With so much talk going on about learning Chinese, I feel compelled to put in my two cents worth.
Even though I learned it as a second language for 14 years in school, I still suck at it today. I can hold a decent conversation in Mandarin but when it comes to reading, it takes me forever to read a small passage. I usually give up after the first line.
Mind you, I don't even dislike the language. I scored a B in Chinese for both my GCE O and A levels. I tune in to the Chinese radio stations while driving because I love listening to Chinese songs. I watch Chinese movies and understand the entire plot, just don't ask me to read the Chinese subtitles.
Everyone knows how much I love reading but when I'm faced with a page of Chinese words, my brain goes into auto-shutdown. It's not that I don't recognise the characters but it's just too tedious and time consuming to process the information.
I grew up in an English speaking household. My parents are quite admirable. They started learning Chinese language in their old age and are now more proficient than me. These days, they subscribe to both the English and Chinese newspapers.
Even at my worst, I am still better than both my kids. I tried to give them a good headstart in the language by engaging a tuition teacher from Beijing when they started kindergarten. The twice weekly sessions must have helped because they did very well in primary 1 and 2. I realised that they relied heavily on 'han yu pin yin' which is like romanised Chinese.
The tuition stopped when the teacher returned to China but another one took over. By the time they were in primary 3, they were struggling with Chinese characters (that's what you get for relying on han yu pin yin). Most of their friends were from English-speaking families. Nobody conversed in Mandarin, and even if they did, it was with a cute accent.
Their marks just went downhill from there. I've paid for Chinese tuition (until they were 14), bought loads of Chinese comics (like Romance of the Three Kingdoms), played DVDs and Chinese music... yet they can't master the language.
I can understand because even someone like me who loves Chinese music and Jay Chou, still find it such a drag to read an article in Chinese.
Therefore I believe, some people are just not good in learning languages. I rest my case.