Do Mongolians want their children to be Mongolian?

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  • Feb 01,2018
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The influence of foreign languages, especially English, has been increasing rapidly in Mongolia in recent years. The youth should grow up learning their mother language, traditions, culture and history to realize its value and pass it on to the next generation. The surrounding environment has a strong impact on children’s under­standing about their motherland, mot­her tongue and even the importance of the independence and for cul­tivating patriotic values. Building add­resses and advertising banners written in foreign languages use to be found all around the capital some 10 years ago. Hence, the second chapter of the Law of Mongolia on State Official Language, adopted by Parliament in 2003 states, “The names of the city’s streets and entities and the name of the governmental organizations shall be written in the official state language. These names can be written in English. “ At the same time, then Mayor of Ulaanbaatar M.Enkhbold issued Decree No. 102 on March 25, 2003, detailing that the standard of addresses “shall be written in Mongolian using Cyrillic. If the address is written in both Mongolian and foreign languages, the foreign one's size shall be twice as small as that of the Mongolian one”. According to the implementation of the law, only some of the banners and addresses were changed, and also some Chinese, Korean and Japanese entities transcribed their former names into Mongolian alphabet. Most Mongolians want their children to learn foreign languages as early as possible because it has many advantages, such allowing us to communicate with people all over the world and learn from other sources. Additionally, if a resume includes fluency in a second language, the chances of employment in today’s market are much greater than those who speak only one language. Moreover, traveling through a foreign country becomes much easier if you can speak the language of that country. It is true that learning the foreign language has many good sides such as increased brain development, better multitasking skills, improved memory and increased attention span. Researchers also believe that multilingual speakers are more creative than monolingual speakers and they can stave off the effects of Alzheimer’s and dementia by years. Probably for these reasons, almost all parents promote the policy to teach a foreign language at school and some of them even choose to send their children to costly private kindergartens and schools where foreign languages are taught at an early age. Learning a foreign language at primary school has become a growing trend not only in Mongolia but in many countries in the world. As Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein is credited with saying that “the limits of your language are the limits of your world”, it is important to learn foreign languages. Before this “learning-English” trend, learning Russian was essential to the extent that non-Russian speakers were not considered as suitable employees at many organization and they couldn’t apply for the higher position in Mongolia. There was a time when everyone used to learn Russian from fourth grade until they graduated high school. But after democracy was introduced, more international relations broadened and more Mongolians needed to learn English instead of Russian. Nowadays, almost all well-paying job requires a good knowledge of English. Hence, every kindergarten, school and university teaches English as much as possible. For instance, the Ministry of Education Science snd Sports introduced a project to domesticate the Cambridge program at Mongolian primary schools and started implementing the project at 31 schools in 2012, with the plan to eventually cover all schools. The Cambridge program, recognized worldwide for high standards, high quality and academic rigor, lets Mongolian children gain the “gold standard” in international education by learning most subjects in English, the project initiators said. In order to implement the project, the ministry extended the school term to 12 years, published new textbooks (which were delivered to schools a semester late), and spent more money (2.6 times higher per student, 30 percent higher salary for teachers). Despite the promise of the project, some criticize that the program only serves those who are highly talented and skilled, while discarding those who fall behind. Furthermore, parents want their children not only to learn foreign languages but also to be fluent in it and started choosing private schools despite the fact that their tuition is extremely high. While the average university tuition fee is 700 to 1,500 USD a year, some private primary school tuition is up to 50 times higher. For example, the tuition of private schools which offer advanced foreign language courses from the first grade (English, German, Russian, Chinese, Korean and Japanese) range from 1,100 to 36,000 USD. Also, private schools increase the fee each year by 10 to 50 percent. While a lunch of a state school per student costs around 700 MNT, private school lunches cost up to 6,000 MNT. According to latest data, around 50 percent of the primary schools in the capital are private. These days, it is obvious that Mongolians pay a lot of attention on learning foreign languages well and do their best to send their children to private schools even at high cost when approximately 60,000-70,000 students enroll in primary school every year in Mongolia. The tuition rates of some private schools in Ulaanbaatar: Ulaanbaatar Elite – 9.5-11.9 million MNT Orchlon – 15-16.5 million MNT Sant – 6 million MNT Ulaanbaatar Empathy – 5.7-7.5 million MNT Hobby – 7-9.5 million MNT Shine-Mongol – 3.3-4.2 million MNT Olonlog – 4.5 million MNT British School of Ulaanbaatar – 10,000-19,300 USD International School of Ulaanbaatar – 27,700-36,000 USD (Standard) International School of Ulaanbaatar – 19,300-24,700 USD (Discounted) In a non-English-speaking country like Mongolia, learning a foreign language like English may seem vital and necessary to many school kids. Just as a coin has two sides, early childhood foreign language learning also has its own advantages and disadvantages. It is clear that learning a foreign language at primary school brings children two particular advantages. Firstly, young children learn new languages faster. They are enthusiastic to explore and learn new things. In addition, they pick up the pronunciation better and enjoy copying and learning through games. Learning a foreign language helps children gain better education and job opportunities. Besides the benefits, early learning a foreign language also has some possible disadvantages. Firstly, children need to concentrate on learning their mother tongue rather than learning a foreign language. Also there are also some reasons why it might be disadvantageous, including language interference, mixing language, foreign accent, and additional effort for children and cultural discrepancy. This learning may delay development of the child’s first language. Also there are some scientific reasons for avoiding early childhood foreign language learning, such as learning a new language puts extra cognitive strain on children. According to psychology professor Erika Hoff, author of the book “Language Development”, learning multiple languages simultaneously limits the number of words that a child can learn in a set amount of time. For example, toddlers have the cognitive capacity to learn approximately 20 new words a month, but this number is for total words. When a toddler’s language input comes in the form of two languages, she might only learn 10 words in her native language a month, learning the other 10 words in her foreign language, which puts her behind in her native language. Because of these problems, it might be better for Mongolian children to begin learning a foreign language like English after they have a good grasp on, or are actively using their first language. Also it may be a wise decision to send children to English language classes as soon as they are performing well in their native language courses. More than that, having insufficient knowledge about one’s mother tongue, customs, culture, tradition, history and national identity causes big problems in the future. In my opinion, every Mongolian should become a patriotic citizen who has a broad understanding of the importance of their mother tongue and motherland before learning any other language and cultures. Destroying the language and history of a particular group of people is the same as destroying the nation. Language learning is not only about learning how to speak in another language but also it requires people to learn the culture and history, and that information becomes an irremovable part of the person’s mentality. A trend in the society that values knowledge of foreign languages and cultures more than the native ones through food, movies and fashion can create a whole generation who neglect the value of their nation. It is even worse when society ignores people who seek to promote their national heritage instead of supporting them. No matter how good someone’s knowledge of foreign languages, he or she cannot change who they are. I want every Mongolian to put Mongolia first at all times. But the current condition of the society might produce many citizens who have knowledge of two (or more) cultures but doesn’t consider Mongolia as the top priority due to lack of basic education regarding their national heritage, which they were supposed to have learned at a young age. It is still unknown how many parents talk and teach about the importance of learning about one’s own tradition, culture and languages with their children and send them to the countryside letting them learn from elders about who they really are and the essentials of Mongolian life before teaching them foreign languages. Motherland is the only home. Our country is blessed with abundant mineral resources, cultural heritage and independence. Do you want your children to inherit what you inherited from your ancestors? Do Mongolians want their children to be Mongolian? If so, we need to start educating our children about the importance of their own culture and heritage instead of forcing them to assimilate others and lose their own identity.  

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