Although most academic subjects in school were fairly straightforward for me (until I got to Caltech, that is), foreign languages have been my Achilles' heel. If I were ever to get a PhD, it would've been in a field where I could have substituted mathematics for a language.
It didn't help that the school I attended from grades 6-10 kept changing the foreign language offering, so I know a smattering of Spanish (naturally, growing up in Southern California) and a tiny bit of German. Thanks to my parents, I can speak Chinese at a conversational level, but unfortunately, neither they nor I was very diligent about getting me to learn to read and write Chinese.
However, the combination of sending my son to a weekly Chinese class along with seeing the alarming amount of U.S. debt held by China has led me to think that I should probably devote some time to trying to amass a rudimentary level of literacy in Chinese. It's supposedly easier to learn foreign languages as a child, but on the other hand, being able to speak Chinese means that I don't have to grapple with learning vocabulary in quite the same way.
Of course, written Chinese is a character-based language, not an alphabet-based one. So you have to learn each word on its own, rather than an alphabet used to construct words.
There is something of a pattern to a number of words, though, since some characters are built from other characters -- boy, for example, is field plus strength (and strength resembles knife). Some animals, like dog and cat, share the same strokes on the left side of the character.
Anyway, apparently, if you can read 100 characters, you understand approximately 42% of what you might typically read. Reading 500 characters gets you up to 75% understanding.
So what I'm doing is going off this list of the ~3000 most common Chinese characters, starting at the top, and trying to learn one or two characters a day. I guess this will be a long-term project.