I finished Pimsleur Mandarin Chinese Level 1 Lesson 20 this week... so I'm almost a quarter of the way through the program. I'm amazed at how my hearing recognition really is changing - there are so many sounds that are SO similar in Mandarin, but just this many lessons in, I can tell the difference between words based on context. It's all about training the ear to hear the differences between the sounds...
It's not unlike training your palate for wines or scotches (and my friends know, I'm learning my scotches and can tell a Lagavulin from a Highland Park from a Scapa from a Glenlivet).
Last week I was talking about languages with a pair of 15 year olds. They were learning Spanish and couldn't imagine trying to tackle Japanese or Mandarin. I broke it down like this: These two languages have complex alphabets and a very hard to learn pictograph system. But the tradeoff is that there is no verb conjugation AND no arbitrary genders on nouns. They thought that over, and decided it was a fair tradeoff.
At a housewarming party today, I met with a Japanese native speaker and her husband, and was so excited... but she wasn't much in the mood to chat in Japanese. We did talk about sushi in town. She's been here for 15 years, so it may take a little mental shift of talk Japanese. I did get their info and we may get together in the future, when everyone is mentally prepared.
And that's the quick update!