How long to become fluent in Chinese?

How long to become fluent in Chinese?

Postby rosamay » Wed Mar 15, 2017 1:05 pm

We will be in Shanghai for one year only and we would like for our English speaking 5 year old to become fluent in Chinese during that time. Do you think an international school bilingual kindergarten program would be sufficient for that? Or would we need to go to a more immersion style school or local school?
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Re: How long to become fluent in Chinese?

Postby Mel69 » Wed Mar 15, 2017 2:26 pm

A life time
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Re: How long to become fluent in Chinese?

Postby translator57 » Wed Mar 15, 2017 4:58 pm

Mel69 wrote:A life time

This.
Unless you are planning on keeping the child immersed for years after leaving China, then what he learns in that year will quickly be forgotten afterwards.
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Re: How long to become fluent in Chinese?

Postby Moonlighting » Wed Mar 15, 2017 6:09 pm

A child can pick up the language fairly easy, but he'll need to be spending time daily with Chinese kids. However, the Chinese parents will want their kids to be practicing their English with him.
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Re: How long to become fluent in Chinese?

Postby rosamay » Wed Mar 15, 2017 11:42 pm

I forgot to mention that I speak Chinese myself but we don't use it much in the home because my husband does not know Chinese. If we can get her level up to fluent conversational, I will try my best to maintain it in the home. But it has been a struggle for me to get her there on my own and I think she needs extensive in-school exposure and peers/friends who speak Chinese.

I'm trying to figure out if a bilingual school would be sufficient then or if we should go local to make sure she is hearing it all day and is making Chinese native speaking friends.
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Re: How long to become fluent in Chinese?

Postby dbl96 » Fri Mar 17, 2017 2:52 pm

Clearly the best option would be a local school. If your aim is for your five year old to become fluent in Chinese, I would not even consider an international school, because even if the international school is "bilingual", and your child learned to speak Chinese there, she would be able to reach a significantly higher level of Chinese with the kind of exposure she would receive in a local school. Even if the school is billingual, she will be exposed to a lot of English there. To really accelerate her language development, you need to remove the option to use English. This will force her to develop her Chinese skills quickly and comprehensively.

Furthermore, there really is no advantage sending her to an international school. International schools are very, very expensive. Children in international schools are relatively isolated and sheltered from the reality of life in the place where they live. International schools are like little bubbles of the Western world transplanted into China.

Considering the age of your daughter, and the fact that you are only going to be in Shanghai for a year, you do not need to worry about locking her into the highly competitive Chinese schooling system. It's just a year so you can just treat it as a valuable life experience. Even if you were staying longer, there's nothing preventing you from moving her to an international school at a later date if things aren't working out. Plenty of expat kids do primary school in the local school and then move to the international school for high school.

She's only five years old, so the language barrier really will not be an issue. Children at that age just absorb new languages really quickly if they are exposed intensively enough. It's also really the perfect age to be doing this kind of immersive experience, as all Chinese kids are just starting school as well. She'll be on an equal playing field with them academically, and she'll stand to benefit from all the programs which teach Chinese literacy from the ground up, rather than just assuming she already knows hundreds of characters.

One of the comments here suggests that the whole exercise is pointless as she will forget how to speak Chinese anyway. This is completely incorrect. I attended primary school for six months in France fifteen years ago, but I can still speak the language fluently. When I arrived at the school I was seven years old and spoke almost no French at all. Although it was stressful and challenging at the time, in retrospect it was one of the best experiences I have ever had, and I would recommend it to anyone. This experience has shaped me as a person, instilling in me a life-long fascination and respect for other countries and cultures and peoples and the world in general. It opened countless opportunities for me, and enriched my life so much, and it would not have been possible if my parents had chosen to enroll me in an international school instead.
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Re: How long to become fluent in Chinese?

Postby dbl96 » Fri Mar 17, 2017 2:54 pm

Just out of interest, as you see it what would be the advantages of sending her to an international school as opposed to a local school for kindergarten?
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Re: How long to become fluent in Chinese?

