Learning a language and becoming fluent in it is a long process. Sometimes you don’t have time for that or you simply don’t need to be fluent in a given language for your purposes. Is there a way to cover the basics in a short time? Of course! You’ll just have to prepare a crash language course for yourself.
All the apps and resources I mention in this post can be used for free. All you need is a bit of effort, some planning and motivation.

Get a Timeline

How much you can learn depends to a vast extent on how much time you have. 90 days is much easier to work with than 30 days but with enough commitment, you can become conversational in a month.
Once you know how much time you have, make an actual plan of action.
Try to be realistic about how much time you can spend learning. Half an hour daily is enough and you’re likely fail, if you promise yourself to do more than that. Life is busy and unless you have plenty of time on your hands it’s difficult to free up more of it for something that would be nice to do but what isn’t your priority.

Focus on What You Really Need

You have to be realistic how much you can achieve in a short time. If a language you’re learning uses the alphabet you already know, you’re winning.
Remember that for the purpose of basic communication skills, you don’t necessarily need to be able to write. I’d still recommend you use apps such as Duolingo or Clozemaster to learn words but don’t obsess too much about your spelling skills. As long as you can read simple signs and items on the menu, you’re going to be fine. Any forms you’d have to complete will likely be in English, anyway.
Now, it’s a bit more difficult if you don’t know the alphabet of a given language. In this case you should spend the first week simply learning how to read and practising writing words. Trust me, you’ll need it to get around.
One thing that you’ll need in both cases is learn a lot of vocabulary. Focus on learning as many words relating to what you need as you can. If the language has unpredictable plural forms, remember to memorise them along with singular forms.
You absolutely have to cover the following topics: food and drink, asking about directions, numbers, attractions, presenting yourself and having very small talk. You’ll be okay, if you cover that. Remember also to learn basic verbs in useful forms such as “Do you know where…?”, “Could you…?”, “I’d like to…” and similar. If there’s anything that’s important to your well being, for instance, you’re allergic to something or have food preferences such as vegetarianism, learn the whole phrase.

Ignore the Rest

Don’t try to read lengthy articles to remember vocabulary and don’t watch movies to learn either. If you have more time, you can try to surrounding yourself with the language more by doing these things but this isn’t what you need to learn during your crash course.
Your should focus on the basics. If you have 30 days to speak conversational [insert language] there is simply no time for everything. You may decide to continue your language journey later on but during your crash course, you should focus only on what you really need to survive, if it turns out no one speaks English or another language you already know.

Plan Your Practice

You should plan your week in advance (including finding the right resources, downloading apps) at least a day before the next weeks starts. A sample one week course plan, let’s call it Food and Restaurant week, would look like this:

  • Day 1: 10 minutes with Duolingo, 20 minutes of local dishes vocabulary practice list found online
  • Day 2: 30 minutes with fruit and vegetable vocabulary sets on Quizlet
  • Day 3: 30 minutes with “At the restaurant” lesson with Busuu
  • Day 4: 30 minutes of conversation practice with a tutor or a language exchange partner with focus on shopping for food
  • Day 5: 30 minutes with Busuu “Food and Drink” vocabulary
  • Day 6: 30 minutes of conversation practice with a tutor or a language exchange partner, focus on restaurant vocabulary
  • Day 7: Revision of the vocabulary learnt with AnkiApp

Of course, this is just a sample but what you definitely should have in your plan is: vocabulary, conversation practice with the use of a given vocabulary topic and listening.
Add all new vocabulary to AnkiApp and create separate sets for each vocabulary group to track your progress better. That way you have all the vocab always available to practise on-the-go. Learning is important but in order to truly remember what you’ve learnt, you also need to do revisions. A once a week revision is a must. You can also add some additional revision time with AnkiApp to your 30 minutes every day, when waiting in a queue…or on a toilet!
Conversation practice with a different person is non-negotiable. You can’t just learn the vocabulary and hope you’ll be able to use it in real life for the first time. You’ll get a stage fright and you’ll go blank. To be able to do something, you need to practise it. Remember to give instructions to your language tutor or exchange partner such as “Today I want to practise dialogues I’d have when shopping for groceries.”.
If your language tutor isn’t flexible and is insisting you follow their lead, change them. These people aren’t the right choice for you given your goal. You can learn more about finding a language tutor in my post How to find a good language tutor.

Get Over Yourself

Surprisingly, the most difficult thing to do when you prepare a course for yourself isn’t simply being systematic. Don’t get me wrong, some people will not manage to study as planned but these people are also unlikely to expect to manage to have a conversation in a foreign country. Actually doing the work is necessary to see results.
A much bigger issue is that people who actually do the work, often don’t manage to communicate. Why? Because their perfectionism and/or fear of embarrassment wins with their desire to communicate and put their skills to work. This is why you need to get over yourself.
You’re not going to speak the language perfectly after a crash course, you will make mistakes and you will sometimes sound funny. That’s okay! Your goal is to manage to order that coffee in a given language or to negotiate the price. It doesn’t matter how you do it. People will realise you’re a beginner so they won’t be too harsh about your mistakes. Many will also feel happy that you’re trying to learn their language (particularly true for less popular languages). Focus on your objective and ignore the rest. Good luck!

Do remember to comment, if you end up preparing a crash course for yourself 🙂

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