Help in English
If you are in Dongzhimen, Chaoyang, or Haidian, (basically near a place where foreigners live) you are likely to find English speaking staff.
Buying things with a local bank card
Local bank cards usually can be used to pay for things, if you have a PIN number. There is a payment network called JCB which Chinese bank cards are on. The process is painless, and just like your debit card from home, because it is a debit card. You might have to enter a PIN and sign 2 receipts when you buy stuff. Any nicer store takes JCB, including all the big supermarkets.
What if I loose my local bank card?
If you loose your card, first, remain calm. Then talk to the bank where you lost your card. If the ATM ate it (it ate mine), talk to the bank that runs the ATM. They might have a number on the ATM you can call, or you can go to a branch office. If you don't know how or where you lost it, you definately need to have the bank turn off the card temporarily, then you go look for it. If someone took it, they probably can't do anything with it unless they have your PIN, just keep looking, then when you give up (after a few days) cancel the card.
Get an ATM card. If you like the passbook, get it too. People usually get passbooks because they like the "proof" that there is money in the account, which is printed at the branch office when you go in person to update the book(you can update the book by machine too, but you still need to go to the bank). When you first start an account, you will probably be offered the option of opening an account with a passbook, which allows you to go to the bank and withdraw money.
Open multiple accounts
Do not live life in the danger zone by having only one account where all your money is. Something could happen. Put your money in at least two different places. Think about how you will get your money if you really need it.
ATM card doesn't work
If your local ATM card doesn't work you can get a new one (a copy), you will probably have to wait a week and you may have to pay a fee. Consider the trouble this will entail before you treat your ATM card as some kind of tool.