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  1. #1
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    Can you get around in China speaking just english?

    I'm asking this question on behalf of a friend of mine who might go to study there for 6 months. We were wondering if english was enough everywhere, but specially China! We both know that english is widely spoken in a lot places, but we weren't sure how widespread this trend is in China. Do you think my friend, Eric, will be just fine knowing only english? Do you think it's enough? Six months don't sound like a lot, but time passes by even slower if you are the one living in a foreign country where the official language is so different from yours.
    Last edited by Trellum; 07-31-2013 at 01:09 AM.

  2. #2
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    Re: Can you get around in China speaking just english?

    I highly doubt it. I read a study in the past that stated less the 1% of the Chinese population speaks English. You might find some rare fluent English speaking locals at the business / commercial districts. Now, 6 month is a good amount of time, especially if you spending it in a foreign country that doesn't speak your language. I suggest convincing your friend Eric to learn a few basics, pack a English - Chinese dictionary, and keep his mind open to learning the language as much as he can.

  3. #3
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    Re: Can you get around in China speaking just english?

    You will definitely find some (the emphasis is on the word "some") English-speakers in all major cities. Most of them are younger and tend to be students. Outside the major cities, to give you an example, people speak English the way the average rural Texan American family speaks French, i.e. it's a totally foreign and alien language which might be taught in a few schools but otherwise the vast majority of the populace have nothing to do with it.

    Eric is definitely better off learning some Mandarin or at least to memorize some of the common characters so you can read signboards. Six months is long time for a stranger in a strange land.
    Last edited by BrianWolfe; 08-08-2013 at 02:58 AM.

  4. #4
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    Re: Can you get around in China speaking just english?

    Quote Originally Posted by Alfonso View Post
    I highly doubt it. I read a study in the past that stated less the 1% of the Chinese population speaks English. You might find some rare fluent English speaking locals at the business / commercial districts. Now, 6 month is a good amount of time, especially if you spending it in a foreign country that doesn't speak your language. I suggest convincing your friend Eric to learn a few basics, pack a English - Chinese dictionary, and keep his mind open to learning the language as much as he can.
    Thanks a lot! I think your answer is really informative! We had heard about this, but we didn't think it was as bad as they said! My friend was kinda shocked when I told him what you wrote, about less than 1% of chinese speaking english! Thanks a lot for the advice! It's good to know what he'll be facing once he gets there!

  5. #5
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    Re: Can you get around in China speaking just english?

    Quote Originally Posted by BrianWolfe View Post
    You will definitely find some (the emphasis is on the word "some") English-speakers in all major cities. Most of them are younger and tend to be students. Outside the major cities, to give you an example, people speak English the way the average rural Texan American family speaks French, i.e. it's a totally foreign and alien language which might be taught in a few schools but otherwise the vast majority of the populace have nothing to do with it.

    Eric is definitely better off learning some Mandarin or at least to memorize some of the common characters so you can read signboards. Six months is long time for a stranger in a strange land.

    I know I'm sorry for Eric, specially after reading your answers, guys! I liked the example you gave earlier (texan family), made us giggle... It's not get clearer than that! I'm so glad I'm not the one going to China, to be honest. As you said, six months in a foreign land where just a few people speak english can get very lonely and frustrating. His mandarin is very basic, but he's a smart guy, so I think he will improve

  6. #6
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    Re: Can you get around in China speaking just english?

    I find the language and the writing interesting, but I know that I definitely don't have the patience to learn how to write in Mandarin. If I ever have to visit China, I will need my own dedicated tour guide to translate everything along the way

  7. #7
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    Re: Can you get around in China speaking just english?

    Quote Originally Posted by safari View Post
    I find the language and the writing interesting, but I know that I definitely don't have the patience to learn how to write in Mandarin. If I ever have to visit China, I will need my own dedicated tour guide to translate everything along the way
    Yeah, I know! Chinese is a tough language to learn! I feel so lucky I'll not have to go tru the same things and awkward situations my friend Eric will while he's in China. I'm trying to give him support tho; we are trying to be optimistic and assume everything will go smoothly.

  8. #8
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    Re: Can you get around in China speaking just english?

    When you are in Shanghai or in the city areas, you may be able to survive without knowing any Chinese. However, when you go to provinces, it might be difficult since only a few knows English. Even the hotel attendants do not know how to speak the language so you just have to have your basic chinese words dictionary to survive, eat and go to a hotel. LOL

  9. #9
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    Re: Can you get around in China speaking just english?

    Quote Originally Posted by yugabear View Post
    When you are in Shanghai or in the city areas, you may be able to survive without knowing any Chinese. However, when you go to provinces, it might be difficult since only a few knows English. Even the hotel attendants do not know how to speak the language so you just have to have your basic chinese words dictionary to survive, eat and go to a hotel. LOL
    Well, Eric will be damned, LOL. Actually he has improved a lot and has learned a couple words. I think he will be fine, but to be honest I never that most people in China don't even know a word of english. This kinda reminds me of my mother country, most people over there can barely speak english and those who do... don't do it very well.

  10. #10
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    It depends on where will you reside. The majority of places where you can speak English as the only language is minimal. I spoke English when I was in Beijing, let me tell you, people didn't even understand one word of what I was saying. I ended up just speaking Chinese with them, which wasn't bad, although it wasn't my preference. I think if you are going to speak just English, it is not gonna happen in China.

  11. #11
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    If you are just going to the touristy areas then yes you can get by. But if you're a bit adventurous and want to get off the beaten track, then no you will not get very far. If you get in trouble the best people to ask are the young ones who have learnt English at school. Older people will probably not be able to understand you, so get a chinese - english dictionary for emergency (or an app)

  12. #12
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    Thanks! Actually my friend Eric is doing well now, he is in China already... and hasn't faced any kind of issues so far. He might be back after a couple of months, I wish him the best and hope to see him soon. His mandarin has improved greatly

  13. #13
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    Re: Can you get around in China speaking just english?

    That is always the problem when every time we planning to visit a non English speaking country we are thinking if we will have communication problems with the people in that place. But what we usually do is every time we plan to travel to place for a visit ahaed of time we try to study some of their basic words that is needed for a travel to be sure we can adapt to them when we are asking direactions or help in the place.

  14. #14
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    Re: Can you get around in China speaking just english?

    I went to China last year, specifically Shenzhen and Zhuzhai. They aren't exactly cities. It was quite difficult to communicate with the locals because they did not understand English. We always had to communicate through our tour guide. I was also able to go around their local markets and buy good cheap finds. I was able to haggle with them by using a calculator! So, a suggestion is to bring a phone or a calculator because they can read the numbers.

 

 

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