Last weekend, Alice and I started to learn Mandarin. Well, as much as you can learn by watching a beginner's video on You Tube. I'm embarrassed to admit that before Saturday I didn't even know how to say hello. But after 10 minutes I could say: Ni hao! Wo jiao Kate (Hello! My name is Kate!).
Mandarin is an incredibly daunting language, especially for Westerners, because of the tones used in speech to shift meaning--to say nothing of the thousands of characters that must be memorized to achieve true literacy. The Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, divides the languages they teach into four groups, from easiest to most difficult, as measured by the number of hours of instruction required to bring students to a certain level of proficiency. Spanish, French, and Dutch require 480 hours of instruction to bring a student to level-2 speaking proficiency; Chinese, Japanese, and Korean require 1,320 hours. Don't think I'll ever become fluent.