Chinese does have a different approach not only to writing or pronouncing but also thinking. You'll need to revise your concept of language and how thoughts are formed into sentences. It is not easy but it can be extremely mind-opening and actually fun. Being able to understand the thought behind a line in a foreign language is always a source of that tremendous feeling of success. In itself, this could be enough motivation to keep going.
But learning words for words and figuring out new sentence structures are far from being the whole thing. Every language is closely connected to the culture it was born into and it's probably even more so for Chinese. I'm not only talking about culturally rich phrases referring to historical events, or works of art that are so common in higher-level texts, but also the way Chinese language organizes basic concepts.
Take, for example, time. In our minds time moves horizontally, so for us it's surprising to see when Chinese people use vertical locator words like "above" and "under" to represent relativity in time. (For example in some contexts, events that occur before others are said to be above to signify before. Events that follow are said to be below as a signifier of after.) Of course this doesn't mean that you need to understand everything about ancient Chinese cosmogony, but it can be helpful to get familiar with some basic concepts that are different. The more you know about culture and history, the easier time you'll have advancing your language level from single word-translating to understanding coherent sentences and paragraphs.
I left the most difficult point as the last on this list: Chinese society and the rules of being and interacting with others in that society. I find this one to be the most challenging, partly because it's something you don't usually find in textbooks. It's difficult to get trustworthy sources on it. Just like everywhere else, in Chinese society there are countless rules, mostly unwritten and unspoken, that every member of the group understands. They might choose to break them but it doesn't mean that they don't know them. But for us foreigners, it can be a very difficult game. First of all, we were not born and raised in a Chinese family, so we didn't have the chance to learn the rules naturally, without words. Second, when we enter that society as "outsiders," people will treat us as such, which usually means "with utmost politeness" usually in any personal relations. (I'm not talking about general strangers on the street. If you ever got stuck in Shanghai at rush hour you know what I mean.) Politeness is a good thing in general, but in some cases it can be harmful.
People will not tell you if you break the rules or make a mistake, and it's really hard to make friends when you constantly offend them, though unknowingly. Since they won't confront you, as that would be considered rude, the most likely outcome is that people would keep their distance or just stop communicating with you altogether. You would probably sense that something is off track, but you wouldn't know what. If you ask questions, you'd get smiles and reassuring words, but unless you have a very good friend who dares to be "impolite" to you by being honest, you may never understand what went wrong. It's very hard to improve when you don't know where the problem was. Although, as a foreigner, you will be forgiven more often than natives, but in the long run they still expect you to "fit in" and play by the rules like everybody else.
In my opinion, this aspect of living and functioning in a Chinese speaking environment can be more challenging than learning the language, because you can easily get access to tons of textbooks and teachers who would correct you and help you to improve your language. With the society's rules, however, you have to figure out everything by yourself from very limited resources.
As intimidating as it may seem, it is not impossible to overcome that invisible barrier. It does require, though, that we step outside of the comfort of textbooks and prepared materials and learn to search "in the wild" for sources. In my next post I'll share some tips that worked for me.