Trying to meet that language requirement to study abroad? Want to make your life easier when traveling or multiply the number of people you are able to talk to in the world. Picking up new languages I realized, is not a natural gift. It is simply a function of your willingness to learn, and the measures you take to put yourself in a position to learn. Here are some simple ways to cut your language learning time with minimal effort.

Common Words

Usually, the 1000 most commonly used words are all that are necessary for achieving a comfortable level of fluency. This can happen within months if you learn a language like Spanish (much easier to learn vocabulary than Chinese, no complicated characters). It helps to start with the 100 most common words first, then 300, and so on. Out of those 1000 most common words (or in addition to those 1000 words) you can easily learn all the words that sound really similar to your native language or any other language you are familiar with.


Speak It

Start speaking and find a language partner ASAP. Once you reach the “critical mass” of conversational fluency, things get much easier, and practice speaking everyday. Skype is a great friend for this. Plenty of people spend years in a country without becoming fluent simply because they do not have time to learn the language. Conversely, you can learn any language no matter where you are as long as you can find the right community.


Start texting in the language you are learning. It essentially gives you billions upon billions of bite sized reading and communication exercises. It gives you a space to practice and apply new vocabulary and phrases in everyday conversation without the pressure of actually having a conversation. It also helps you learn new vocabulary from native speakers. Apps like Line, Messenger, and Whatsapp also have an option to send voice messages, which are incredibly convenient for when you want to practice speaking but don’t have the time to sit down to talk with a language partner.

Don’t Speak Your Native Language

When picking language partners (especially as you get more comfortable conversing) make sure they don’t speak your native language. Even if this is early in your learning stages, it forces you to use your language more creatively when faced with communication issues and eliminates the option of switching to your native tongue. At the very least, make sure their fluency in your native language is worse than your fluency in their native language. I.e. When I was in China and Taiwan, I did my best to find and spend time with people whose level of English was lower than my Mandarin. Although I used Pleco early on, it really helped me get comfortable speaking and conversing.

The first language you speak to someone is usually the default language you speak to him or her in. This happened to me plenty of times when I was in Taiwan and Mainland China. So as a rule, make sure your first contact with a language partner is in the language you are trying to practice.


TV Series

Very common tactic: Watching TV series in your target language helps immensely. I am currently watching The Legend of Bruce Lee to improve my Mandarin. Make sure to turn on subtitles for reading practice too.  Alternatively, if your listening isn’t quite there yet, watching shows in your native language with your target language’s subtitle stills helps too.


Speaking of subtitles, Karaoke is a fun way to practice. You get reading practice, speaking practice and lots of catchy tunes.


This might sound weird, but trying to think in the new language and/or speaking to yourself helps a lot. Especially muttering funny things about people under your breath or complaining about your day. To be fair, being able to speak in a language others can’t understand is a good indicators of fluency, and motivation.

Above is just a list of little things you can do to improve you fluency. If you just pick one to work on at a time, you will take your language learning to a new level without sinking hours into language textbooks.

Helpful Apps and Resources.

  • Duolingo: A top rated app for learning a number of languages, even has certifications for ESL folks.
  • 4 Hour Chef: Has a great methodology for learning languages
  • Lyrics Laoshi: Great for learning Chinese through the past time of Karaoke.
  • Pleco: A godsend Chinese dictionary app
  • Anki: Great for making flashcards

About the Author:

RH HeadshotRichard Huynh is a recent graduate from University of California, Santa Cruz, having majored in Global Economics . He has studied/ lived in Hong Kong, Kenya, Brazil and just got back from a year studying abroad in China, and a Muay Thai Camp in Chiangmai. He enjoys martial arts, cooking, and climbing up to high places.
You can Internet stalk his travels at:https://huynhhuynhsituation.wordpress.com/