MST gave us the opportunity to have an informal language assessment. All of the language teachers Peace Corps provides are friendly, speak clearly and at a slightly slower pace than normal conversation, and allow us the precious time to finish our thoughts. In that way, these aren’t like regular conversations with everyday Mongolians. I subjected myself to it because I needed validation that my Mongolian language has improved over the last year. Another reason was because I wanted that confirmation to motivate me to redouble my efforts at language study. Without further suspense (insert drumroll here), I advanced by TWO levels!!!—from Novice-High (the minimum proficiency required by Peace Corps) to Intermediate-Mid.
The language assessment was a conversation between me and the tester. We covered the basics: where I’m from, where I live in Mongolia, where I work and what I do. She asked how far I live from work and I told her it was about a 7-minute walk. She asked me to tell her about my apartment and had a follow-up question: what floor do you live on? I didn’t hesitate: Bi neg davxhart amdardag—I live on the first floor. She asked about my hobbies and I said I make hats and she asked, “how many hats did you make?” I wanted to answer “When I was in America, I made…” but I realized I didn’t know that grammar point, so I fumbled my way through but she got the gist (90 vs 15). She asked how many people live in Boston and I answered 500,000—though I’m not sure of the accuracy of that number, it’s what I’ve been using. I told her Boston is a small city (because in my mind it stretches the 3 miles from the North End to The Fenway), then she wanted me to compare it to the million people in UB… I didn’t know how to explain the nuance of “Well, Boston includes Dorchester, Southie, Charlestown, East Boston, JP… so, in fact, it’s much bigger than 3 miles.” But, I understood what she was asking and will leave out the 3-miles bit from now on. At the end, she invited me to ask her questions. I started with “Where are you from?” and expressed surprise that she was born in UB and had lived her whole life there. I asked what languages she speaks and she answered “Of course, Mongolian, also Russian, and a little English.” I asked her if she thought English was difficult. She was emphatic that it was. She wrote the word “light” on a piece of paper and said, in Mongolian, “Why?!” I just shook my head in acknowledgment… the madness of English.
Immediately upon learning of my two-level increase, I realized that if I were to improve another two levels by Close of Service, I will finish Peace Corps service as an Advanced-Low speaker of Mongolian. But, knowing that I put in minimal effort (limited to vocabulary study) this past year, and since I plan to really study and speak more over the next year, my goal is Advanced-High. There it is, in writing, for the world to see. Four more levels—ZA!