Have had a pretty relaxed time this week, and probably done less Chinese than at any time over the preceding Year. Spent most of the time with my family and doing odd jobs around the house. Hope everybody else had a good time too. I haven't completly abandoned thinking about Chinese though and am refreshed and looking forward to picking up the reins again. I also received an interesting present.
My youngest son, who is nine years old had got hold of some chile seeds for me to plant next year and had gone to trouble of writing Chinese characters on the envelope for me. This made me think about the initial hurdles for a westerner approaching Chinese in a fresh light. Over the preceding couple of months my son had been asking me questions about the Chinese study I was doing. With a bit of help from his mum he used the internet to find how to say "happy christmas" and knowing more than she did insisted that there was a site where he could see animations of the characters. He also insisted that he was going to use the correct stroke order (as far as mum was concerned he could just copy them anyhow). Having spoken to me about it he knew to draw the characters proportionatly, assigning the same amount of space to each one. The result was four characters that looked very authentic.
When I was presented with the envelope I was very pleased but explained that I was not sure how to read it (I had a sneaking suspicion though as I recoginsed the character for kuai4). With a big smile he turns over the envelope and I can see he has taken the trouble to write the pinyin on the other side (he knows that I know comparitively few characters and that the pinyin is a way to write the corresponding sounds. So now I could read the phrase "sheng4dan4 kuai4le4" or "happy christmas". He also told me the characters on the front were traditional (he realised he was presented with a choice on some characters and pick the ones that looked prettier).
All my family have had exposure to Chinese simply because I have been learning it, they have picked up little bits of information over time. They would understand a few simple phrases (overexposure to my practicing), they know roughly what Chinese sounds like (a few bits of media like cartoons I have found they have watched with english subs), they know about tones (one of them can actually mimic them pretty well when pretending to speak Chinese), they know roughly how the writing system works and they know that there is a bunch of tools on my computer and the Internet to help with Chinese learning.
Basically if any of them decide to learn Chinese in the future, they will have quite a significant boost having picked up a lot of background information. The lack of this backround knowledge is the first major hurdle that and adult in the west has to overcome. I guess (prettly wildly ;)) that maybe this cost me two to three months of progress compared to attempting a European language.