I heard from a couple of people this week that learning Chinese was just impossible without an obsession over the language. While having an obsession over anything will probably help you in just about any endeavor I can assure you that learning Chinese can be done in your free time, on the side, and without obsession. Learning Chinese is no doubt difficult for westerners. We are used to our alphabet, our Latin roots, etc. When we take on a language such as Spanish, we think it's unbelievably hard and question how could two so very different languages exist. Well that was my experience in high school Spanish class. After starting my Chinese studies I realized actually how easy Spanish was. English and Spanish carry so many of the same roots, so much so that you can guess many of the meanings of Spanish words without knowing them beforehand. With so many westerners learning Spanish, I don't believe that it will give you the edge that you need in today's marketplace. Tackling a difficult language such as Chinese, Japanese, or Arabic will be a very unique skill. Plus once you've learned Chinese, learning Japanese and Korean will be easier. So how do you go about learning Chinese in the first place? I can tell you what I did and it worked for me. First I was lucky enough to go to a college that had a great Chinese program. The program was quite intense on top of my already tough engineering curriculum. We took classes for 8 hours a week for our first year. Each day I studied for about 30 minutes listening to dialogues and learning new sentence structures. Each day was a small bite of Chinese. After one year I was speaking Chinese, but nothing too exciting. In our second year of Chinese, we began to focus more on learning the characters and expanding our vocabulary. This second year of Chinese was five hours a week. I went to China for my first visit after this and absolutely fell in love with the country. The people are fascinating, the food is amazing, and the country is full of energy. Maybe it's the Chinese spirit or maybe it's since their economy is growing at 10% a year. I recommend anybody learning Chinese to study the basics in your home country. Learning Chinese in China as a beginner is basically useless unless you have a specialized program. They teach Chinese to many Koreans and Japanese whose language share similar roots. Westerners need to learn basic Chinese from a Western perspective. So before heading to Beijing find a good program in your locale to start your studies. I had too many friends who took beginning level Chinese in China for one year, only to speak horrible Chinese later. They couldn't keep up with the Koreans and Japanese and they just spoke English and drank beer. I studied Chinese in Beijing at Beijing Language and Cultural University. At first I thought the program was awful. Their teaching style is so much different and I had to get used to that at first. In the end, I came to value their teaching style and my Chinese dramatically improved as a result. I think it might have improved more so then my friends studying at American run programs in Beijing at Tsinghua and Beijing University who had teaching styles I would have been more used to. If you go to China, I recommend you find as many Chinese, Japanese and Korean friends as possible. Most likely you'll have to resort to speaking Chinese and you'll get better as a result. If all your friends are Americans and Europeans, then forcing yourselves to speak Chinese instead of English will be tough. Just immerse yourself in Chinese. I hope people find this post useful. Basically study hard little by little over a long period of time and you'll master Chinese soon enough.