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

In town, many signs are bilingual, but except at the higher end establishments there is not a lot of English. Cantonese is the local language, which is very different from Mandarin. The younger generations speak both Mandarin and Cantonese, as Mandarin is the official language. Learn whatever you can; locals appreciate it. Without some language you will have significant difficulty integrating and communicating, especially away from the city. - May 2019

At least basic conversational skills. - Nov 2018

Depends on where you go. In Southern China, people are speaking mostly Cantonese, so Mandarin is their 2nd language, and English often the 3rd. The third language doesn't get quite as much love, so having some Chinese can really help. Even with a 2/2 in Chinese, you'll feel illiterate much of the time, but luckily most signs are also in English. - Nov 2015

The more, the better. The language barrier was one of the biggest obstacles to getting to know local people, in my opinion. While people do speak some English in Guangzhou, having Mandarin or Cantonese will make your life much, much easier. Chinese people are always thrilled to meet foreigners who make an effort to speak Chinese, and I've found my Mandarin to come in handy even after leaving China. If you can't get language before coming to post, I strongly recommend getting a tutor or enrolling in the post language program once you get there. It's very isolating to have zero Chinese, because you need it even for stuff like getting pictures framed or going to the market. - Aug 2014

If you want to slum it at all, you need Mandarin, and I'd recommend Cantonese also. But you don't "need" either. You'd live. - May 2013

I've known people who do not speak Chinese and seem to get along just fine. Personally, I am very happy that I was able to study the language before arriving; it has been extremely helpful in navigating day-to-day life. - Apr 2013

The more language you know, the easier it is. - Jan 2013

You can get by with very little. I carry a bunch of destination cards and business cards, and most of the time I have no trouble. Learning things like yes, no, hello, thank you, left turn, right turn, and stop is very helpful. - Oct 2011

It's pretty important to know the language. Mandarin works just fine but Cantonese is the main language here, most people speak both. English is understood in some places but it's best to know at least a few key phrases in either Mandarin or Cantonese. My wife didn't know anything before she got here, but now gets by alright with her stock of 20 or so Mandarin phrases - May 2011

Aside from a few servers in the Western fast food restaurants in Tian Yu (the current financial center), nobody speaks English. Many don't speak Mandarin, either. - Jul 2009

Chinese people don't expect much from foreigners and you could survive here with little or no language (although not without hassles), but knowing some Chinese would make it much easier and more enjoyable. - Jan 2009

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