For an example of the complexity of Chinese, here is an excerpt from a woman who has been in China for quite a while. She talks about how China 'newbies' will often ask the meaning of a word they heard, but figuring out which word they heard is more difficult than you might think!
In order to ascertain the meaning of the word in question, though, we have to know which character it is, since meaning in Chinese is carried by the way a word is written, not the way it sounds. And since there are only 400+ sounds, the word they are inquiring about could be any of a handful, dozen, or hundred different characters.
Take the word (sound) ju, for example. My Wenlin Chinese software program indicates that there are 158 different characters that are pronounced ju. And to make it even more fun, many of those characters have multiple meanings.
Here are just a few of them....
You can check out her blog, always an enlightening look at China.