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Shortcuts: Learn a language

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(CNN) -- Fancy getting fluent in a foreign tongue in one month? Here's how to get started.

Get real: It's impossible to learn a language in one month. But maybe you can make it past the grunting, pointing and ordering beers stage. You might even be able to string a conversation together with a small child. Routine is key: dedicate a chunk of time to learning each day and stick to it rigidly.

Grammar: If you aspire to communicate in anything more exotic than the aforementioned proto-human grunts then you're going to have to get your basic structure sorted. In English most sentences follow the pattern Subject-Verb-Object but the order varies from language to language. Make sure you get your verb endings sorted out in the present, past and future tenses as well as any common irregular verbs.

Vocabulary: Unless you're some kind of savant, there's no point memorizing a dictionary. Focus on the words that are going to be most useful. You'll really need around 1,000 words before you really start getting past the "que?" stage, but since this is supposed to be a shortcut you've got to stick to the key ones. Find/make a list of the 200 most common and nail seven a day. Write them down in a notebook, on flashcards or backwards across your forehead in front of the mirror until they stick. If you're learning a language in which nouns are gender specific (eg. Spanish), make sure you get the rules straightened out.

Culture: Welcome to the greatest accidental educational resource ever created. Home to thousands of newspapers, magazines, Web sites, radio stations and even online TV channels in virtually every conceivable language, the Internet means you can get started straight away. Buy some children's books in your language of choice or watch some movies and try to follow them without the subtitles.

Take a vacation: The only way to really practice speaking a language is to go somewhere you can really use it, so pack your suitcase, passport and take the plunge. Speak to everyone and anyone. Phrasebooks should be wielded ostentatiously as props as they are guaranteed conversation starters -- everyone is interested by how their language and culture are presented to foreigners. With every stunted, arm-gesturing conversation and crashing, foot-in-mouth gaffe you'll be one mistake closer to fluency.

Fancy a challenge? Let's face it, French, Spanish, English, German, Italian .... they're all for school kids. If you really want to impress, then look further east. Why not try Tabassaran, a Caucasian language spoken in parts of Russia which has 48 cases or Ket -- spoken by just 500 people in Siberia.

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