Postby translator57 » Fri Mar 17, 2017 6:35 pm

dbl96 wrote:One of the comments here suggests that the whole exercise is pointless as she will forget how to speak Chinese anyway. This is completely incorrect. I attended primary school for six months in France fifteen years ago, but I can still speak the language fluently. When I arrived at the school I was seven years old and spoke almost no French at all. Although it was stressful and challenging at the time, in retrospect it was one of the best experiences I have ever had, and I would recommend it to anyone. This experience has shaped me as a person, instilling in me a life-long fascination and respect for other countries and cultures and peoples and the world in general. It opened countless opportunities for me, and enriched my life so much, and it would not have been possible if my parents had chosen to enroll me in an international school instead.


I also have a friend who spent a year in south America as a child and also spoke Spanish fluently. He no longer speaks or remembers much of it. It all depends on how much exposure the child has afterwards in the following years. It's different for everybody. It's also important to remember that the fluency level of a child is not the same as a fluency level of an adult! They are better at mimicking sounds and quickly sound better than adults, but have a much smaller vocabulary and only grasp simple grammar structures etc. Which is another reason the continued exposure is imperative. This is why another poster suggested it's a lifelong thing. Not even native speakers of a language are 100% perfect speakers of their own language- How many times do you need to look up a word in your own language for example? Not all native speakers understand scientific or legal texts...
If you already speak Chinese, then why not start at home with her already? Do you only speak English with her?
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Re: How long to become fluent in Chinese?

Postby rosamay » Fri Mar 17, 2017 9:20 pm

translator57 wrote:
dbl96 wrote:One of the comments here suggests that the whole exercise is pointless as she will forget how to speak Chinese anyway. This is completely incorrect. I attended primary school for six months in France fifteen years ago, but I can still speak the language fluently. When I arrived at the school I was seven years old and spoke almost no French at all. Although it was stressful and challenging at the time, in retrospect it was one of the best experiences I have ever had, and I would recommend it to anyone. This experience has shaped me as a person, instilling in me a life-long fascination and respect for other countries and cultures and peoples and the world in general. It opened countless opportunities for me, and enriched my life so much, and it would not have been possible if my parents had chosen to enroll me in an international school instead.


I also have a friend who spent a year in south America as a child and also spoke Spanish fluently. He no longer speaks or remembers much of it. It all depends on how much exposure the child has afterwards in the following years. It's different for everybody. It's also important to remember that the fluency level of a child is not the same as a fluency level of an adult! They are better at mimicking sounds and quickly sound better than adults, but have a much smaller vocabulary and only grasp simple grammar structures etc. Which is another reason the continued exposure is imperative. This is why another poster suggested it's a lifelong thing. Not even native speakers of a language are 100% perfect speakers of their own language- How many times do you need to look up a word in your own language for example? Not all native speakers understand scientific or legal texts...
If you already speak Chinese, then why not start at home with her already? Do you only speak English with her?


I do speak with her at home and she takes classes once a week on sundays but her chinese is advancing very slowly. All her friends are english speakers and school is all in English and at home my husband speaks English with her.
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Re: How long to become fluent in Chinese?

Postby rosamay » Fri Mar 17, 2017 9:29 pm

dbl96 wrote:Just out of interest, as you see it what would be the advantages of sending her to an international school as opposed to a local school for kindergarten?


Thanks for your detailed response. I agree with all your points. I am hesitating on doing a full immersion into a local program because my daughter is very socially sensitive and likes having a big social circle of friends (even at the age of 5!). I'm worried that if she is the only non-native Chinese speaker in the class, that (at least initially) she won't make any friends and will be really unhappy.

The other major concern is for me is that I have read online that the Shanghai local school system does not use air filters in the room yet whereas many private international schools do.This is yet to be confirmed but it would be important for me.

Other than these two points I don't really see an advantage to the intl school system. However they are two rather big issues.
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Re: How long to become fluent in Chinese?

Postby SoFarSoGood » Sat Mar 18, 2017 1:44 pm

@rosamay, to save you some time here a list of pros and cons

Local school
PRO Cheap. In your case a year long immersion into Chinese

CON
Brainwashing, homework overload, creating drones rather than individuals, some have no heating and/or cooling, let alone air filters.

International School
PRO Stimulating the creation of individuals, a bit less homework
(After all we are in China, where Asian parents judge the quality of the school by the quantity of homework. Proper AC, maybe even with air filtration systems.

