The Chinese language is probably the most famous language
which uses characters instead of letters. However contrary to popular belief
Chinese is not just one language but there are many different dialects. In Hong
Kong for instance people speak Cantonese which is so different that someone from
Beijing would not understand it. Also there are two different sets of Chinese
characters. The original traditional characters and the simplified characters.
The simplified characters were introduced to promote literacy by decreasing the
number of strokes required for some characters. Not all characters were
simplified however, like some characters which are already very simple (2 or 3
strokes). Traditional characters are still used in Taiwan, Macau and Hong Kong.
In Mainland China and Singapore simplified characters are used.
Someone who wants to learn Chinese is normally best advised to learn Standard Mandarin and simplified characters which are used in Beijing (Peking) for instance. However if you also want to do business or stay in Taiwan for instance you should also learn traditional characters. Traditional characters are considered to be the "more beautiful" characters, even by some mainlanders. Since simplified characters are relatively new, it means that many historic texts can not be read by the new generation.
Also if learning Chinese the questions is which romanization system should be used. Hanyu Pinyin (or short Pinyin) is the most common system. This system uses the Latin alphabet to represent sounds in Chinese. In Taiwan a different system is used called Zhuyin. Zhuyin does not use the Latin alphabet like Pinyin and is therefore more difficult to learn for Westerners. Zhuyin is also known as Bopomofo.
China is emerging as a major economic power. For that reason it is becoming more popular to learn. Some schools in Europe have changed their curriculum and Chinese competes now with French, Spanish and German.
About the Author
Oliver Antosch is the owner of Chinese-Course.com and many other websites.