Mandarin and Chinese are both the same and different languages. Historically and politically, they are considered the same. But linguistically and ethically, they are not the same. Mandarin is a dialect spoken by people in northern China, while Chinese is an umbrella term that includes all the dialects spoken by all the people in China.
Although Mandarin is now considered representative of the Chinese language, there are still many other Chinese dialects spoken throughout mainland China and Taiwan, such as Cantonese, Hakka, Hokkien, Teochew, Wu, Gan, and Fuzhou. Mandarin can be written in both simplified and traditional Chinese characters. Traditional Chinese is used in Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan, while simplified Chinese is used in mainland China and Singapore.
When learning Mandarin in a natural approach, you don’t have to decide whether to learn simplified or traditional Chinese characters right away. You can make that decision after you’re familiar with basic Mandarin. Chinese children typically start to learn Chinese characters at the age of seven, so don’t worry about delaying your learning of the characters. It’s best to start with listening and interacting with adults in a natural way.
Formally learning Mandarin in a classroom can be difficult, but learning it in an immersive environment like children do can be enjoyable. In a classroom, if all you’re doing is drilling grammar and vocabulary, it’s easy to hate learning a new language. But children learn a new language in an immersive environment, where the teacher only uses the target language and the children follow instructions to perform tasks. They don’t learn language through grammar drills, and they just enjoy it. So, if you want to enjoy the process of learning Mandarin, try to learn it in a natural, immersive way.