This seems obvious, but think about it – how much time learning Chinese is spent on words that you actually use? Words that you know is one thing but here I’m talking about words for the equivalents that you use on a regular basis in your mother tongue. Basically, only learn what you’ll use.
The obvious argument to this is that learning a language is about acquiring as many words as possible, which is true, to an extent, but the line has to be drawn somewhere. Do you want to become a linguist or learn enough Chinese so that you can accomplish and talk about the things that matter to you?
Next time you are in Chinese class feverishly writing down words to review, or writing/drilling lists of words to learn, have a look over the list and ask yourself how many of these words
would you do you use in your mother tongue. If the answer is not much then you might not want to spend to much time on them. Learn to recognise them by all means, and that will come naturally with time, though when your aim is to learn as much useful language in as little time as possible it pays off to be selective.
When you’re speaking Chinese with your friends or teacher and hit a word that you don’t know in Chinese but do in your mother tongue, you know the feeling, it’s like hitting a wall in your flow of speech, pull out a notebook and jot down the word. This way when you get home and have time to study you can focus on the words that you actually use so next time you won’t be caught short.