Hello! So just out of curiosity. How's Chinese going for you guys? Is it really as hard as it is rumored to be? If so, why? I know nothing about the language but lately I've been thinking that it might be a nice candidate for my next language just because it might be different than what I'm used to and a great new challenge. Why are you learning mandarin?
2) is only a major problem if you're planning on writing the language by hand. Chinese doesn't use a phonetic alphabet. Instead, every word in Chinese is either one syllable or a compound of multiple one-syllable words (ex. 'computer' is made up of 电 (electricity) and 脑 (brain). Each one-syllable word is represented by a character. There is also a system called 'Pinyin', which is a system of representing Chinese words with Latin letters from their sound. Chinese people never use Pinyin itself to communicate, but they use it when typing Chinese characters on machines.
For example, to type 电 I enabled the Chinese typing software on my computer, typed “dian" and selected 电 from a list that also includes 点, 店, 垫, 殿 etc. This kind of software is included in just about every kind of operating system on PCs and devices. You usually just have to go into "settings" to activate it.
As you can imagine, memorising how to write Chinese characters by hand can be very time consuming, but because each symbol is unique it is much easier to recognise them. If you can recognise a character and you know it's Pinyin, reading and typing isn't much of a problem even if you can't remember what it looks like when you can't see it. There are a lot of characters I can't even visualise when I can't see, but which I recognise instantly when I see them.
Whether you intend to hand-write characters or not (but especially if you do), you should like up and memorise "radicals" and their meanings. Many characters are simply made up of smaller characters called "radicals". These radicals sometimes provide a hint to a character's meaning or even pronunciation, but usually they can help you to memorise what a character looks like. For example, 想 is a lot easier to remember if you know it's made up of 木, 目 and 心. I'm sure if you googled "Chinese radical list" you'll find a list of the most common ones.
It only takes a few hours at the most to figure out how to say all the tones in individual syllables. Saying the tones fluently in a sentence takes a lot more practice. Chinese has four tones, plus one neutral tone (which is just a quickly spoken syllable). All Chinese characters have a specific tone, and each character represents one syllable. Thus you have to control the tone of every syllable you say. It's really just a matter of practice.
The hardest part about tones is recognising them while listening. To an English speaker it can be hard to recognise the difference between various different sounds at first. It's just a matter of practice.
A lot of them time you can make yourself understood if you say a wrong tone and you can understand people if you can't make out their tones. There are a lot of cases though where native speakers won't understand you at all if you say the tone of one word incorrectly. The way consonants are pronounced differs greatly across different parts of China, but the tones are mostly the same. I find it interesting that a lot of native speakers still understand you if you change a consonant of a word, but they don't understand you if you change the tone and keep the consonant the same.
For example, "ten" is "shi" with a rising tone and "four" is "si" with a falling tone. If you say "si" with a rising tone, people will think you mean "ten" instead of "four", and vice-versa.
The tones are represented in Pinyin either with symbols or a number. For example, the rising tone is the "second tone" and I could represent the Pinyin of "ten" in Chinese as "shí" or "shi2". When you're typing characters on your computer using Pinyin, you don't need to type the tones.
I really didn't mean to write so much. I promise I'm done!
Compared to European languages, the grammar is extremely simple.
It has no genders, cases, articles, declensions, conjugations or tenses (the equivalent of tenses can be expressed through adverbs, although this is optional). You can usually use an adjective as a verb, and many verbs are also nouns. It looks like you've been studying a lot of Romance languages. Compared to them, I'm sure Chinese grammar will be a breath of fresh air. Making a sentence in Chinese is often just a matter of knowing the vocabulary and putting it together.
There are two main challenges Chinese presents:
1) The pronunciation can be difficult to master.
2) The Chinese writing system is complex.
I'm over the character limit, so I'll split this into two parts.
There's a lot of great Chinese resources and forums on the web and youtube if you poke around. Check out this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8-eqN_ByVkk
He's one of the only English native speakers I've seen that accurately pronounce the tones in Chinese.
Good luck and let me know if you have any questions.
Oh, and I'm learning mandarin because I'm a heritage speaker and also hope to use it professionally and hope to achieve a native level or native-like level in Chinese.
If you start a language it's better to look at it as 'not difficult'. If the learning is slow, the problem is not the language, the problem is you. And you and only you are the one that can change that.