What is the most efficient way of learning languages

I learnt German and English in school, using traditional methods. Now I want to tackle Mandarin to connect with my Chinese friends using the comprehensible input method. I’m focused on SPEAKING and LISTENING – I don’t care much about reading and writing at this stage.

Here’s my situation:

  • 3 weeks on Lingq: Read 25 short stories. I feel I’m starting to get the hang of it, but still stumble over simple, similar sounding words like 要 and 有. I only read the pinyin, since I don’t care that much about reading/writing
  • Vocabulary overload: To understand, I look up a TON of words – maybe 60% per sentence!
  • Tried watching the “Easy Languages” on YouTube: Feels way over my head right now. I was maybe able to catch 10% of the words

My questions:

  1. What’s THE most efficient path to speaking/listening fluency? I’m after speed, not comfort.
  2. Should I ONLY look up words I’m 100% sure are new?
  3. When do I try videos again?
  4. Where’s the HOW-TO of the “+1 comprehensible input” idea? Everyone talks about it, but no one gives practical steps.
  5. If I read a sentence that I feel like I understand. Is it okay to read it super quickly, mostly just glossing over it, similar to how I would read a sentence in English, or should I try reading every individual word, and remind myself what it means?
  6. Should I try listening to things before I read? Maybe read the third person story and then listen to the first person and question part?

I have 15-30 minutes daily and I’m determined to make this work!


First, what works for others may not work with you. These are also my subjective thoughts on the matter… not just on language learning, but learning in general.

  1. I’m not sure if there’s a “most efficient” way, but what works best for you. Honestly, I would look for material that’s about 10-15% “new words”. This route allows you to consume the material without having to look up half the sentence, but this is very hard at the beginning, and I honestly think a lot of the LingQ material is lacking in this respect (at least in Japanese).
  2. You should look up any words that you’re uncertain about.
  3. I repeat while I’m doing something, like running or working. I’m not trying to understand sentences but hear words without “actively listening”
  4. There is no +1 here that I know of… the best way to do this is to look for something like 10-15% unknown words.
  5. I would still read the entire sentence. Part of this would be to learn the grammar structure and practice it. Glossing over it, you lose that… so unless you want to speak/learn broken Chinese, I would read the entire sentence. I suppose once you hit “advance” stages, you can skim.
  6. Listening before reading is fine… especially since that’s your focus. It allows you to test your listening, and then you can confirm on your read.

15-30 min per day won’t get you very far in reaching oral fluency
in a distant L2 such as Mandarin (esp. with its tones!).

More realistic is: 2 h per day (and above).

Anyway, here are many tips (from 2023) for learning Chinese from scratch :

Good luck,

PS -
Pimsleur +
Michel Thomas (for Chinese) +
@Michilini ‘s tips on drilling tones (It’s Never Too Late to Learn Chinese Tones. Here’s How – I'm Learning Mandarin) +
Benny Lewis’ speaking early approach (https://www.amazon.com/Language-Hacking-Mandarin-Learn-Speak/dp/1473674271/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=benny+lewis+mandarin&qid=1708159780&sr=8-1)
are probably the more appropriate combo for you, at least at the beginning.

You should also check out Will Hart’s YT channel:

He’s achieved what you want to achieve - but not with 15 min a day.


The most efficient way to becoming conversationally fluent in Mandarin Chinese is to not waste your time on learning how to read or write it. Instead hire a private tutor to talk to you in comprehensible input by pointing at pictures in, say, magazines, then after you’ve learnt a few hundred or a thousand words, move onto comics. They should be describing the pictures and the story in a way you understand. This is comprehensible input. You understanding what they are saying. By spending a lot of time with you, the tutor will understand what vocabulary you know and don’t know and will tailor you your comprehensible input personally for you, not like that content for the masses you find on the Internet. I.e. they will speak to you in ways you understand with only one (“+1”) unknown word or concept or grammatical usage, which you can derive from context. Over time, after hearing these new words, grammatical usages, etc. many times, you end up rote learning them.

Your private tutor should be a bilingual Mandarin Chinese and your mother tongue speaker. They should have studied language and grammar theory of Mandarin Chinese and teaching it as a foreign language to better explain to you certain concepts, when you ask “Why do you say X?” You should also have a strong rapport with your tutor as this will help you focus on what they are saying. And it goes without saying that your tutor should be in person, not online.

