"We came to Inner Mongolia three and a half years ago,"
said Irineshna Gormarsharov, a forty-five year old Russian
national. "My husband arranged to do some business in China because
we wanted to bring our children specifically to Hohhot to study
Mongolian and Chinese. We are Buryats by race, a kind of Russian
Mongolian tribe. My husband and I speak the Buryat language but my
children were raised in Russian schools; they had forgotten how to
speak their national language. I heard about this school and
immediately enrolled Yura, my ten year old, into classes. After
three years he now speaks Mongolian and Chinese fluently, and in
Russia he learned English and of course Russian. He studies English
at school as well; they have an American teacher. We speak Russian
at home. My husband and I are very pleased: my son is fluent in
four languages. Also, he will make good connections with his
Chinese classmates. We feel that Chinese is the language of the
future. At the same time he is learning Mongolian, so he can
understand his grandmother and other relatives who speak the Buryat
dialect,"She smiled broadly.
Yura indeed is a walking linguist. Lively, friendly and open,
the boy spoke to me fluently in English and Russian (my second
language) and then ran off, yelling happily in Mongolian to his two
best friends. A few minutes later a Chinese-Mongolian teacher
hustled the children into a classroom. The children opened their
bi-lingual books and recited in both languages without mishap.
Watching them I felt envious: how difficult it was for me to gain
my second and third languages as an adult and how facile it seemed
to be for these kids.
"My son is teaching me now,"remarked Irishena, as we all rode
home from the school by bicycle. "He acts like a translator and I
hope he will eventually do something significant with his four
Mrs. Gormarsharov also told me that her elder son, Amgalan,
studies at the Hohhot Medical College. "He is now twenty. He
insisted on coming to Hohhot last year,"she explained. "Because
earlier he was studying in Ulan Bator at a Buddhist medical school
but he wasn't learning enough. He did learn Mongolian there. But
here he feels more satisfied: he is studying traditional Chinese
medicine, Mongolian medicine and some western medicine as well.
Amgalan will be an MD in a few years and serve as a doctor, but
he's not sure which country in the world he wants to settle down
in. Last week it was Germany. Amgalan also speaks fluent English,
Russian, Mongolian and now Chinese."
Certainly Mrs. Gormarshov's children are exotic and well
educated by western standards. But they are not the only foreign
population entering Inner Mongolia seeking a superior bilingual
Miss Sun, assistant director of foreign affairs at the Inner
Mongolia Agriculture University, estimates that there are over one
hundred primary school children from Outer Mongolia receiving a
Chinese education. "There are also over four hundred university
students studying at the three main universities here: Nei Da, Shi
Da, and Nong Da," She added. "And probably a few dozen at the
vocational schools too. They come both on scholarships and
independently because the Chinese educational system holds academic
and financial incentives."
Westerners are also catching on to the fact that the Inner
Mongolia University offers intensive academic language programs in
both Mandarin Chinese and Mongolian. Courses cost less than half
the Beijing standard. "I'm here because I like the exoticness of
Inner Mongolia," said Flora Rulles, an American girl who is adding
both languages to her repertoire. "I'm a linguist; I'm having the
time of my life learning these two languages."
Another student, a French scholar on leave from Oxford, summed
it up well by stating: "Whatever your preferences, whatever your
nationality, if you come to Inner Mongolia you will find Mongolian
culture flourishing. The people are friendly, the language beckons
those with a linguistic bent, and the food, I can assure you, is
well worth the trip."
(China.org.cn by Valerie Sartor, July 23, 2007)