To the casual observer, Chinese is a completely obscure and alien concept and not something that they will ever understand. For some people however, it presents a huge challenge and an incredible goal to understand and conquer the barriers between us and the world's most common language. Here are a few of the ways in which it differs from English for you to look out for.
The first point has to be the most obvious and most striking difference: the alphabet and the way in which words are made. In Chinese the words are made by symbols and not a combination of letters. This makes learning Chinese very confusing to start with and is the main reason why it takes ten times longer to achieve minimal proficiency in Chinese than it does to earn a similar standard of a Latin based language. This represents the biggest challenge to anyone learning any form of Chinese although Latin characters can be used.
English is an exceptional language in that it isn't a tone language. This means that you cannot really alter the meaning of a sentence with a change in the way you are speaking. Chinese is a language in which intonation plays a big role and the tone of voice employed by someone speaking Chinese can alter the meaning of a sentence. This isn't too difficult to master amongst those who have learnt any other language.
Chinese doesn't use inflections on verbs to convey who is performing the action, unlike Latin languages and English which change the verb endings to show who is doing the verb. Chinese has to use other means of doing this and relies on either a previously understood context or changing the word order and pronouns. This can also be a bit tricky although you can be thankful that there aren't complicated verb tables to worry about. It isn't necessarily more difficult but rather different and with a different system of communication that may at first seem awkward for an English speaker.
Chinese is a very simple language at times in that it has a simple tense system and a complete lack of articles. This can lead to a slight degree of ambiguity at first and you often have to rely on the context to understand the full extent of what is being said. Gestures and intonation are also very important at times and should be understood to avoid making embarrassing mistakes. Understanding body language and intonation is the key to greater fluency in any language and your instincts will take over here.
Chinese and English are different but Chinese is not necessarily harder. You must remember that Chinese people find English difficult and the systems are just different. Once you get into the swing of it you will find it gets easier and always remember that speed comes with practice but is never a good substitute for accuracy. The Golden Rule is of course to never use a word for word translation and this is exceptionally important when studying a language that uses a different and more context reliant system such as Chinese.