Language and Mongolia
I stand in front of the classroom, unsure of what I am really supposed to be doing. I look at the faces of each student, all around the age of twelve or thirteen, staring up at me in anticipation. I am supposed to be teaching them how to speak English, but truly I don’t know how to start, considering I was only given this assignment about an hour ago. I had walked back to the school at a brisk pace with a million ideas in my mind of what I could do. Once I reached the building though I realized that I had no idea of what the students were already capable of. However standing here now I do not want to seem shy or nervous because honestly I’m not, and I want to make this as fun for them as possible. I walk to the front of the room and gave a loud “Sain baina uu” or hello, to try and greet them suddenly I had all of their attention and it was time to begin.
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This past summer I spent a month traveling and working in the diverse country of Mongolia. It was my first time overseas and living in a country where I had never even heard the language before. When we had first landed in their capital city of Ulaanbaatar we hit the ground running, jumping instantly into Mongolian language lessons and classes about their culture. These lessons would prove very useful as we traveled to the northern province of Khovsgol. While there we completed a number of community service projects, however none of them quite affected me as much as teaching English to the Mongolian students.
This was the assignment that I had been looking most forward to, considering I had just been painting floors for three days. This was only the second interaction I had with the students, but before I even started they instantly recognised me. While the others sat silently, one girl confidently said, “You are Abigail, yes? You are very good at the games.” I recognize the girl, named Biak, and I recall the games we played when we first arrived at the school with the Mongolian students. I quickly think of the word for thank you-“bayarlalaa”. One girl points at me and then walks up and starts to touch my hair. She looks at me nervously and says “Yellow?” holding up my braid to show me. I nod my head quickly, point at her hair and say “Khar”, black in Mongolian, which makes her smile and run back to tell her friends.
I am no longer worried about where to start. Instantly I go around the room and start pointing at colors. Some students already know all of them while others eagerly follow along. While doing this activity I hear another student mention that she wanted a bunny, so I started drawing pictures of animals, teaching them the names, and spent time working with each person until they knew all of them. We ended up covering a lot of subjects that day, with each student happily participating for the entirety of the lesson.
I could feel the excitement in them as we worked. Every student was frantically pointing around the room and I could hear shouts of “Red!”, “White!”, “That’s a horse!” and “I have a goat!” all around me. In that moment, standing in front of that classroom, I felt as if I was able to open their minds while at the same time they were able to open mine. The connection I had with them was easy and natural. I now realize that the fear I felt at the beginning, that uncertainty of how this was all going to work, was unnecessary and that you don’t need a lesson plan in order for people to learn. Sometimes the best way to teach is in the moment.