I dont understand how the characters fit into my understanding. What do they mean in english. I know this is one of the hardest languages to learn, but I dont exactly follow.
Are you talking about the syllabary (Hiragana and Katakana)? Or the characters (Kanji)?
Hiragana and katakana are not supposed to have a meaning by themselves (except on few occasions). Kanji (the characters of Chinese origin) stand for words. It may be confusing for the beginner to rely only on the Japanese course to learn Kanji, so I recommend using external resources to learn them. Here is a kanji card deck on Tinycards giving the characters, their reading, and their meaning (click here)
Hi, how is it going? Try to think japanese characters (hiragana and katakana) as syllables. As in english we need to connect syllables to make words, japanese ideograms need to be connected to make words. For example "mimi" in japanese means "hear" in english. In japanese some hiragana do not need to be connected to have a meaning as "me" that meaning "eye" (I am not sure if it is "me" or "mi", so sorry).
Each japanese ideogram (katakana and hiragana) has a sound that you are going to pronounce. For example: か (in hiragana) is pronounced by "ka". カ (in katakana) is also pronounced by "ka"
So, the difference between hiragana and katakana is. The first one is used to japanese words and the second ones to foreign words. For example, if you would like to say "apple" in japanese you will say "りんご" (ringo, in hiragana). It is because in Japan they have apples and call them by ringo. However if I would like to say my name (Elio) in japanese I would use katakana, because my name is not a japanese word.
Kanji is a little bit more complicated (and I am not 100% sure about knowing it), but lets try to explain it using a example. The pronoun "I" in japanese is "watashi". You can write it using hiragana (わ たし) or kanji (私). I think in many cases you can translate a kanji as a word. But kanji is not just a word, some of them represent a concept or a great idea.
I hope this helps you.
good luck in your japanese learning..
ganbate (do your best !!)
I recommend using other apps to learn the basics of hirigana before trying too hard on Duolingo. Ditto later on when you encounter more katakana and hirigana. I don't know how appropriate it would be to make specific links here on Duolingo's site. One issue is that there are TONS of apps purporting to teach hirigana etc., and many are terrible.
Once you get the hirigana concept and have a decent memorization in place, Duolingo becomes a much stronger learning tool for Japanese.