Whether your life or work requires you to interact with non-English-speaking Chinese people or not, learning some Mandarin can make living in Shanghai an easier, more enjoyable experience.
Although English is commonly spoken in the city centre and in the proximity of expat communities, exploring many parts of the city, shopping and communicating with taxi drivers requires at least basic knowledge of Mandarin.
If you are keen to learn there are two options. One is to enroll at a local Chinese university in Shanghai, where the larger and cheaper classes generally focus on reading and writing Chinese characters. The other is to take classes at one of the many language schools, which offer full-time and part-time courses. Classes tend to be smaller and most schools also offer private tutors. Though they are more expensive, language schools tend to be more flexible when it comes to students’ language levels and schedules.
Another difference is that language schools often avoid Chinese characters in the introductory levels, choosing instead to teach oral Mandarin using the pinyin system (Chinese written in the Roman alphabet). Oral learning is easier and faster. Therefore, for those in need of some survival Chinese, this is probably the best option.