Use the 80/20 Rule to Learn a Language

By Jonty Yamisha • 5 minute read

pareto principle

The 80/20 Approach With High-Frequency Words and Phrases

Time is valuable. And if you’re trying to learn a new language so you can speak fluently, then you need to get the most out of your efforts. But there’s a trick to reaching fluency fast. By applying the Pareto Principle, or otherwise known as the 80/20 rule to your language learning lessons, you’ll be speaking like a local in no time. 

What Is 80/20 Rule?

Turns out there’s a scientific formula for productivity. We call it the Pareto Principle or the 80/20 rule. In short, 80% of the results you get come from 20% of your efforts. To maximize your productivity, you need to focus on the 20% that’s going to get you the greatest results. 

80 - 20 (pareto) principle

Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto invented this theory in Italy while looking at his garden’s pea pods. Basically, he saw that 80% of the peas in his garden came from 20% of the pea plants. He then took his theory further and saw that 20% of the Italian population own 80% of the land. 

Examples of the 80/20 Rule

There are many examples of the 80/20 rule in action. To help you see the truth in what may feel like an overly simplified generalization, here are some examples: 

  • Top 20% of employees are responsible for 80% of output
  • 80% of wealth rests in 20% of society
  • 20% of bugs cause 80% of computer crashes
  • 80% of revenue comes from 20% of customers
  • 80% of crimes come from 20% of criminals
  • 20% of apps features get 80% of usage

Good or bad, there’s a scale of the effort you put in and the results you get. Using this information to optimize how you study will help you reach fluency fast. The key is to know where to focus your efforts so you get the most out of your language lessons.

Using the Pareto Principle in Language Learning

How can the Pareto Principle streamline your language learning journey? It means you can learn more while studying less. All you need to do is apply the 80/20 rule to your lessons. Luckily, it’s really easy to do with language learning because languages also follow the same 80/20 rule…

pareto (80/20) principle

Native speakers know lots of words. Roughly 10,000 – 40,000 words depending on which expert you ask. But (and this is HUGE), we don’t use all those words every day. Instead, we really only ever use about 20% of the words we know daily.

The Benefits of Focusing on High-Frequency Words and Phrases

If you want to get the most out of your language lessons and reach fluency fast, then you need to focus on the high-frequency words and phrases of your target language. By covering the top 20% of any language, you can mix and match your knowledge to fit any social setting. In short, you can learn a new language without constantly memorizing or cover lessons you’ll never use. 

The downside is that we may not be as unique in our conversations as we’d like. But the upside is, you’ll only need to cover 20% of your language to reach fluency. Fewer lessons to learn means less time. Boom. 

Psst! Did you know we have a language learning app?

  1. It teaches you useful words and phrases.
  2. Presented in a natural, everyday context.
  3. Spaced out over time, so you absorb your new language organically.
  4. It’s kind of like learning the words to your new favorite song!

You’re only one click away!


Why Other Foreign Language Programs Fail

Most language learning programs and classrooms out there ignore the truth behind the 80/20 rule. Instead, they make you study (or worse, memorize) pre-defined vocabulary sets and sentences. Their goal is to “cover” as much of the language as possible. 

That’s like trying to finish a marathon by crawling, theoretically possible, but not exactly the best way to get around. It makes no sense…

Less-effective language learning methods often teach using phrases that you’ll never use. They may be awkwardly funny, but you’ll have a hard time trying to fit one into a conversation naturally. And after a while, you’ll forget these awkward sentences. Despite all your efforts

Remember: Just because you’re busy doesn’t mean you’re productive. If you don’t focus on what you can use, you’ll waste 80% of your time to learn about 20% of what you can use. That’s the real offer behind many of these inefficient language programs.

How to Use the 80/20 Rule to Reach Fluency

Instead of wasting your time “hoping” you’re covering the right material, you need a language learning program built on the Pareto Principle. That way, you know you’re only focusing on the most important parts of a language. And with OptiLingo, that’s exactly what you get. You learn lessons you can use

Stop wasting your time trying to learn EVERYTHING. It’s ineffective. At best, you’ll know how to say a bunch of random words or phrases you’ll never use. At worst, you’ll waste your time, feel like you’re treading water, and burnout believing that it’s simply not possible for you to reach fluency fast.

With OptiLingo, you won’t waste your time trying. Instead, you’ll learn everything you need to speak fluently: how to greet others, respond to questions, express ideas, talk about yourself, and have casual conversations with new friends. 

Don’t waste your time. Focus on what’s widely spoken. Learn the patterns. Master short lessons that leave you feeling accomplished and ready for any situation. Get the phrases you need to start speaking confidently with locals today!

Jonty Yamisha

Husband, father, and accidental polyglot Jonty Yamisha founded OptiLingo after working to protect his native language, Circassian, from extinction. He has helped thousands finally achieve their dream of reaching fluency by promoting SPEAKING over typing languages with OptiLingo.