Blonde Woman dumping water out the window while the tap is open cartoon

The 80/20 Rule – Language Learning application

Have you ever heard of the 80/20 rule? It’s like the VIP section of learning – it’s where all the cool kids hang out. Basically, it means that 80% of your results come from just 20% of your efforts. Most of us can put in 100% effort and get back a measly 20% result. Talk about a ripoff, am I right?

But I’m about to give you some real-world examples of how to use the 80/20 rule to your advantage. Like, did you know that just by learning the 1000 most common words in a language, you can understand 80% of the language? That’s like learning the secret code to a whole new world, except it’s not so secret anymore because I just told you about it.

And now, for the moment you’ve all been waiting for – drumroll, please – I’m going to give you some simple steps to applying the 80/20 rule to your own language-learning journey. It’s like a recipe for success, but without all the cooking and stuff. So buckle up, buttercups, and get ready to take notes because this is some valuable stuff I’m about to drop on you.

Woman dumping water out the window while the tap is open cartoon

Compare how much effort you put in and the results

Hey there, my hard-working friends. I’m here to ask you a question: do you feel like all those hours you’re putting into work are paying off equally? Like, do you put in one hour of work and get back one hour of results? If you do, then you’re probably some kind of magician or something, because, for the rest of us, that’s just not how it works.

The same goes for studying – do you feel like each hour of studying is improving your language skills by the same amount? I mean, if that were true, we’d all be speaking like Shakespeare by now. And let’s not forget about relationships – not every single person you meet is going to enrich your life equally. Some might even make it worse, let’s be honest.

So why is this the case? Well, let me introduce you to my friend, the Pareto Principle, aka the 80/20 Rule. Basically, it says that 80% of your results come from just 20% of your efforts. Your mind is blown, right?

And this rule isn’t just for work and study – it’s everywhere. Like, did you know that 80% of the world’s wealth is controlled by just 20% of the people? And in sales, 80% of the revenue comes from just 20% of the salespeople. I mean, if I were a sales manager, I’d be putting all my money on that dynamic 20%.

So, what’s the lesson here? It’s simple – focus on that 20%. Identify what really matters and give it all your energy. Don’t waste your time on the 80% that won’t make a difference. Because let’s face it, life’s too short to be working hard for no reason.

The 80/20 Rule: Language Learning application

So, when it comes to language learning, we gotta ask ourselves – what is that 20% for me? Is it learning the top 1000 words in a language? Is it immersing yourself in the culture and language as much as possible? Figuring out that 20% is key. Because if you don’t, you might be wasting a whole lot of time and effort on stuff that won’t make a difference. And let’s be real, we’ve all been there. Spending hours memorizing grammar rules only to forget them the next day. Or listening to language tapes on repeat until your brain turns to mush. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

So, my language learners, take a moment to figure out your 20%. Maybe it’s learning through music or movies or conversations with native speakers. Whatever it is, find it and focus on it.

Finding you 20% is not easy!

Now, I know I’ve been preaching about that 20% that’ll get you 80% of the results, but I can hear you all now – “Okay, great. But how do we find that 20%?”

Believe me, I get it. It’s like trying to find a needle in a haystack or a vegetarian option at a steakhouse. Not easy. But don’t worry, I’ve got some tips for you.

Suggestions on how to find your 20%

First off, take a step back and evaluate what you’re doing. Are you spending hours memorizing verb conjugations but still struggling to speak? Maybe that’s not your 20%. Are you trying to learn through reading but finding yourself falling asleep after two pages? Again, maybe not your 20%.

Next, think about what’s worked for you in the past. Did you learn best through conversation? Or maybe you had success with flashcards? Did you have an awesome language teacher? Did you spend time chatting with locals? Whatever it is, take note of it.

And lastly, try out different methods. Yes, I know, it sounds like more work, but hear me out. You never know what’ll work for you until you try it. Maybe you’ll find that watching videos in the language is your jam, or that practicing with a language exchange partner is your secret sauce.

So, don’t get discouraged if you’re having trouble identifying that 20%. It’s like trying to find Waldo in a crowd – it takes time and a keen eye. But trust me, once you find it, it pays off.

This post can not end without suggesting a word frequency list. It’s like the greatest hits of the language. The top 100 or 200 words are the ones you’ll hear all the time, so why not learn them first?

And something you should also have is a goal. I mean, those sales guys have income targets, right? So, what’s your language learning target for the next month? Get it down on paper and figure out what steps will get you there.

Now, language learning can be a broad topic. And you need to educate yourself about it. Read blogs, watch videos, and get inspired by other passionate language learners.

And let’s not forget about your study habits. Are you neglecting one skill over another? Maybe you need to focus on that neglected skill for a while.

Now, here’s a tough one – what scares you? Is it reading that boring grammar book? Well, tackling your fears can bring you the greatest results.

But let’s be real folks. You need to be honest with yourself. If you’re not studying every day, then that’s not gonna get you very far. And sometimes, the answer is just common sense. Maybe the answer is right in front of you.

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  1. I want to focus on the essential aspects of language learning that yield the most significant results rather than spreading oneself too thin. Excessive effort without proper direction may leave us empty-handed. Thus, it is crucial to identify the 20% of the language aspects that will generate 80% of the results and work on mastering them. Thanks for helping us discover that 20%.

  2. Oh wow! I’m pretty sure I’ve seen something mention the 80/20 rule, but I never quite got the interest of searching it up, until now. It’s scary to think about how much effort you put into something, and in return, you won’t even get half of what you’ve put in the first place. Language learning takes time and determination. I’ve given up so many times, and just now I’m giving it a new shot.

