One always hears how all the Chinese are learning English but most do not speak English even in Beijing. Like in most countries, they learn it for tests in school often, but do not speak it. Most tourists are quite surprised by the limited English and it can make things more challenging, although there are some expats here who have lived in China for decades without learning much Mandarin.
The school age kids that come after-school to where our daughter is immersing in Mandarin, are learning it in school.
We have fun mini-conversations with them between our adult very limited Mandarin and their school age very limited English. I see the basic English in their homework. We can count together in English and I can count to 6 in Mandarin and they are teaching me more now.
The twelve year old girl does a bit of translating between the 8 year old boys and us just as Mozart translates between us and the many Mandarin speakers. Or should I say Pǔtōnghuà ( 普通话)..which is what they use instead of "Mandarin" to describe their language.
In day to day life in Beijing, almost no one seems to speak English. Perhaps some can read and write it from what they learned in school, I am not sure, but few seem able to speak it. Perhaps part of the problem is they get few chances to speak it. We must always have things written down in Mandarin or call a friend if we get stuck without Mozart.
In the family that we are living with, only the 23 year old girl speaks good English, although Kitty who is about 32 also speaks better than she thinks, although still working on vocabulary. She lived for 6 months in Los Angeles. We had dinner with her best friend since Middle School who has just moved back to Beijing after living 8 years in New Jersey, so their English was very good.
Language is such an important bridge between two cultures. Being in China as English monolinguals with our little trilingual who is able to connect through her Pǔtōnghuà has been a very enlightening experience and makes us all grateful that we have giving her this ability to be a bridge to the wonderful people here.