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I'm learning Mongolian, and part of my goals is to be able to read printed Mongolian Cyrillic and write cursive Mongolian Cyrillic, as well as learning some vocabulary and grammar.

I'm trying to be "diligent" and not use the Latin alphabet to represent Mongolian, apart from learning the sound of each Mongolian Cyrillic letter. Partially because learning Cyrillic is one of my objectives, and partially because I assume the Latin alphabet cannot perfectly represent Mongolian. In addition, I suspect that using the Latin alphabet would make me try to pronounce words as if they were English words. I know that Mongolians use the Latin alphabet on mobile phones and sometimes online, but I suspect that until I get Mongolian Cyrillic down pat, I should avoid Latin.

I've just started one-on-one weekly lessons with a tutor who is Mongolian, and while she has experience teaching languages, she has not taught someone illiterate in the target language before.

My question is this. How do I learn an alphabet and its pronunciation while I hardly have any vocabulary and grammar? And how do I learn vocabulary and grammar while I am new at reading and writing the alphabet? It seems like trying to pull myself up by my shoelaces.

I guess I can learn vocabulary and grammar without any writing by just listening and talking with my tutor, and not worry too much about taking notes, but that makes revision more difficult.

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    "I'm trying to be "diligent" and not use the Latin alphabet to represent Mongolian, apart from learning the sound of each Mongolian Cyrillic letter." -- You probably shouldn't use the Latin alphabet for this, either. You should use IPA or some other phonetic alphabet. – Flimzy Apr 8 '16 at 11:05
  • It shouldn't take more than a few hours to learn the Mongolian Cyrillic alphabet. Most of it is the same as English/Latin so you only have to learn the differences. Even uppercase and lowercase are much more alike than English/Latin. Learning italic is a bit more challenging because several letters change their shape completely. But while this is common in Russian I daresay it's uncommon in Mongolian. – hippietrail Apr 26 '16 at 6:57
  • I think you can get away with learning through the Latin alphabet at first. I have done so with two foreign languages so far, and it has never stopped me from transitioning to the appropriate alphabet, nor from developing serviceable writing and reading skills, in good time. My theory is that there's simply too much to handle in a new language for a new learner to do all at once. It's fine, if not necessary, to set priorities and to tackle them in stages. – SAH Feb 19 '17 at 13:35
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I think you need to learn at least a basic vocabulary along with the target language (basic) written characters first. Then move to free conversation (meaning conversation that is not guided by an accompanying text).

I don't know if there is a physical keyboard for Mongolian, but I did see virtual keyboards that can be used.

In my case (regarding Japanese), I skipped romaji early on, but using it for keyboard entry doesn't allow for putting it out of your mind. So a few years ago I switched to a kana entry keyboard. It takes some effort to learn the keyboard layout, but then you can forget alpha-character thinking altogether.

Then, find some content of interest in printed form. Magazines are a good place to start. Then start copying the text into a text application on your computer. This helps to memorize the characters used in the text.

After that, translate word for word to understand the basic meaning of each. Some study of grammar (English is OK for this) needs to happen in parallel at this point. Then try to construct phrases into a meaningful context.

All along, try listening to target language material as much as possible, in whatever format is available or of interest. Eventually you will recognize words/phrasings that you learned in text form, and from that point build up enough skill to carry on a conversation.

  • I've used an online typing tutor for learning a foreign alphabet. The advantage of a typing tutor is that there are usually only about 4 new letters per lesson, which divides the learning process into nice small chunks. I pronounced the sound or name of each letter loudly as I typed it. It is not important to understand the words - I have used a typing tutor in a different language than the one I was learning - but it is important to learn the most common keyboard layout for language you are learning and to be able to install this layout on your own computer/device. – Ansa211 Apr 9 '16 at 12:44
  • Mongolian Cyrillic is just a keyboard layout that's a variation of the Russian keyboard layout with changes for several extra letters vs some Russian letters only used in loanwords in Mongolian. I wouldn't be surprised if there's also a layout based on English/QWERTY. There's no IME. It only took me a few days to learn to touchtype Mongolian. Inputting traditional Mongolian script is a specialty field I bet though I did see young people in Inner Mongolia using the script on their smartphones to some degree. – hippietrail Apr 26 '16 at 7:02
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Unlike the Chinese and Japanese writing systems, the Cyrillic alphabet isn't very long or complicated, so it should only take a few hours of diligent learning to get a grip of it. I would dedicate a few hours to memorizing the letters and proceed with learning the language from there.

It's not very different from learning English, French or Swedish, which, while using the Latin alphabet, require to memorize many pronunciation rules unique to them.

  • It's much easier than learning the French alphabet and not much harder than learning the Swedish alphabet for an English speaker, or at least for me. French is consistent but opaque to an English speaker with a couple of extra symbols (diacritics and ligatures) we're not used to. Swedish is mostly consistent and transparent with a few extra symbols but we'll get certain letter combinations wrong for a while. Mongolian has more extra symbols, looks consistent but isn't really but is pretty much transparent once those new symbols have soaked it. In smaller print з and э are very easily confused. – hippietrail Apr 26 '16 at 7:10
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    The letters п and л are also confusing. – Ilya Kogan May 2 '16 at 11:03
  • True! I'd forgotten since п is so rare in Mongolian but I have to use reading glasses with the Mongolian dictionary or risk getting it wrong. – hippietrail May 2 '16 at 13:01

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