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cmnoodles

English in China

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cmnoodles

Hi, I'm in the UK and am being given a position with his current company in China. They have several offices and have not yet confirmed which one I will be posted to.

I am a little worried for my wife getting by in the daytime. Can anyone tell me how difficult it is to get around without being able to read (or speak) Chinese? Are many signs in English? Does it vary much from city to city? Can you usually find ppl to help you a little in English, or must you have things written down in advance to show people, or pictures to point at etc?

We will both have to make an attempt to learn at least basic Chinese in the long-run. I am just wondering about the English situation for the beginning.

Thanks

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rivercao

Don't worry, Chinese are hospitable. A large number of Chinese know little English, some Chinese are good users of English, and in company, your colleagues will help you sort things out at the beginning. I think some of your Chinese colleagues will be very good English user.

In what circumstances would you get in language trouble? I don't think there is any.

In restaurants, there are menus in English, In metro, there are address names in English, and on trains or buses, there are vioces cast in English, on the road or street, signals in English, not all standard though.

Maybe after 1 year you come to China, you will find learning Chinese is not necessarily needed.:mrgreen:

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natra

It seems to me that it will largely depend on which city you are assigned to live in.

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Farkas

You come the right place,more advice may help you,Just like rivercao's talk about, Chinese are hospitable,and I'm in tianjin,if I can do a favor,that's my pleasure and I'm chinese,There will be some difficult at the beginning,but don't worry much about it,everything will be ok,good luck

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stonelee

If your company is located in big cities, such as Beijing and Shanghai.

Only English is no problem~

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renzhe
It seems to me that it will largely depend on which city you are assigned to live in.

This pretty much sums it up.

In first tier cities, it is possible to get around using English. In a smaller town, it might be more difficult.

Don't expect it to be a walk in a park, like in Germany or Sweden. It's not like everyone will speak fluent English, or even understand your accent. But with some searching, you should be able to find a younger person who can at least help mediate.

If it's a bigger city and she's worried about doing shopping, having a coffee, or buying a breakfast in a restaurant, she'll be fine.

Do bring some sense of adventure with you, though, it won't always be smooth :mrgreen: Also do make the necessary preparation for most common cases, like having your address written on a piece of paper with you all the time, having a calculator with you for prices and communicating numbers, or even bring a small phrasebook with you.

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eatfastnoodle

Most people with higher than secondary education could speak some English, here some english means mastering some of the most basic day to day communication in English Speaking nations. But, you must realize that China is one of the countries furthest removed from Anglo world. So don't expect living totally off Chinese unless you wanna restrict yourself to an selected set of expats and Chinese who are fluent in English. There might be some English signs, but expect them to be seriously mangled in term of grammars (it doesn't help that in school, Chinese kids were taught a mis-mash of British and American English, they might call an sneaker an sneaker, but at the same time they call pant trouser, or elevator lift.). Learn something Chinese, for better or for worst,this is not France, people who can communicate in English with you, even haphazardly, will attempt to communicate in English with you. But the vast majority of them can't tell A from Z, and even those with college education usually have hard time composing a coherent sentence in English. So be prepared.

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skylee
for better or for worst,this is not France, people who can communicate in English with you, even haphazardly, will attempt to communicate in English with you.

From my recent experience in France, the resistance to speaking in English seemed to have greatly reduced. I think sometimes we tend to forget that there are people (especially when they are white) who really can't speak English.

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Shi Tong
From my recent experience in France, the resistance to speaking in English seemed to have greatly reduced. I think sometimes we tend to forget that there are people (especially when they are white) who really can't speak English.

There are two issues in France with speaking English:

1) The French are proud and dont want to speak English, and

2) Some of them genuinely cant speak English because they find it's difficult.

TBH, I have an American friend who moved to Sweden and was told "not to bother learning Swedish", and found that when she arrived, most people had trouble with English, and when going beyond "how much is this", or "I want some bread", you really had to know Swedish.

So, while I agree that (probably) most large Chinese cities, you would get a larger proportion of English speakers, you would probably find it hard to communicate beyond a few lines.

