For later discussion: the pluses and minuses of studying Chinese versus Japanese. The Cliff's Notes version is that Chinese is on the whole "easier" (streamlined grammar, one pronunciation per character versus many), but is significantly harder for Westerners to pronounce. The Japanese sounds are pretty straightforward. The Chinese ones are not.

Oddball pronunciation issue: there is one sound in Chinese, especially in Beijing-accent, that seems entirely impossible -- until you think of the one English sound it resembles. That is the "talking like a pirate" sound. No one knows quite how to spell it -- "arrrrrrrhh!" perhaps -- but everyone knows what it the sound is, and how to produce it. I don't know of any part of "normal" English that this sound resembles, but as long as I think "pirate," I'm OK.

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