Pronounciation was the main reason why i struggled and abandoned chinese for 21 years. I finally convinced myself at 22 that I needed to learn, and thought mandarin was a good start since it had a proper pinyin system, good for english speakers like me. Classes in malaysia didn't help much, as everyone already had cantonese or hokkien under their belt and they were just eager to learn new vocab.
i on the other hand, needed an environment where i would be forced to speak, where others in my class/neighbourhood don't speak english
i was too shy to try speaking otherwise(although adrianus i don't think you have this problem so good on you
)! anyway, so off i went to beijing! Sink or swim! After 3 months of classes i can say it really paid off. Getting around became a breeze and i spent my 4th month travelling around China. I could even watch slow mandarin shows like raise the red lantern hehe. Well that was a year ago, and I've now become rusty tackling german since i moved to a german-speaking country).
I think the key to getting your pronounciation right might just be pinyin. Most malaysians don't know how to "spell" the word, since it is not something they need! But I am a visual person. Even with english or people's names, i need to spell it in my head to remember!
So when i learnt mandarin, i would write out the character in my head, along with the pinyin and tone!
I suggest getting a dictionary. The "concise english-chinese chinese-english dictionary" by the commercial press & oxford university press http://www.amazon.com/Concise-Englis.../dp/0195911512
is highly recommended! I've seen it in MPH. Learn the proper pinyin pronounciations in order to differentiate z, zh, s, sh, ch (try looking online.... i'll post links here if i can find them). Also Malaysians and other south east asian chinese tend to use "s" only inside of "sh", so you'll have to adapt this in the dictionary
. Once you have the hang of the sounds (takes a while, but if can do it, you definitely can!!!), you'll be able to hear a word and pretty much guess whether it's z or zh, and just a quick check of the dictionary will confirm it. that's how i learnt
same with the tones (just guess first and check and you might be able to remember it better since there is visual info (on paper and in head), and audio info (friend's pronounciation or from tv/music). oh and writing it out again helps too.
what i love about chinese is the simple grammar
it makes life easier not having to learn a million different forms of verbs like with german (and english actually). it's also fun to learn the characters! (i loved this book: http://www.amazon.com/Whats-Chinese-.../dp/7800055159
hopefully i'll make more of an effort to practise my chinese over the next few years
oh one more tip: www.chinesepod.com