanding the rule can facilitate quicker learning of words. Because words with male vowels generally do not also have female vowels and vise-versa, it is possible to guess the spelling and pronunciation of words simply based on the first vowel. All other vowels in words should be of the same "gender" as the first vowel. This becomes particularly important later on when conjugating words with the many case and tense suffixes used in the language. For those with experience learning romance languages, remember that the "gender" of the vowels has nothing to do with actual gender. It is just a convention used to distinguish the two types of vowels, and unlike French or Spanish, for example, the gender of the speaker or object of discussion does not affect the grammatical case or tense used (e.g. amigo vs. amiga in Spanish).

Vowel Harmony
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Male vowelsNeutral vowelsFemale vowels
а, о, у и э, ө, ү
ё, ы, ю, я   е
аав, уул, охин, од, ёстой, аавын, яасан ярих, эгшиг, алим үнэг, өндөг, өвөл, ердөө

From here on out it is time to practice using the Mongolian Cyrillic alphabet. Below are several videos that demonstrate the various vowel and consonant combinations introduced thus far. The videos provide an opportunity to both hear and see the words.

This video provides a comparison of short and long vowels. Watch the video once, and then watch several more times while trying to say the words yourself.

Short and Long Vowels

This video shows a comparison between words with long vowels and similar words with diphthongs. Again, watch the video once, and then watch it several more times while trying to say the words yourself.

Long Vowels and Diphthongs

Pulling together short vowels, long vowels, and diphthongs the following video compares each side by side. Continue to practice repeating after the speaker.

Short Vowels, Long Vowels, and Diphthongs

Next we turn our attention to a comparison between similar words with and without the soft marker (ь). Notice that the preceding vowel before the soft marker sounds similar to a diphthong (e.g. барь is similar to байр). Practice repeating the words yourself.

Soft Marker (ь) Comparison

Moving on to consonants, the following video compares similar sounding consonants.

Consonants with Similar Sounds

The pronunciation for the letter Н changes depending on its position in a word. Refer to the comparison chart above for more detail. The following video demonstrates this change with various word pairs.

Front and Back of the Tongue (Н)

The pronunciation for the letter Г also goes through a change depending on its position from a soft g sound to a more guttural sound at the back of the throat. The following video also demonstrates this change with various word pairs.

Tongue and Throat (Г)

Returning to the vowels, the letters О, У, Ө, and Ү are particularly tricky for native English speakers. These vowels require special attention in order to become a clear speaker of Mongolian. The problem is that for most native English speakers they often sound like the same sounds! They're not, though, and as you become more proficient in Mongolian you'll hear the difference. The following video provides a comparison of the vowels in different words.

The Difficult Vowels (О) (У) (Ө) (Ү)

Finally, the last video provides a chance to hear all the introduced sounds in real sentences. Take note of the way words are pronounced and the adherence to the rule of vowel harmony in each word. (Although, there is an exception. Can you see it?).

Sentence Building

Now that you can read Cyrillic and have a basic understanding of how to pronounce Mongolian words, you are ready to begin learning your first expressions.