The Pareto Principle, also called the principle of 80/20, argues that 80 percent of the results in any endeavor result from 20 percent of the effort put into the task. The Pareto principle can be applied to many different disciplines and subjects, ranging from economics to software to health and safety.

The principle was first developed by Joseph Juran. Juran got the idea from Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto. Pareto made the discovery that in 1906 80 percent of the land in Italy was owned by just 20 percent of the population. He then made the discovery that 20 percent of the pea pods in his garden produced 80 percent of the overall peas.

Utilizing this principle can vastly impact your ability to learn. For the sake of example, we will focus on language acquisition. Applying this to the acquisition of language, it should be considered that the words selected to focus on learning and using are key. For instance, choosing to study the one hundred most commonly written words in English would produce the greatest increase in language skill. Understanding the basics is key because people do not need to have an expansive vocabulary or extremely in depth understanding of grammar to be able to communicate well in a language.

the-100-300x267The above example is illustrated by the fact that the 25 most common words in English make up a third of the total words printed in English, and the first 100 comprise one half of total words printed in English. There are also lists of commonly spoken words in English (it is important to note these lists are different). These statistics are very similar for other languages as well, making this information very important for anyone trying to learn a language.

The vocabulary and content material that a person chooses to focus on studying when learning a language should be material that they would use in their own language. Sometimes language courses focus on obscure content with the objective of being interesting or providing a cultural understanding. Instead, language curriculum should be a tool to delve into a person’s own interests or field. Another reason this is so important is because many people stop studying a language when it feels tedious or boring. If a person studies material that is obscure or uninteresting to them, they will likely give up before long.

On a related note, to make language learning relevant a person should consider what they plan to use the language for in life. The question of, “What will I be speaking about in this language and with whom?” is an important one. Reading ancient French fairy tales will not be useful to someone who is interested in working as an architect in Paris.

Spending a good portion of time learning the basic grammar of a language is important as well. Courses that focus too heavily on vocabulary alone will not be useful for students wanting to speak and write fluently. Once the basics of grammar are learned and students reach a conversational level, learners can acquire an influx of new words very rapidly just from exposure. Again, considering the Pareto Principle specifically with grammar is the important thing. Getting the base knowledge of the 20 percent of grammar that dominates the other 80 percent of the language is the efficient way to approach the task.

Correctly understanding and applying the Pareto Principle transforms learning a language into something that is not daunting or overwhelming. Learning a language can be done efficiently, while still thoroughly, in a matter of months. Focusing in on relevant, useful material and having an understanding of the keys, of the twenty percent, of a language will free up a person’s time and effort. Past language struggles and failures shouldn’t stop a person from attempting a language, regardless of their age. With the right vision and plan of attack, language learning can actually be relatively painless.

This post was written with the help of James Zachary. James helps people conquer vocational certification tests. He is the founder of the Security Guard Training Guide, helping security guards throughout the US study for and pass their certification exams.