Beijing - Post Report Question and Answers

How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

You need at least a little Chinese if you leave the expat neighborhood. The embassy offers language classes for some EFMs. - Nov 2021

A lot. There is very little English for a major metropolitan city. That said tutors are cheap and if you aren't trying to learn to read speaking isn't too difficult. Also English apps are popping up for everything from food delivery to taxis and you can use WeChat in a pinch to translate what you are saying. - Nov 2020

I would not want to live here without any Chinese language skills. The more you learn, the more your quality of life will increase. Outside tutors are widely available, and the Embassy also has a language training unit for employees. - Aug 2020

In cities like Beijing or especially Shanghai you can probably get by without Chinese, but it would be a major inconvenience. Outside of the major cities, life would be pretty tough without at least conversational Chinese, in my opinion. - Jul 2020

I think you can make it with no Chinese in Beijing, but anything you can pick up will help you. Tons of language choices and abilities. Download pleco and a VPN before you arrive. - May 2020

You need it, without speaking some Chinese you will have a difficult time getting around. - Nov 2019

You have to have some Chinese. Tutors run from $15 to $40 per hour. Lots of language schools are also available. Classes run about $15 a class. Learn some basic phrases before coming! - Oct 2017

You need it. This is the least English-friendly place I've ever been. It's much worse than Shanghai and a little worse than Guangzhou. I've found people here often understand more English than they let on, but they refuse to speak it. You might find success speaking slow, simple English to someone who is responding in Chinese, or you might not. Some of the best restaurants also lack English menus, which can be challenging even if you've taken Chinese classes. - Dec 2015

Quite a lot. Most lower cost household help doesn't speak any English, taxi drivers don't speak English, market shop owners no English, etc. - Apr 2015

Obviously, it's better if you know some Mandarin but I don't get language training prior to arriving at Post. Only Generalists receive 6-10 months of full-time language training for their tour. Specialists don't have that luxury. Anyone can get a 2 hours per week class while at Post but it's not an easy language to learn. I survive without knowing Chinese but have to live with some inconvenience. - Aug 2014

I have very little Chinese (I've been taking the EFM classes twice a week since we arrived) and it is really hard. Most people do not speak English and the language is very hard to read so you can definitely feel very frustrated and isolated if you do not have the language. We have to be organized and well prepared when we go out and about with directions, taxi cards, etc. since if we do get lost, it is typically up to us to figure something out. I think it would be very helpful to have some basic Chinese before arriving. - Jul 2014

The more the better - Jun 2013

Quite a bit. Everyone either: 1) Doesn't speak English; or 2) Doesn't want to try the English they know. Even if you speak Chinese decently, you will still encounter people who refuse to understand you simply because you're a foreigner. You will need at least a little Chinese to interact successfully with your housekeeper. - Aug 2011

A good amount and you will still not be able to funcion - Apr 2011

You can get by without knowing any, because most signage is in English and Chinese. You won't make many Chinese friends or get close to the culture, though. After 6 months of living here without language skills, I'm now spending 10 hour a week taking Chinese lessons. It's sufficiently disruptive and isolating not to speak the language to merit this much of a time investment. - Jan 2011

You must learn to speak on some level if you want to leave the house. Lots of service workers speak a smattering of English - but lots more don't. - Apr 2010

You need the basics to be polite, shop, take taxies etc. - Jan 2010

Subscribe to our newsletter

New book from Talesmag! Honest and courageous stories of life abroad with special needs.

Read More