I used several different Chinese learning tapes sets when I was traveling to China a lot.
Helps for general communication, like to be able to order food, find the toilet.
Absolutely no help with reading characters. There are just too many of them that look alike! I did learn the characters for some of the major cities, from payng attention to the airport and road signs. Beijing is the same two characters in Chinese as Tokyo is in Japanese; North Capitol or some such.