Foreigners are not the only ones who find it difficult to learn Mandarin Chinese. Even me, a person of Chinese origin, seem to be suffering from a mental block on the language.
I spent the first two years of my primary schooling in a Chinese school. The results were a zilch, and a big one at that. I was so relieved that when it came to my third year, I was sent to an English school. Later on, in Form 4, I decided to enrol myself in a Mandarin class under the POL system. After four months, I was told by my 'lao tzu' not to attend class anymore. I admit, I am totally hopeless and I simply can't seem to remove the mental block in my head. Strangely, I don't find it difficult to learn Japanese. After all they use almost the same characters as Mandarin which is known as 'Kanji'. Thank God, at least I am able to write my Chinese name in Mandarin. I can see now my ancestors shaking their heads in Heaven.
So, Michael (Phelps), you are not alone.