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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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38 Comments

  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 comes in handy.

    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 made me think about the skills needed for language learning. I hadn’t thought about these issues before.

    Thanks for sharing~

    1. Every person has different catalyzers in the language-learning race. It takes some time to notice which are ours.

  6. I was wondering what I could do to speed up my Italian learning. 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 a few Italian series on Netflix. And I hope it helps with the 20%.

    1. “English is easier” is a statement we need to examine. In my case, my native language is Spanish. Thus, Italian is easier for me than English because it’s closer to Spanish.

      So, what’s your native language? And I will tell you if English is the facile one or if it’s Italian.

  7. I plan to apply the Pareto Principle by writing down the top business jargon in my industry. And after that, create flash cards to let them sink in.
    Thanks for giving me the idea. I would have wasted a lot of time learning stuff I would not use. I love efficiency!

  8. I never knew knowing a thousand of the most common words in a language accounts for 80% of what we need to be fluent. But it makes sense. It would make it 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 where it’s for learning any aspect of life!

  9. Hey! Learning a new language has always felt intimidating! But the 80/20 rule, known as the Pareto Principle, can be a lifesaver.

    Focusing on the most common words and phrases to build our language skills and confidence is easy. There is no need to get bogged down with obscure vocabulary. 😉

    1. There is always a technique that makes things easier. And that is what’s happening here when you introduce the 80/20 rule into your language learning equation.

  10. I agree that 80% of our language learning acquisition can come from focusing on the most important and frequently used aspects of the language. Thus, identifying and prioritizing the core vocabulary, essential grammar structures, and commonly used phrases will impact our language proficiency.

    I appreciate the 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.

    I will try to implement what I learned here, starting today. Thanks!

    1. I am always happy when the content encourages action! And that is what excites me from reading your comment. I wish you all the best in using frequency word lists, listening and reading practice, and focusing on real-life conversations.

  11. I had heard about the 80/20 rule before. But I had never heard of it applied to languages. I agree that not everything we do to learn a language moves the needle. But I am not convinced about the ratio, being 80/20. In my experience, it’s more like 50/50. Sorry, I am just thinking out loud.

    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this. I will not argue with you about the ratio. The important part is that you’re out looking for things that move the needle and discarding those that do not.

  12. Thank you, Jonathan, for this informative article. It introduced me to the 80/20 Rule as applied to language learning.

    I had never heard of this principle before. But it makes sense. We all have jobs, tasks, skills, and projects that we are better at than we are at others. So, we could be more efficient and productive by focusing most of our learning on those areas where we excel. For instance, if a person is great with memory learning, flashcards may be the best option for them to spend their time. Experiential learners may do better to devote their time to immersion in the language.

    1. I enjoyed reading your article. Your examples are a good way of applying the 80/20 Rule to learning languages.

  13. The 80/20 concept is an excellent tool for language learning.

    People learning a new language exhibit anxiety even when forming their first sentences. They’re thinking of the full scope of what they want to communicate. So, it prevents them from even saying one word.
    Slicing objectives into smaller digestible pieces and reusing what they’ve already learned can help them get along further in language learning.

    1. Thank you for sharing your take on the 80/20 concept. Reading the comment section has enriched me, and I am sure it has also helped all our visitors.

  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!

  15. Hi!

    The 80/20 rule in language learning is a smart way to focus on what truly matters. I had not considered it, but you are right. By concentrating on the most important aspects of a language, such as core vocabulary and essential grammar, learners can make efficient progress and gain confidence faster. It’s a practical approach that simplifies the process and helps students stay motivated.

  16. This blog post is a fantastic exploration of the 80/20 rule and its application in various aspects of life, particularly in language learning. You do an excellent job of breaking down the concept and providing real-world examples to make it relatable. The idea that 80% of results come from just 20% of efforts is enlightening and eye-opening.

    To identify and focus on that crucial 20% in language learning is inspiring. The key takeaway is the emphasis on personalization and experimentation to find the most effective learning method. Additionally, the suggestion of starting with a word frequency list and setting clear language learning goals is actionable.

    1. Thank you for your comment. We all need to understand the practical aspect of this general rule to focus on finding our 20%! And it usually won’t be handed to us on a platter. We need to search, try, and experiment with different things. And don’t forget to set goals! These will give you something to work towards while knowing your 20% will get you there faster!

  17. Great I particularly appreciate the tips on using the 80/20 principle to learn a language. This approach is so effective because it allows you to focus on the most important aspects of the language first, which will give you the most bang for your buck.I would also like to commend the author on the website’s overall layout and design. It’s very user-friendly and makes it easy to find the information you’re looking for.Overall, I highly recommend this website to anyone who is interested in learning a language. It is a valuable resource for both current and prospective language learners.

  18. I have incorporated a few of these cool quicks into my daily life. I’m using the Pomodoro technique, the rule of thirds, and several others. So I will try the 80/20! Thanks!

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