The importance of sentence patterns
Learn key sentences patterns. Rather than understanding the intricate details of grammar become familiar with common sentence patterns and what they are used to express. When you learned English, you didn’t need to be taught rules of grammar. Instead you became familiar with sentence patterns. A young child might learn the structure “I like…” e.g. “I like chocolate. I like toys. I like football”. The child doesn’t need to know that “I” is a pronoun and “like” is a predicate which is then followed by a noun. As adults, knowledge of grammar can be a useful aide for gaining a more general understanding of sentences, but for practical usage you simply just need to know the most common patterns and what they express. Spending a couple of weeks becoming intimately acquainted with a hundred common sentence patterns of Chinese (and practicing using them) will serve you much better in practical terms than spending a common of months intensely studying grammar. Sentence patterns are critical for both speaking and listening.
How this applies to listening
When you are listening, you can recognize the sentence pattern and you already know. In English if you hear the sentence “I am planning to go to China next year”, you’ve already seen the pattern “I am planning…” many times and you know what sort of words are likely to follow, so your brain is tuned in. In fact, we don’t actually listen carefully to each word in a sentence because the brain plays auto-complete – we can anticipate what sort of words will follow. That’s why we can understand even if people are speaking quickly or with an accent. It needs to be the same way for Chinese, you need to instantly recognize sentence patterns, because your brain isn’t quick enough to analyze each and every word and make sense of everything.
The way to REALLY learn vocabulary
You learn the base Vocab by plugging different words into the sentence patterns you already learned. This way you’ll actually be able to use the word and remember it better, instead of learning the word, not knowing how to use it in a sentence, and then just forgetting it! There are many books which facilitate putting diferent vocab into particular sentence patterns, pick the one which suites you best… one which is connected to the kind of language that you’ll actually need to use (e.g. general, business etc…)