I want to train in the Shaolin Temple for a year, but I'm afraid I won't be able to communicate there. So, are there a lot of foreigners training in the Shaolin Temple who speak English, Dutch, or German?
When I went to train at Shaolin temple (Songshan mountain), I was with a group of English speakers. Our monk grew up in the temple and had moved to the U.S. to teach there, so he understood English. Most of the monks who never left the temple do not understand English.
We were trained by several junior monks. They didn't understand English. But as it turned out, they didn't need to. We understood what they were trying to get us to do. They would demonstrate a technique, and we'd do it. They would correct us, and we generally understood.
Communicating major things was not a problem. Communicating minor things and subtle corrections was more of an issue, and you could see some frustration on the faces of the monks as they tried to correct us. But it all worked out in the end. Everyone had a good time, and the monks were satisfied.
As a side note, the monks all know that the foreigners that come to train there basically suck. Haha. We're way out of shape compared with them. They're not expecting you to be awesome. The best you can hope to do is to be better than they were expecting. Keep in mind, they have trained non-stop at Shaolin since 5 or 6 years old. They train starting at 5AM and often go to 10PM. It's not uncommon to find them sleeping in the gyms on the floors after practicing all night long.
So don't worry about doing everything right and understanding all the nuances that your monks are trying to communicate. Communication will be rough at first. Eventually, if you train there long enough, you'll get it.
Many of the junior monks actually do know a little English and want to learn more. One of them that trained us kept asking us what certain English words meant, and he had a pocket translating dictionary with him. I guess nowadays that would be replaced by smart phone app.
Be open to teaching English to the monks, by the way. Many of them are trying to learn and would love it if you were enthusiastic about teaching them. This is an exchange of knowledge. They're teaching you martial arts, and you can teach them English and western culture.
Some of the members of our English speaking group were learning Mandarin as well. So that sometimes helped, because they could do some minor translation (usually picking out one or two words in a sentence). But they were far from fluency.
Our monk did arrange for us to have a translator / tour guide during our times as tourists in Beijing and around Deng Feng. Most of our time at the temple, we didn't have translators around. But translators are fairly cheap by Western standards and can be arranged for as long as you need them.
You can train at the temple itself, inside the temple grounds. That is highly dependent on your monk. Often times foreigners do not get the chance to actually train in the temple itself. Usually they train at the nearest school that's just down the road to Shaolin which is run by the monks. It's just a 10 minute walk to get there from the temple. It's more modern looking and has a hotel attached to it.
There and at the temple, you'll find dozens of foreigners, many of which speak English. They come from all over the world. We saw Russians, Kenyans, Spaniards, French, etc. And yet, most of them did speak some English.
So my advice is that you make it a point to reach out and talk with other foreigners training there. If you find some that speak English, get to know them. Ask them to dinner. Hang out after training with them. You won't be alone very long if you do that.
And by the way, it was very cool to train at the temple. But I think the facilities at the temple were not as good as the ones at the school down the road. When you're there, arrange to train in both places if you can.
My advice is to bring your smart phone, and have it installed with many different translation apps and dictionaries. Do a little studying of Mandarin before you leave. Understand numbers in particular, so you can pay for things. Understand common phrases like "Bu yao, xie xie." Especially that phrase, since you'll be hounded by street merchants from the moment you step off the plane. Haha.
As for written Chinese, I would spend a little time understanding the most basic 100 or so characters. You'll want to understand the difference between men's and women's bathrooms, for example. You'll want to know common highway street signs like "exit". And numbers.
If you have dietary restrictions, make sure you do a little research about what to say in Mandarin before you go. Print out the Chinese characters that describe what you want, also. Often times, though, I found that the waitresses were not literate and could not read the Chinese characters. So be prepared to speak what you want, not just point to stuff written on a piece of paper.
Be aware that there's a difference between mainland Chinese ("simplified" Chinese) characters and traditional Chinese characters which are often used in Taiwan.
Well, that's all I can offer you for advice. I don't think you should be overly anxious about this. If you can go with or meet up with a group of English speakers, that's probably ideal. But even if you go alone, I still think you'll be just fine. You'll find it a little frustrating at times, but whomever is arranging everything for you will already know what to do and will have it all planned out for you.
Don't worry! Just have a good time and realize this is an experience of a lifetime, something you can tell your grandkids about someday.
I'll leave you with a link to one of my answers that discusses a little more about the Shaolin temple trip that I took:
Hope that helps!