After reviewing a few languages, and by some suggestions by others, I arrived at the goal of learning Mandarin. I thought that my third language would be either Thai or Arabic at first, because I liked the looks of the scripts. Chinese and the other character-based languages scared me. To make things tougher (not the best idea?) I decided to learn Chinese through my second language, of French. Two weeks ago I bought a slew of the best books I could find, in French, from France, and finally I got my first shipment in today. But, I got impatient. All this time reading about learning Chinese, but I was just idling instead of learning. So, I began using the English materials I had available to begin.
My English materials:
Reading & Writing Chinese (Simplified Character Edition) by William McNaughton
FSI Chinese modular course
My French materials (that have arrived):
Chinois pour débutants par Marie-Noëlle Bernès-Heuga
Chinois Débutant, 1 leçon par jour pendant 3 mois, par Leilei Li
I’m glad I decided to go ahead and start with English materials. I think I recognize about ~50 characters at the moment, which I am practicing by writing them and also by using Anki on my phone and computers. I have Chinese webcasts that I listen to occasionally, even though I understand none of it. I concentrate on the sounds and try to identify tones. I also downloaded a bunch of « News in Slow Chinese » episodes to listen to, where I can identify a few of the sounds, chiefly 你好吗. My spoken ability right now is questionable, of course.
The FSI course appears to be excellent in identifying the differences among the several tones (which don’t appear to be that difficult, contrary to my initial beliefs), and also among the different consonant sounds. I had a good amount of difficulty with the constants today, because the ch/zh and j/q sounds sound a little bit bizarre to me and I’m probably going to redo the lesson at least one more time. I do not want to get too hung up on trying to perfect the lesson though, because I will never progress that way. So far though, Mandarin is fun! I like that I can identify the different characters that a couple weeks ago I would have just skimmed over as indecipherable.
An interesting note on learning in French: I seem to have a strong enough basis in French (although I am not fluent) that, because I am copying down definitions in French and not English when possible, often the French definition comes first. This actually aids me in imaging the difference between the singular and plural forms of him/her, or you.
你 and 你们 would have the same definition in English, with the implicit understanding that 你们 is plural. However, in French, I know that 你 corresponds roughly with tu or toi and 你们 corresponds closer to vous. This helps me keep the difference a little bit more clear in my mind.