Finally I started my mandarin lessons, 3 days a week, 100 minutes each. First 2 classes were about sounds (called Finals in the book), and how to make simple words using the initials (consonants). I was amazed to know there are 39 finals (English has only 5 vowels and 2 semi-vowels in comparison, hindi has about 12 ‘swara’)! This is one more reason learning this will be tough. My teacher is good but her English is not good enough to understand what I am trying to communicate many times, but we are learning!
I also visited couple of huge bookstores, which obviously carry all the books in mandarin. I am much more enthused now about the language, hopefully I can learn to read it so that I can have the joy of walking in those big shops and picking some books to read (even the largest Barnes and Noble I found in US was comparable to these shops).
Here are some tools I found on the web which are useful:
Yahoo Babelfish – useful when someone writes something to you in Chinese but you can’t understand; or when you want to wow someone by writing in Chinese. Supports many language translations.
English-Chinese Dictionary – I like the English and pinyin search because it gives pronunciation of the word which is extremely helpful. Note how many different meanings exist for each word.
Pinyin on Wikipedia – As usual, this is a great reference for those who want to know all about something in one go, with rules and all.