I Don’t Understand!
One of the scariest things about coming to China was the fact that I had never taken a Chinese class before in my life and knew no more than 10 Chinese words. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to get to where I needed to go, or buy what I needed to buy, or do anything, simply because I had no idea how to communicate. Luckily, the language barrier has been one of the least of my worries since arriving here in Shanghai. When I first got off the plane, I was so worried that I would not be able to find my luggage or meet my program director on time, but I quickly noticed that almost all of the signs had both Chinese and English. This is the case in general throughout Shanghai as well as most of the bigger cities I have been in. There is English on all the metros, buses, some taxis and many of the restaurants, especially the larger, more popular ones. Unfortunately, this is not the case in many of the smaller rural cities. They are less developed so they have less reason to provide English on menus, signs and such.
Probably the hardest place to be and not know Chinese is the restaurants that do not have English on the menu. I made the mistake of going to one such restaurant and had to just guess what I was ordering. Even if the menus do not have English, they do usually have pictures to point to when ordering. As I have learned more and more Chinese, it has proved enormously beneficial to my every day adventures in China. Being immersed in the culture makes it much easier to pick up on words and phrases that are helpful every day life in China.
Many Chinese people, especially the younger generations know at least a little English and are often eager to help foreigners when needed. They also are very eager to practice their English with native speakers, and in return help us with our Chinese.
Surprisingly enough, native English speakers have many opportunities to earn some money here and there by tutoring students, teaching classes, being recorded speaking English, etc. Native English teachers are in high demand and is a great place to gain some experience for education majors!
I would encourage anyone who is interested in studying in China, but who has reservations about the language, not be discouraged by that aspect. It truly is part of the adventure, and although it is not easy, it is why studying abroad in a place like China is so special.
Matthew M. is the Fall 2016 CEA MOJO in Shanghai, China. He is currently a junior studying Global Business at Cedarville University