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The Pareto Principle

First of all, let’s take a look at a list of main ideas to focus on when learning new languages.

The list is not comprehensive and what is most important will depend on your target language. 

We recommend to use this to help you think about your weaknesses, as identifying them is an important step before learning the principle.

Potential weaknesses to focus on


  • Function of verbs, nouns, adjectives, adverbs 
  • Tense

  • Mood
  • Number
  • Gender
  • Word order
  • Suffixes
  • Other grammar (language-dependent)


  • Number of words known 
  • Prepositions and other particles 
  • Collocations
  • Common phrases


  • Spelling
  • Characters known (for languages like Chinese or Japanese)


  • Sound perception 
  • Distinguishing words 
  • Speed of comprehension


  • Phonetics
  • Tone
  • Intonation 
  • Fluidity and pace


  • Spelling 
  • Writing speed

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The Principle: 80 percent of your results come from 20 percent of your study

Otherwise known as the Pareto Principle, this principle is applied to basically every field out there and has its origins in management theory. This principle is not a fundamental law, but the observation that the fastest progress can be made by focusing on a certain subset of issues that are having the largest impact on performance.

Applying it to language learning, the principle states that for any domain of your target language, fixing the biggest 20% of your issues will achieve 80% of the impact you can get in that domain. 

Similarly, 20% of your study time is probably achieving 80% of your results. Some activities you are doing are probably having a minimal impact, while some smaller gaps in your knowledge are probably having an outsized impact on your ability to communicate. 

Think about what activities seem to give you the biggest improvements and re-assess your study routine.

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