So, you are looking to learn Chinese quick, but have had no idea where to start. Maybe you have considered taking a class, or teaching yourself from a book you purchased, or possibly learning through a program you saw online, but you aren't sure what the best approach would be and would rather not spend your time and money without getting a little guidance and doing some research first. Well in this article I will break down the various approaches to learning Chinese, discuss which are the most time effective, and which are the most effective systems to learn Chinese period (although they may not be the most time efficient.)
The first option that I see many people try first is to purchase a textbook, Chinese-English dictionary, or some other "Learn Chinese" book from the local bookstore. The appeal of this system is that you can work at your own pace, and these books are typically far cheaper than taking a class or online course. The downside is that this method will not help you learn Chinese quick (typically takes forever) and your pronunciation will likely end up being horrible due to not actually hearing the word spoken correctly.
The second option is to take a class. This has the benefit of providing you with actual exposure to the language as it is spoken, with a teacher to correct you if you mispronounce the words. The downside to this option is cost (the most expensive option by far) and time. It is not time-sensitive as it will require you to attend class regularly, taking time out of your day in order to take the class. Also, you will not be able to proceed at your own pace.
The third option is to purchase and use a program. These programs typically come in a kind of kit with flash cards, computer games, CDs or computer programs that speak the words to you so that you can get the pronunciation right, and examples of conversational Chinese. In my opinion this is the most effective approach, with the benefits including learning Chinese quick, going at your own pace, cost effective (more than a book, but cheaper than a class), and it does pronounce the words to you so that you are not lacking in the pronunciation of your Chinese.