CON
Outrages fees. Which for one year is bearable.

CONCLUSION
For gaining a year long language immersion, you are most likely going to kill her desire to learn things in the most critical age of your daughter. Most likely she will never be the same.

You make the choice.
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Re: How long to become fluent in Chinese?

Postby littleredflower » Sat Mar 18, 2017 2:55 pm

SoFarSoGood wrote:@rosamay, to save you some time here a list of pros and cons

Local school
PRO Cheap. In your case a year long immersion into Chinese

CON
Brainwashing, homework overload, creating drones rather than individuals, some have no heating and/or cooling, let alone air filters.

International School
PRO Stimulating the creation of individuals, a bit less homework
(After all we are in China, where Asian parents judge the quality of the school by the quantity of homework. Proper AC, maybe even with air filtration systems.

CON
Outrages fees. Which for one year is bearable.

CONCLUSION
For gaining a year long language immersion, you are most likely going to kill her desire to learn things in the most critical age of your daughter. Most likely she will never be the same.

You make the choice.


Are you serious in saying that CONCLUSION? I am 100% local educated and my desire to learning things has never been killed by any Chinese teachers...

Western educational system may offer "PRO Stimulating the creation of individuals" as you mentioned, but what I have seen is that western people are polarized...some are really bold and creative, but quite many of them are timid and conservative and they 100% reject something different...including those foreigners living in China who only believe in those expensive international schools instead of the local ones....

So I don't think any educational system crucially influences a person's future unless it gives him really bad hurting experiences...a person's future will be mainly decided by something inside...that is his nature...and freedom and hard life later brings out his potential qualities...and makes him a unique person... :) So it might be always not a bad thing to give the kids some challenging different experiences...
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Re: How long to become fluent in Chinese?

Postby SoFarSoGood » Sat Mar 18, 2017 4:55 pm

I wonder why then more and more rich Chinese people these days do send their teenagers to the Western high schools/ boarding schools. Seems like going to a Western university alone is not sufficient to get rid of the brainwashing.
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Re: How long to become fluent in Chinese?

Postby littleredflower » Sat Mar 18, 2017 6:55 pm

SoFarSoGood wrote:I wonder why then more and more rich Chinese people these days do send their teenagers to the Western high schools/ boarding schools. Seems like going to a Western university alone is not sufficient to get rid of the brainwashing.


You mention those "rich Chinese", do you know the word “nouveau riche”? People who happen to make some money are not neccessarily of high Intelligence Quotient and insightful into things..that is especially true in China in the past few decades :)

If you use the word "brainwashing",you have to prove,with evidence and reasoning,that what I just said is baseless,otherwise,you are being emptily defaming somebody,which doesn't give any credit to the superior educational system you are proud of. :)
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Re: How long to become fluent in Chinese?

Postby translator57 » Sat Mar 18, 2017 10:02 pm

rosamay wrote:
translator57 wrote:
dbl96 wrote:One of the comments here suggests that the whole exercise is pointless as she will forget how to speak Chinese anyway. This is completely incorrect. I attended primary school for six months in France fifteen years ago, but I can still speak the language fluently. When I arrived at the school I was seven years old and spoke almost no French at all. Although it was stressful and challenging at the time, in retrospect it was one of the best experiences I have ever had, and I would recommend it to anyone. This experience has shaped me as a person, instilling in me a life-long fascination and respect for other countries and cultures and peoples and the world in general. It opened countless opportunities for me, and enriched my life so much, and it would not have been possible if my parents had chosen to enroll me in an international school instead.


I also have a friend who spent a year in south America as a child and also spoke Spanish fluently. He no longer speaks or remembers much of it. It all depends on how much exposure the child has afterwards in the following years. It's different for everybody. It's also important to remember that the fluency level of a child is not the same as a fluency level of an adult! They are better at mimicking sounds and quickly sound better than adults, but have a much smaller vocabulary and only grasp simple grammar structures etc. Which is another reason the continued exposure is imperative. This is why another poster suggested it's a lifelong thing. Not even native speakers of a language are 100% perfect speakers of their own language- How many times do you need to look up a word in your own language for example? Not all native speakers understand scientific or legal texts...
If you already speak Chinese, then why not start at home with her already? Do you only speak English with her?