My personal experience is with Taiwan, and that said, Taipei. You would expect a lot of English spoken there, but anyone who is over a certain age finds it hard to communicate at all, and anyone who is young varies from person to person. I had to learn Mandarin to actually talk to anyone (bar my wife and her sister) with any kind of meaning.

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renzhe
TBH, I have an American friend who moved to Sweden and was told "not to bother learning Swedish", and found that when she arrived, most people had trouble with English, and when going beyond "how much is this", or "I want some bread", you really had to know Swedish.

This is contrary to my experience.

Of course, people aren't native speakers and will eventually be at their limit, but everybody happily spoke fluent English to me around Malmö, Lund and Stockholm. It could be different in other places though.

Perhaps her expectations were unrealistic.

In my experience, northern Europe, like the Scandinavian countries, Germany, the and the Netherlands tend to have a high proportion of fluent English speakers, which is not surprising given that the languages are closely related to English. Southern Europe, like Portugal, Spain, Italy and France are much more difficult, and you might be looking for a while to find a fluent speaker outside of tourist areas. My experience during a recent trip to Paris is that many people simply do not speak sufficient English and don't want to look like idiots when trying. But a friendly approach, a sincere attempt to communicate, even when they reply in French, and a smile worked every single time for me. I haven't met the arrogant rude French during my stay, but I've met a lot of loudmouthed tourists, so I assume that the attitude has a lot to do with it.

Mainland China has fewer fluent speakers than any of them, in my experience. You're limited to young urban university-educated people, basically. But people tend to be friendly and pointing and smiling can go a long way.

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Shi Tong
everybody happily spoke fluent English to me around Malmö, Lund and Stockholm.

Interesting. She lives really near to Malmö, and has had enough trouble, eventually relenting and learning Swedish. She's pretty fluent now too.

I also went to Kalmar, where I had to ask about 4 people before I could get any English.. one of them even said they could speak English and turned out to be incapable.. which was pretty confusing!! :lol:

Dont get me wrong, I think there are definately more fluent English speakers in Scandinavian countries and in Europe than there are in China.

Another thing was that I forgot to finish my thought on French speaking English. It seems to me that point #1 (that the French are too proud to speak English) has really dropped away over the last 15 years- mostly people are either happy to try, or if you try to speak French with them, then they are also really happy you made the effort.

people tend to be friendly and pointing and smiling can go a long way.

This is very true.. people are very helpful and friendly on the whole.. they will even probably start asking around for English speakers if they realise you cant speak Mandarin! :lol:

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jbradfor
From my recent experience in France, the resistance to speaking in English seemed to have greatly reduced. I think sometimes we tend to forget that there are people (especially when they are white) who really can't speak English.

The fact that you are Chinese may have something to do with this.

When my wife and I visit France, I always have her talk to the natives. She gets a much better reaction than I do. We think it is because I am white (and probably pretty obviously American), and so get the standard French Anti-American treatment. My wife, OTOH, being Chinese, we think that they are relived that she speaks English and they don't need to find a Chinese-speaking French person. :help

[And, on the flip side, whenever we visit Japan or Korea I do all the talking. If she talks to them, they assume she is Japanese / Korean, and they get very dismissive of her when she can't speak Japanese / Korean, assuming she is ABJ or ABK, forgotten her ancestral language. I, OTOH, "obviously" don't speak Japanese or Korean.]

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jbradfor
Can you usually find ppl to help you a little in English, or must you have things written down in advance to show people, or pictures to point at etc?

My recommendation in China is to NEVER rely on the presence and English-speaking local, and ALWAYS have your destination written down (in Chinese characters).

Much / most of the time this precaution is not necessary. But I recommend it just in case, as you never know.

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Shi Tong

jbradfor,

I think you're probably right on the French attitude towards Americans right now, which is a shame. They seem less "racist" towards the British now, but I know they can be funny with American people.. as can the Brits sometimes.

What a load of nonsense eh?

We had an interesting time in Thailand, where most people assumed my wife was Thai (also saying "well, you look Thai", which supprised my wife), we could actually speak English and Mandarin there, and everyone would pretty much understand everything, especially in Bangkok.

I think your recommendation is definately good-

My recommendation in China is to NEVER rely on the presence and English-speaking local, and ALWAYS have your destination written down (in Chinese characters).

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