I have finally found a worthwhile internet site to teach me Chinese. Memrise is a site that appears to be mostly dedicated to Mandarin Chinese education, although since users are allowed to upload study sets full of vocabulary and phrases, French, Spanish, Italian, and German are also burgeoning.
Memrise illustrates Chinese characters with moving pictures that make it nearly impossible for you to forget the form of a character–interestingly, the pronunciation of each character is about twice as hard to remember than the pictures themselves. I think that gaining basic reading fluency wouldn’t be too difficult if you learned 15 characters a day for a few weeks (or, at the very least, you’ll be able to figure out whether you are pointing to fish or beef on a menu!).
The layout of the site is pretty intuitive, and is based on a strategy of continuous practice–they want you to learn and relearn the words/characters, committing them first to short term memory and then, perhaps 3 days later, to long term memory. It’s definitely working so far.
Duolingo is still working well–but I think that duolingo fits best if you’re starting from level one (as I did in German). It can be a little boring trying to pass through levels to get to the grammatical lessons at the very end. I will certainly be using it once it comes out with Portuguese (should be less than a month, if the internet is to be believed).
Things like this are just getting me unbelievably excited to study abroad in Beijing. Less than two months and I will be in completely foreign surroundings–exactly where I feel most at home.