I do speak with her at home and she takes classes once a week on sundays but her chinese is advancing very slowly. All her friends are english speakers and school is all in English and at home my husband speaks English with her.


Sounds good then. When you come to Shanghai, I'm sure she'll make a lot of friends in whichever school you choose. Try to find time to visit before you make your choice. I'm sure you'll be able to change schools if you find she's not enjoying it, as long as it's not too late in the semester. Maybe you can get an ayi too that will also speak Chinese around her. I think a Chinese school could be good. It's just a case of finding one in your new area that you feel comfortable with. It takes a lot of consistency and effort all round to bring up bilingual children, and don't forget they can reject either language as time goes by. A friend of mine lives in Spain and told me her young son refused to speak English (the mother tongue) for 4 years. . Just because... but now he's totally bilingual. You should try to read other info about it. Try to get her to write a lot, too (if you can...). Even though they end up speaking both languages, they can end up having difficulties writing I'm the second language- that's why it takes a lot of effort. Also try to introduce her to a wide variety of subjects to keep introducing new vocab.
I'm sure in the long term she'll be pleased and thankful for your efforts.
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Re: How long to become fluent in Chinese?

Postby translator57 » Sat Mar 18, 2017 10:15 pm

SoFarSoGood wrote:I wonder why then more and more rich Chinese people these days do send their teenagers to the Western high schools/ boarding schools. Seems like going to a Western university alone is not sufficient to get rid of the brainwashing.

What makes you think Western education is so great...? Just look at what's going on in the West right now... Trump, Brexit, whining about immigrants etc... Most of those people clearly can't tell the difference between lies and truth and believe everything they are told... They seem perfectly brainwashed, dumb and ignorant to me... Western schools are not all they are cracked up to be and the UK is ditching a lot more critical thinking/artistic subjects, and lets not even start with US children STILL being taught that some imaginary bearded guy living in the clouds created earth???!!! SERIOUSLY???!!! Like littleredfliwer said, the nouveau riche are throwing their money around at anything they think gives them class- it'll still be a while before they understand what they are buying.
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Re: How long to become fluent in Chinese?

Postby SoFarSoGood » Sun Mar 19, 2017 9:24 am

Number of Chinese students in US 328,000 (15/2016) was 62,000 in 2006

Number of Chinese students in UK 94,995 (15/2016)

Number of Chinese students in Australia 95,000 (15/2016)

Number of Chinese students in NZ 16,500 (15/2016)

Number of Chinese University students in Germany 30,520 (15/2016)

Number of Chinese University students in Australia 28,400 (15/2016)

I wonder why so many are studying there...
BTW a small number of these are new rich.
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Re: How long to become fluent in Chinese?

Postby littleredflower » Sun Mar 19, 2017 2:53 pm

The number of students who go overseas to study roughly accounts for 5% of the total high school graduates in China in recently years, so the most majority still are enrolled in Chinese universities.

Chinese students go overseas to receive higher education for complicated reasons. More advanced educational models,concepts etc. are definitely among the most important reasons. To enter a Chinese university, a high school graduate has to pass a hard entrance exam, so those students who have failed or have no hope to pass the exam can have one more option to receive higher education overseas.

No matter how advanced the western education is, some subjects like Chinese language,Chinese culture, Chinese arts, Chinese medicine etc., I think you don't have any other choices but study in the local Chinese schools.

From my experiences, quite many Chinese teachers are actually very excellent... :) of course many of them are bad. At least, they are overally not as bad as you have imagined. Also the basic education one person has received is important,but I don't think it is that crucially important to influence a person's whole life, it is just a smalll part of life... :)
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Re: How long to become fluent in Chinese?

Postby littleredflower » Sun Mar 19, 2017 3:29 pm

I don't think your opinions about Chinese education is well-grounded considering you don't even speak Chinese and have no first-hand barrier-free interactions with Chinese schools and teachers. Opinions from imagination is not always that dependable. :wink:
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Re: How long to become fluent in Chinese?

Postby rusbear » Sun Mar 19, 2017 4:02 pm

How long to become fluent in Chinese?


