I am now in my 2nd year of learning to read, write and speak Mandarin. On a Saturday morning, I take an adult beginner conversational class and then I sit in on my sons' 2nd grade class. I am hoping one day it will all fall into place if I practice every day.
I do believe that the best way to learn a language is to fully immerse yourself into the culture of whatever language you are learning. But the possibility of moving our family to mainland China in order for us to learn Mandarin is not on our horizon for now.
For your interest, I found this interesting article about Mandagrams which is using visual pictures to learn Mandarin.
Mandagram-Helping to Understand Written Chinese