  3. Great thoughts on the 80-20 Rule – Better known as the Pareto Principle. I love applying this in work and everyday life. Though applying it to learning language was thought-provoking.
    It takes a lot of stress out of learning a language (any learning). A gargantuan task starts looking so simple.

  4. I know that many of us can be unproductive while learning languages. However, I still have an issue with the 20-80 rule. When we’re building a house, some aspects of the work are more visible than others when the house is done. But we can not say we will only focus on the things that will be visible in the final building because some of the things you can not see turn out to be indispensable.

    1. Yes, I get your point. We should focus on the things that waste our time. But there are many activities done backstage while learning a language that are unreplaceable. Thus, we can not discard them as being part of the 80 percent.

  5. I certainly feel this way when learning a new language.
    In the beginning, I will improve very quickly, and I feel that everything I have learned can come in handy quickly.
    But at a certain stage, there will be a period of stagnation and even a sense of frustration.
    The 20% suitable for each person is different, and it really needs experience accumulation to discover.
    This article can make us realize the skills of language learning, I didn’t even think about these issues before.
    Thanks for sharing~

  6. I have learned English by listening to music and watching movies and series with subtitles. But in my opinion, English is much easier than Italian.

    I could try and find Italian series on Netflix. And I hope it helps with the 20%. Or maybe I could join a forum in Italian about things that are interesting to me.

    1. Using Italian to engage in things you already like is the best way to learn the language. You nailed it!

  7. The 80/20 rule, or the Pareto Principle, suggests that 80% of results come from 20% of efforts. It’s interesting to learn that applying this simple principle to language learning means focusing on just the top 1000 words — to understand around 80% of a language! Personally, I plan to get a colleague to translate some of the top business jargon that is used in our field!

  8. Very interesting!

    I never knew knowing a thousand of the most common words in a language accounts for 80% of it.  But it makes sense.  I mean, it’s not going to make you super-fluent, is it?  But it’s a fantastic start and will really help clear the way to a lot more fluency, at a much faster rate.  It would certainly make it a lot easier to start adding in less common words after you’ve got a decent start on the common ones.

    I’ve heard of the Pareto Principle.  Leverage!  That is totally where it’s at…for learning and for any aspect of life, pretty much!  

    And it makes so much sense to figure out your 20%.  I mean, if you’re a midwife, you don’t want to waste your time on the nomenclature of auto mechanics.

    Now if it was me, I would just want to read The /divine Comedy in the original Tuscan.  😀

    Have a great day


  9. Learning a new language can feel intimidating, but don’t worry! The 80/20 rule, known as the Pareto Principle, can be a lifesaver. Focus on the most common words and phrases to build your language skills and confidence – no need to get bogged down with obscure vocabulary. With a little bit of effort and the Pareto Principle, you’ll be confidently conversing in no time. So, why not give it a try and become a language-learning champ? 😉

  10. The article introduces the concept of the 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto Principle, and applies it to language learning. It explains that 80% of our language learning progress can come from focusing on the most important and frequently used aspects of the language.

    What I appreciated most about the article was its practical approach to applying the 80/20 rule in language learning. It emphasizes the importance of identifying and prioritizing the core vocabulary, essential grammar structures, and commonly used phrases that will have the greatest impact on our language proficiency.

    Furthermore, the article provides actionable tips for implementing the 80/20 rule, such as utilizing frequency word lists, engaging in targeted listening and reading practice, and focusing on real-life conversations and practical language scenarios.

    The author’s personal experiences and insights added a relatable touch to the article. They shared how they applied the 80/20 rule in their own language learning journey and the positive results they achieved. This added authenticity and motivated me to adopt a more focused and efficient approach in my own language learning endeavors.

    Overall, “The 80/20 Rule in Language Learning” is a valuable resource for language learners looking to optimize their learning efforts. The article’s practical strategies, relatable examples, and emphasis on focusing on the most important aspects of the language make it a powerful tool for maximizing language proficiency in a more efficient and effective manner. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced learner, this article offers valuable insights to enhance your language learning journey.

  11. This post is a great one and you mentioned such a great piece of information about this topic. I totally agree with you about the 80/20 rule. It is completely true and it is helpful to know about it. I like the suggestion part. It is so practical. I will share your post to read it again and again. Thank you for providing this great article.

  12. Thank you Jonathan for this informative article that introduced me to the 80/20 Rule as applied to language learning. I had never heard of this principle before but it makes sense to me as you have explained it simply because we all have jobs and tasks, skills and projects that we are better at than we are at others. That being the case it seems that we could be more efficient and productive by focusing the bulk of our learning on those areas where we excel. For instance, If a person is great with memory learning, flash cards may be the best option for them to spend their time. Experiental learners may do better to devote their time to immersion in the language.

  13. The 80/20 concept is an excellent tool for language learning, and it can also be easily applied to speaking in order to learn. The amount of anxiety new language speakers exhibit at even attempting to form their first sentences because they’re thinking of the full scope of what they want to communicate, prevents them from even saying one word. 

    Slicing objectives into smaller digestible pieces and reusing what they’ve learned already, can help them get along further in language learning.

  14. Great post! The 80/20 rule resonates with many aspects of life, including language learning. I’m curious! What’s your personal experience with finding your 20% in language learning? Have you discovered a specific approach or technique that significantly boosted your language skills while minimizing unnecessary effort? Sharing your insights could be incredibly helpful for fellow language learners.😊

    1. Hi! Thanks for asking. I’ve discovered I enjoy listening to the language I’m learning. So, I search YouTube for conversations on topics I’m interested in. Additionally, the discussions must be in the language I’m learning. Thus, I kill two birds with one shot!

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