Though many people in China can handle basic communication in English, it is very helpful and even fun to able to talk to locals in their native language. There are an incredible number of dialects spoken in China, all using the same written Han language; there are so many dialects infact, Chinese people themselves speaking different dialects often must communicate in Putonghua (the common language or Mandarin, the local dialect of Beijing that became the national language). All of these different dialects will make it even more difficult for visitors to make themselves understood by people on the street.
In order to help customers, many hotels provide translators or English speaking staff to help tourists. Street signs for major streets are in pinyin - the Chinese system of Romanization; this will make it easier to get around with the help of a map. Applying Murphy's law, visitors are still encouraged to have addresses or instructions written down in Chinese characters on flash cards for taxi drivers so that you can atleast get back to your hotel if you are lost.
If you are interested in learning Mandarin (Putonghua) in Beijing, check these schools that offer short to long term language classes.
You can find help on-line as well, Syracuse Language Systems offers multimedia foreign language programs and classes which will allow you to study Chinese at your own pace.
The following are some useful phrases to get you around in China:
|Hello/How are you ?||Ni Hao?|
|Thank you||Xie Xie|
|I'm sorry / excuse me||Dui bu qi|
|No problem||Mei you wen ti|
|How much does it cost ?||Duo shao qian|
|Wait a moment||Deng yi xia|
|No, don't have||Mei you|
|It doesn't matter||Mei you guan xi|
|I want||Wo yao|
|Not possible||Bu Xing|
|taxi||chu zu qi che|