Most Chinese people we met didn’t speak English. Sometimes it’s frustrating when you need directions to somewhere or when you try to order food etc. the stuff in most of the hostels do speak English and they can really help you by giving you tips for the main attractions or where to eat. They can also write you down some necessary sentences in Chinese– for example if you plan to catch a taxi from your hostel to the central bus station the staff can write for you in Chinese “please take me to the central bus station”.
While you’re outside the hostel and you need to communicate- you must have some kind of translator- like a phrasebook or what we used- offline translation app for our iPhone called- Jibbigo– you can type any word in English and it translate it to Chinese. If you start to type complicated sentences it wouldn’t work perfectly, but it is good enough to help you communicate.
It is recommended to learn some basic words in Chinese when you get there- like hello (ni-hao) thank you (xiexie) and more.