I would like to start to study Talmud, BUT do not know how, where to start. My Jewish training is basically non-existent. I learned how to read the Hebrew words in the Siddur, Machzor, and Chumash - - - But do not know what they mean unless I read the translation on the adjacent page. AND then I only understand the meaning of the whole and not the parts. I sort of learned to daven when I said Kaddish in honor of my Dad when he died twenty-five plus years ago. I continue to read. I continue to seek out info and I am much more knowledgeable than many Jews I am around and in contact with. I still want to learn about Talmud and learn what is in it. HOW - WHERE - WHO do I learn??
If you can't find a partner with which to study, or prefer to go it alone, I recommend the ArtScroll Talmud. Its translation and explanatory notes are excellent.
In terms of which tractate to start with, traditionally, children are initiated into Talmud study with the 2nd chapter of Bava Metzia, which deals with the laws of returning lost objects.
Starting from the very beginning, ie. Berachos, which deals with various laws of prayer, is a fine choice as well.
I am hardly an expert, but was once in a situation similar to yours. I agree with the other respondents that finding someone knowledgeable to work with one-on-one, or in a small group, is ideal. Larger groups don't tend to work as well.
No matter who you study with, though, it might be valuable to get your feet wet with Mishna first. Mishnayot are generally fairly straightforward and can give you a gentle introduction to the scope of the Oral Law. They are in Hebrew, which will help build your vocabulary more quickly, and you can easily work through a whole tractate in a reasonable amount of time.
There are several good Mishna translations, with commentary, in English (such as the Pinchas Kehati editions).
Just some food for thought.
Your best bet is to find a teacher who will learn with you one-on-one. That way, he/she will be able to gauge what you understand already and how your understanding grows. One way to find such a person would be to ask your Rabbi if he could learn with you or if he knows someone appropriate. Depending on where you live, there may also be local adult education or outreach organizations that could provide a referral.
Another possibility is to sign up with a program that will set you up with a phone study partner. Partners in Torah is one such organization that I know of. The advantage is that you're not bound by geography in finding a partner. The disadvantage is that you're studying over the phone, which is a cramped communication channel, compared to face-to-face.
A third option would be to find a beginner's Talmud class to attend. Again, your Rabbi or a local congregation or adult education / outreach organization may offer one. One issue to be aware of is that some of these classes are more oriented toward building skills, while others are more about spoonfeeding the material to participants. So, if you're particularly interested in the former, make sure that that's what you're getting.
Finally, no matter what route you go, one book that should prove invaluable is the Practical Talmud Dictionary, by R' Yitzhak Frank. It's perfect for beginners because it presents phrases as they're actually found in the Talmud and explains what they really mean, in context. I have used mine a great deal.
I echo Isaac's suggestions. The best way is to study with someone one-on-one if you can find someone to study with you. Beginners classes are also a good idea. Even still, I recommend suplementing studying in a class or partner, or an english transaltion with review time. The second time you see the same words it becomes easier and easier. I also recommend getting a talmud you don't mind writing in, or photocopying a page of Talmud and marking it up with punctuation, vowels, and translation until you can clearly read it.
But, for starters, try to find a partner to study with you.
From this Mishnah in Avot it seems you should have five years of training in Tanach and five in Mishnah before you begin Talmud at all. I'm not sure why it isn't practiced in our education system today. But these numbers were given for a child, possibly for an adult it would be less.
Master Torah Learning is a great study program. If you want to start with Talmud there is a Talmud Program.
I would advise to begin with the chumash program fisrt
You could also download lectures - usually from the Daf Yomi program - which explain the Gemara in some detail.
One site with many links to such sites is D.A.F.'s Dafyomi Central Headquarters.
Get yourself and english mishna. The Kehati edition is well known for its commentary. Pick a tractate and read it in english. I recommend Avodah Zara because it is exotic and fun and has a gemara. Then read an English Gemara: The Steinsaltz version is really awesome, the Artsroll is the gold standard of English gemaras, and the Soncino has certain problems but its full text is free online and is good for learning "outside".
Once you have read a section in English, then find someone who knows how to really learn Gemara and have them help you learn it in aramaic. Don't be afraid to write translations above the words in the Gemara.
This question was posed to Rabbi Simcha Wasserman at Ohr somayach in Jerusalem
The method of learning is, I have to read it correctly.
To know the meaning of each and every word correctly. And after learning a few times, I should be able to justify the existence of every word. The function of every word. That's my minimum for understanding. Is that clear?
I'll repeat it. Read correctly. Have the exact translation of the word. And then after learning it and repeating it a few times to myself, studying it, I should be able to defend the existence on the function of each and every word.
When I learn Torah, when I learn chumash, when I learn gemora, when I learn Rashi, there is not an extra word.
Now, Maimonides in his introduction to his commentary to mishna makes such a statement. He says, "I will watch myself to shorten my words. In order that the one who reads should not get lost." Because we want the point. If you understand the point, you understand the whole thing. If you explain and you use too lengthy an explanation, there are parts of the explanation that are not essential, and somebody gets lost, what's the sense? So when you learn Maimonides, each and every word. Learn Rashi, each and every word.
What to learn first? I would learn first, the first chapter of the laws of study of torah (Hilchos Talmud Torah) in Maimonides. then, a few chapters in hilchos deos.
I would learn it in hebrew. Every translation is an interpretation.
if I learn the original, my information is open. nobody tells me what Maimonides says. He talks to me directly.
So therefore, I would have my teacher write to me a linear, literal translation ,every word and it's translation in english I would have him punctuate for me. and I would take homework to go over it until I can take the original and read it over myself and translate. Just one paragraph. It would take me a week!
The slower you start the faster you are going. In everything you learn, the foundation should be clear. And then it goes fast. And if you start rushing, you are never getting out of the rush and the confusion. And don't be discouraged! - just one paragraph." (directly transcripted, with permission, from the audio tape: Maimonide's Book of Knowledge by Rabbi Simcha Wasserman) original article here
pirkei avoth. Its significantly easier, fun and useful. Although it is not considered to have the 'heft' of other parts of the talmud and is concerned with ethical apothegms (as opposed to the rich minutia and argumentative process associated with Jewish Law), it is still Talmud. Start here and then follow some of the suggestions above.
There are a variety of Jewish organizations that offer adult education classes. Check out the webpages of your local synagogues, Chabad, Kollel, and Aish (if they exist) to see if any of them offer a beginners gemarah class. You can also try googling "talmud class [your metropolitan area]" to see what comes up. I've found formal classes which are designed for new comers to be more effective than finding a mentor who may be knowledgeable, but may not know how to teach.
Go to a yeshiva, of course that depends on where you live (and not how old are you) in a yeshiva the rav there will get to know you and find what is more suitable for you, either classes or havruta, ideally when people to to a yeshiva they live there, but depending on you age or level of commitment you can afford (time wise not money) you can go for a couple of hours each day (or once, twice a week)
Of course maybe you live in a city that don't have any yeshivot, If this is the case you are living in the wrong place, you really should move. As a temporary solution you could start analyzing other options like phone havruta, learning alone with Artscroll or online shiurim.
Of course it's harder this way and it takes more time.
You could also spend a year (or a couple or months depending on you vacation time) in Israel as a starter to your studying. This is the best way to learn how to learn.