I started my first Chinese lessons at GoEast this week.
Chinese is a language that's synonymous with difficult (i.e. It's all Chinese to me), and don't get me wrong; it is. However there's an amazing sense of satisfaction when fractions of understanding appear where random noises once were. It's like "seeing the Matrix". Yes...language learning is a lot like a nerdy action movie from the 90's.
I'm only at the very beginning of my journey and can barely stumble through introductions and pleasantries, but I already see the beauty and complexity in the language.
The whole language is based on syllables that are composed of initials, finals, and tones. Initials are similar to consonants and begin each syllable. The finals end each syllable and are largely similar to vowels. The tone is something that doesn't have an analogue in english and describes how the syllable should be pronounced. There are 21 initials, 35 finals, and 4 tones (5 if you include the default).
These three simple components form the entirety of the language, but despite this simplicity it's still incredibly complex. I'm still sent into a state of panic when asked anything beyond "Ni Hao", but I imagine that with Maria laoshi's help I could go from a "confused hobo cobbling random words together" level of skill to "just plain confused" in no time.