You can learn any language by speaking it without learning how to read or write it. I.e. The Pimsleur Approach. Dr. Pimsleur developed this approach that can help anybody learn any language.
All you have to do is listen to a lesson, every day for 30 minutes. Each lesson will tell you to listen and repeat the speakers in the program several times and will constantly remind you how to say things you’ve already learned.
How do babies learn to speak? From their parents. Babies don’t know and won’t understand the syntax, grammar structure, and the written forms of their native languages. They learn it through listening and repeating what their parents say!
My friend was born and raised in the U.S., but learned Chinese from her mother first and that’s her native tongue. She didn’t know how to read or write Chinese until she formally learned it in school. To this day, when she speak English, She’s told that she have a slight Asian accent. If you want your future kids to learn Chinese, better start when they’re still young.
Learning how to read or write Chinese is an important asset, because if you were to live in China, how would you be able to travel?
You’ll have to know how to read signs and directions; it’s just practical. Imagine trying to get to somewhere, having to constantly ask travelers what a certain street is called or what a certain train station is called will get tiresome. Learning the characters will definitely help in speaking, especially if two characters have the same tone, but they’re written differently.
A lot of people want to go through all that effort into learning Chinese because they’re learning a rich language that has 4000, 5000 years of culture put into it. Plus, reading a Chinese newspaper takes a lot of skill.
To read a newspaper, you’ll have to know 1500-2000 characters (if you’re reading Simplified) and a little under 3000 (if you’re reading Traditional). If you do decide to learn the characters, I wish you all the luck!