You also need to increase the amount of time you are spending per day on learning the language. It will increase over time, but at a bare minimum should be several hours.

After you have a decent vocabulary, you can practise speaking more and move away from comics and towards conversations with your tutor. You probably want to start hiring a few other tutors of equal high quality to start getting used to different accents.

If you are serious about learning Mandarin Chinese the most efficient way and are determined to make it work, you should hire a high-quality private tutor ASAP. You’re wasting your time on LingQ. LingQ is just inefficient, when compared to having a private tutor several hours or more per day to teach you the spoken language and converse with.

Good luck.



I think 25 short stories in 3 weeks at 15 minutes per day means you’re going a bit quickly. I’m not you, so take this with a grain of salt, but I would slow down and re-listen a whole lot more. While going through a story, as soon as you see a sentence that looks useful to you (as in, you want to use it with your friends next time you see them) - then settle in and just focus on that one sentence for the day, and listen again and again. Listen slowly at first, then speed it up. Listen and repeat aloud, again and again, until you have it memorized. Make sure you understand every word. That’s what I’d do, anyway. To increase your practice, after memorizing a sentence, try saying it during the day while doing other things.

There are people (Pimsleur, for example) who will advise you to just listen, and not to write anything down. But think, if taking notes was helpful for your learning in school, you may also find it helpful to take out a little pocket card and write down the pronunciation and meaning of the sentence you are working on that day; the practice of writing things down might help solidify them in your memory. And as a bonus, you might even refer to the card later in the day if you find yourself forgetting the sentence.

Oh, also, in case this helps:
有 (Simple meaning: have, exist. Pinyin: Yǒu) - it sounds just like the second syllable of “yo-yo.”

要 - (Simple meaning: want - Pinyin: yào) - it rhymes with what the cat in an English-speaking country says: “meow.” Exclaim it with emphasis, like you just stubbed your toe: “Yeow!”

Good luck!

Yes, that’s also a good strategy (similar to Jeff Brown’s CI approach for acquiring Arabic):

However, I’d combine it with some of the resources mentioned before
(esp. drilling tones and Benny’s speaking early approach).

But I agree: LingQ (esp. alone) is probably not the right tool for fluency first in a tonal language.


Yeah, exactly. This is what I’m referring to. I’ve tried it out and quite like the approach. It just costs a bit of money. I definitely don’t recommend trying to get language exchange partners, as you need to spend a lot of time teaching. Might as well just pay for a tutor.

Instead of his recommendations of children’s stories though, I’d replace them with comics. Whereas children’s books would tell the story of Hansel and Gretel in five pictures, a single comic would have over a hundred cutscenes, each mere moments from each other, making it very easy to explain what happened.

The best part about a private tutor is everything is specifically tailored for you. You can ask about grammar, practise tones, converse, etc. The biggest hurdle for any remotely dissimilar language though is vocabulary acquisition, which just takes ages.


Yes, “comics” are also a great way to acquire an L2!
When I was a child, I even wanted to become a comic author myself… :slight_smile:

Absolutely. I think that’s also where future language learning apps based on AI have to go:
Highly personalized language learning.

Definitely. But I think the biggest hurdles for our Indo-European adult brains are tones and pitches. And the most efficient strategy is probably to “drill them”, as @Michilini recommends in his blog posts.

I’m not saying that a pure CI approach couldn’t work here as well, but it’s less time-efficient,

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I’m definitely not for a ‘pure CI approach’. You can definitely start speaking early on, if you so desire. It’s probably even advisable to repeat some of the high-frequency words after your tutor ocassionally to soldify them and start ‘activating’ them. With a tutor, you have the possibility to work on tones too, whether they be some specific drilling exercises or even just drawing your attention to the tone for a specific word. If you are really starting from scratch, getting your tutor to give you a 5 or 10 minute overview of the structure of the language and/or the grammar would be very useful (in your native language).

By having a private tutor, you are incredibly flexible (if they are good at their job). Much more flexible and tailored than LingQ. After the tutor gives a basic introduction on the structure of the language and perhaps drilling tones, it’s time to get down to the slow business of learning vocabulary.