1 year. As well Chinese language is very simple when we talking about grammar. I know many students who studied in China for one year and have perfect spoken chinese. Another think - they can't find the job and has been back to own countries. Because local companies never hire foreigners for seriosly job, so only may hope for been hirde by foreign companies or do business by yourself.

PS: Ideally, should do know 3-4 languages, includes English, Chinese, Russian, German, Arabian ... in business and work may help to get many customers.
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Re: How long to become fluent in Chinese?

Postby rosamay » Sun Mar 19, 2017 9:38 pm

SoFarSoGood wrote:@rosamay, to save you some time here a list of pros and cons

Local school
PRO Cheap. In your case a year long immersion into Chinese

CON
Brainwashing, homework overload, creating drones rather than individuals, some have no heating and/or cooling, let alone air filters.

International School
PRO Stimulating the creation of individuals, a bit less homework
(After all we are in China, where Asian parents judge the quality of the school by the quantity of homework. Proper AC, maybe even with air filtration systems.

CON
Outrages fees. Which for one year is bearable.

CONCLUSION
For gaining a year long language immersion, you are most likely going to kill her desire to learn things in the most critical age of your daughter. Most likely she will never be the same.

You make the choice.


Just to clarify, I don't have issues with the local educational system. There will be good teachers and bad teachers just as there are in any country. ( I teach in the US so I know a little about this. I also attended a private international school abroad my whole life so I know something about the pitfalls of that).

My own parents studied under an Asian schooling system their whole lives and are not robots by any means. In fact they are both very smart and accomplished people.

I may not agree with all aspects of the local educational system but I also do not agree with many in the American public and private school systems as well. I am willing to expose my child to more than one type of learning. The most important thing to me in the end is the fluency level they can achieve in combination with their happiness level in the school.
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Re: How long to become fluent in Chinese?

Postby SoFarSoGood » Sun Mar 19, 2017 10:10 pm

I hope it works out well for you daughter.
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Re: How long to become fluent in Chinese?

Postby ericeducation » Mon Mar 20, 2017 1:55 pm

You need a software to learn Chinese like the software we have to learn english. We have a software to learn english words which is very proficient. Learners can grasp the english word in a very short time. I think if there is such similar software to learn Chinese it will be so great.
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Re: How long to become fluent in Chinese?

Postby ericeducation » Mon Mar 20, 2017 2:00 pm

Oh I did a Baidu search and found some guys are using the following to learn Chinese : chineseskill、pleco、hellotalk
But I know nothing about these, you may have a try.
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Re: How long to become fluent in Chinese?

Postby dbl96 » Mon Mar 20, 2017 2:47 pm

SoFarSoGood wrote:@rosamay, to save you some time here a list of pros and cons

Local school
PRO Cheap. In your case a year long immersion into Chinese

CON
Brainwashing, homework overload, creating drones rather than individuals, some have no heating and/or cooling, let alone air filters.

International School
PRO Stimulating the creation of individuals, a bit less homework
(After all we are in China, where Asian parents judge the quality of the school by the quantity of homework. Proper AC, maybe even with air filtration systems.

CON
Outrages fees. Which for one year is bearable.

CONCLUSION
For gaining a year long language immersion, you are most likely going to kill her desire to learn things in the most critical age of your daughter. Most likely she will never be the same.

You make the choice.


I think in the end, for one year anything is "bearable". Your daughter is not going to be irreversibly damaged or somehow turned into a "drone" by one year in the Chinese education system. Even if I agreed that the the Chinese education system invariably does this (which I don't by the way), once your daughter finished her year in China she is going to end up in a Western school for the vast majority of her schooling, and this will end up being a far greater influence on her personality. SoFarSoGood correctly observes that your daughter will probably never be the same, but he also seems to assume that the Chinese education system instills no positive traits in its students. I think it does. It creates hard-working, studious, and ambitious students. These are all positive characteristics which will get your daughter far in life, even if they have been devalued in the West. Not to mention that your daughter will become truely fluent in Mandarin, make actual friends with whom the natural language of communication is Mandarin, and put Mandarin to actual practical use in her life. None of this is likely to happen in an international school where the language is English. By being in a local school, your daughter will have a truly cross-cultural experience. She will have actually had the authentic experience of living in another culture. In the long run, this will actually give her a far more balanced view of the people of the world, and she will really appreciate and and respect other peoples and cultures. I know these are characteristics that people often associate with international schools, but from my experience I would say that international schools most often produce elitist, third-culture kids who are out of touch with and often even a bit condescending towards the culture of the country in which they live.

