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Let's be clear about this. There is no easy way to master a language. It takes time, patience and hard work. However, learning enough about a language to get by is not difficult.

It is estimated that the average native speaker of a language only requires about 750 words in their vocabulary to get by on a daily basis. This includes everyday activities such as reading a newspaper or talking to their neighbour. They may need a passing knowledge of a few hundred more words, without needing to know exactly what they mean.

Most people learning a language don't need that level of vocabulary. In fact, most people only need about 150 words to get by. The trick is knowing which words you need! If you take some time to think about this, you are already well on your way to learning a language.

Numbers

We all need numbers to survive. You can't ask the price of things or even ask for directions or flight schedules without numbers, so this is a good place to start. The first 30 words in your vocabulary should be the numbers 0 to twenty and the words for 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90, 100, and 1,000. Once you have these, you should be able to make 1,000 words, all the numbers between 0 and 1,000. Think about it. Try it in English. What is the English for 25? Simply the words for twenty and five put together. For 135 it takes 4 words, four, hundred, thirty and five.

Once you have these thirty words, start practising. Say your phone number in the target language. Try saying your friends' numbers. Read the numbers on car plates and houses. Read your shopping receipts in the target language. There are numbers everywhere. Use them for practice.

Verbs

There's nothing difficult about verbs. The vast majority of verbs follow a set of definite rules that are easy enough to learn. Once you learn the basic rules, practice them on a few verbs, such as to sleep, to walk, etc. You can build on this foundation as required.

Inevitably, the most common verbs will not follow the normal rules. You will have to learn some verbs in detail. You must learn the verbs "to be" and "to have", no matter what language you are learning. Some other (probably irregular) verbs that you will need include to come, to go, to buy, and to sell. Try learning these irregular verbs well, as they are the ones you will need the most.

Phrases

No matter what list of words you learn, you will have to put them together in a meaningful way before a native speaker will understand you. Phrases such as are invaluble:

How do I (get to this place, arrange for a taxi, etc)
Where can I (find a bank, eat, get the bus to this place, etc)
How much is (this item, a bottle of wine, etc)

Have a quick look at a phrase book in any language, and you should easily see which ones are the most important. You must learn the basic question words (who, why, what, which , where, when and how). Put some flesh on these (practice saying what time is it, who is the owner, when does the bus leave, and so on), and you will have the tools to deal with most situations in that language.

More words
You can go a long way with just four words and a few facial expressions. The words for yes, no, please and thank you are probably indispensable. Make a short list of a few more words that you might need. It's the simple words that you want, such as if, it, and, the, and but. After that, some words will be more important to you than others. For example, if you are a salesman, learn the word for salesman. If you work with computers, learn the word for computers. If you have children, learn the word for children, and so on. Keep it simple and you won't go wrong.

Final tips

One trick I find really useful is to learn the root of a verb, and then find a way to use that instead of learning all the different tenses of verbs. For example, in most of the European languages (Spanish, Italian, French, etc), you can use the root of a verb in the past, present and future tenses, if you play your cards right. Instead of saying "I came from", you can use the equivalent of "I have just come from." In the future tense, you can say "I am going to sleep" instead of "I slept" and so on. This may not be absolutely 100 % correct, but it is as accurate as you need, and it sure cuts down on the amount of learning you have to do.

Finally, don't be shy about using English words when you can't think of the appropriate word in the target language. If you keep your language simple, most people will recognise the English word you use. It's always better to try and use the target language. The person you are speaking to will try to help you if they know you are doing your best.

And remember, practice makes perfect.