I appreciate your concerns about air filtration, however you should put things into perspective. Shanghai has relatively good air by Chinese standards, and again, your daughter will only be there for a year. Unless she has a particular health issue, it should not be a major concern for such a short time. Try and get the whole family out into the country on a regular basis, and have a filtration system installed in your home.

I think what you mention about your daughter fitting in and making friends is a really valid concern. It definitely is very difficult at first - this is coming from first hand experience. When I first started at school in France it was really difficult for me and I was not very happy at all. I could not understand what was going on, and I felt like everyone was bullying me. In retrospect, I think they were just trying to make friends with me, but I couldn't understand what was going on. But the thing you have to remember is that it will get better, and in retrospect the unhappiness that I went through in the first two or so months were well worth it in terms of the overall experience and the skills I developed as a result of my immersion in a local school. In actual fact, the isolation and sadness which I felt at the beginning have made me a much more resilient person and has shaped my development as an independent person. With all sincerity I would suggest that you go ahead with enrolling your daughter in the local school. You should go into it fully aware that it is very likely that it will not be easy for her at the beginning, but also aware that it is very likely to get a lot better, as she becomes proficient in Chinese and is gradually accepted as one of the students. I think it will be much easier and quicker for your daughter to accomplish this because she is considerably younger than I was when I attended school in France. She will pick up the language faster, and the other children are just starting school as well, so she will not have the issue of having to break into preexisting social groups.

If worst comes to worse, you can always move your daughter to an international school if you later decide for whatever reason that the local school choice is untenable. But I would suggest that you give it some time, be patient, wait out the initial adjustment pains, and you and your daughter will be greatly rewarded by the experience for the rest of your lives.

In terms of the maintenance of language, it will vary from individual to individual. Like I say, I have managed to maintain mine with relatively minimal use. However, you have the advantage of already speaking Mandarin. You should try and speak to your daughter in Mandarin as much as possible. It is best if you do not speak English to her at all - this way it becomes an established part of your relationship with your daughter that she will speak Mandarin to you, and English to your husband. That way she will maintain high-level billingualism after you leave China.

All the best with your decision!


SoFarSoGood, there are many reasons why Chinese parents send their children to the West for education. I don't think brainwashing has very much to do with it. It also doesn't often have much to do with Chinese thinking Western education is that great either. Actually one of the most common reasons Chinese students come to the west is because they are not doing very well at school in China, and so cannot get into a top Chinese university. They come to the west because they can get into a decent university there without actually being very academically successful. All they have to do is be able to afford the enormous international student tuition fees, which they can, because like you say, they are rich. Plenty of Chinese also use education in the West as a pathway to immigration to a country with a better quality of life relative to China. Actually proportionately there are not that many Chinese studying overseas. I saw a statistic recently that showed that as a proportion of the total population there are almost 4 times as many Australians studying in China as there are Chinese studying in Australia. Seems counterintuitive, I know. Go anywhere in Australia and you will notice vast numbers of Chinese students. You would be hard pressed to do the same in China with Australian students. But the thing is that China's population is just so vast, so much more that Western countries like Australia, that even a small number of Chinese by Chinese terms seems overwhelming in a place like Australia. On the other hand, the proportionately large group of Australians in China is just lost in the vast crowd of Chinese.

Also, if the Chinese education system is so effective at brainwashing like you say, then how are the Chinese parents (who were educated in said system) aware that their children are being brainwashed? Also wouldn't you say that the fact that they were brainwashed might have been the reason that they chose to send their children overseas in the first place?

I agree entirely with what LittleRedFlower says about your brainwashing theory. My experience with all the Chinese I have known is that they actually tend to be a lot more open-minded and curious than your average Westerner (esp. English speaking westerner) who is often very insular due to an education system which places very little emphasis and respect on learning foreign ideas and languages.
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