How to Learn a New Language: Lesson 3


How to Learn 92.7% of Any Language in 66 Days

“Pareto's Law can be summarized as follows: 80% of the outputs result from 20% of the inputs.” ― Timothy Ferriss, The 4-Hour Workweek

“What’s your biggest weakness?”

Well… I tend to be a perfectionist!”

It’s the most common (and politically correct) answer we use when asked the typical interview question, but perfectionism can be one of the biggest obstacles preventing people from reaching fluency.

We are paralyzed by the thought of making a mistake, especially around others, and this often results in people never trying in the first place!

Today, we’re going to talk about an important principle that can be applied to not only save you time but to reach your goals faster when you learn languages. It’s called the Pareto’s Principleand it may be one of the most crucial lessons in our How to Learn a New Language guide.

The Pareto’s Principle

Without digging too deep into the history and definition, the Pareto’s Principle states that 80% of our desired output comes from 20% of our outputs.

This principle was originally brought up to present that 80% of the wealth in Italy was owned by 20% of the people.

However, this can also be applied to nearly everything in your life, including:

-80% of your sales comes from 20% of your customers
-80% of your happiness comes from 20% of your friends and family
-80% of your language skills comes from 20% of what you learn

pareto's law

While the exact number can be debated, you can use the logical concept of this theory to conclude that we should design our language learning process to focus as much as we can on the 20% of effort that brings 80% of our results.

Here’s another graph to illustrate the Pareto’s Law:

Applying Pareto on How to Learn a New Language

The simplest way to apply the Pareto’s Law to how you learn languages, particularly if you’re just beginning, is the most common words.

Many of us begin to learn languages only to waste hours of time learning words that we will either never or rarely use. It’s very unlikely that we’ll ever need to know how to say “aardvark” or “idiosyncratic” in Spanish (think about how often you use this in your everyday conversation in your native language!).

In fact, if these uncommon words ever did come up in a conversation, you’re more likely to remember the word because you’ll always have a reference point to go back to, instead of learning it beforehand.

You’ll be surprised how far you can manage a friendly conversation with very little words, by solely relying on understanding the context of what’s happening around you, and nonverbal communication.

Most Common Word Challenge

One of the world’s most famous and respected linguists, Professor Alexander Arguelles, has presented an interesting study on the correlation between the number of words we learn and its consequential results.

The 250 most frequent words of a language are those without which you cannot construct any sentence.

The 750 most frequent words constitute those that are used every single day by every person who speaks the language.

The 2000  most frequent words constitute those that should enable you to express everything you could possibly want to say, albeit often by awkward circumlocutions.

The 5000 most frequent words  constitute the active vocabulary of native speakers without higher education.

The 10,000 most frequent words constitute the active vocabulary of native speakers with higher education.

The 20,000 most frequent words constitute what you need to recognize passively in order to read, understand, and enjoy a work of literature such as a novel by a notable author.

(1 Word =1 Head Word, conjugations not counted).

Furthermore, a study done on the Spanish language revealed that:

Studying the first 1000 most frequently used words in the language will familiarize you with 76.0% of all vocabulary in nonfiction literature, 79.6% of all vocabulary in fiction literature, and 87.8% of vocabulary in oral speech.

Studying the 2000 most frequently used words will familiarize you with 84% of vocabulary in nonfiction, 86.1% of vocabulary in fictional literature, and 92.7% of vocabulary in oral speech.

And studying the 3000 most frequently used words will familiarize you with 88.2% of vocabulary in nonfiction, 89.6% of  vocabulary in fiction, and 94.0% of vocabulary in oral speech.

Without throwing too much research and data at you, these findings brings us to a simple conclusion that can save you a lot of time.

Learning and mastering the first 2,000 most common words will be an essential milestone we should achieve in any language, as this will allow us to:

-“grasp over 92% of vocabulary in oral speech” (and most of us are learning with the sole intent to converse with another native speaker)
-“express everything we could possibly want to say”

In fact, taking the leap from 2,000 to 3,000 most frequently used words will only provide us a mere 1.3% additional knowledge (92.7% –> 94%), which is significantly marginal to achieving our desired results. It’s fair to say that while investing our time to learn the first 2,000 gives us a great return on our time, any efforts after is most likely not worth our time.


how to learn a new language
Red = the 2000 words covering 93% of the spoken language.               Blue = 18,000 words covering just 7% of spoken the language.

How to go about learning the most common words

To serve the purpose of this guide on how to learn a new language, we’re going to create a challenge for you to learn 30 of the most common words per day. 

This means that by 90 days, you will have learned over 2,700 of the most common words, which is more than enough to understand the language.

However, we also know how busy you are which is why we’ve added a buffer so that even if you skip weekends, you will have an average of 22 days per month to learn, which rounds up to 1,980 words learned even if you skipped every weekend.

Most importantly, the best way to learn is not simply to memorize the words but to actually use them. We highly recommend you work with a personal Rype coach and incorporate the common words you are learning and apply them in your sessions. Your coach will be able to give you immediate feedback on mistakes you’re making, when to best use the words, and correct your accents so you don’t make the same mistake again.

Remember: use it or lose it!

As for organizing the words, you can use flash cards (we recommend physical ones) and write the definition on the other side.

Follow-up References

Most Common Spanish Words
-1,000 most common Spanish words (audio version)
-1,000 most common Spanish words (flash card version)
-5,000 most common Spanish words (memrise)

Most Common English Words
-100 most common words in English (Wikipedia)
-500 most common words in English

Most Common French Words
-100 most common words in French (audio version)
-5,000 most common words in French (Memrise)

Most Common German Words
-100 most common words in German
-1,000 most common words in German (audio version)

Your challenge

1. Take a look at the most common words we’ve referenced above.

2. Organize the words into a physical flashcard, digital flashcard, or any other methods that fit you.

3. Schedule your memorization sessions in your calendar and set up a recurring session on a daily basis for the next 90 days

Here’s an example of scheduling your session:

Screen Shot 2015-09-26 at 7.17.15 PM

4. Stick with it!

Your first 30 days will be the most important, and it will gradually become a habit that you do on a daily basis, like brushing your teeth. Stick with it!

The easiest thing do is quit the moment you skip a learning session, but don’t let one day stop you. Get back into it no matter how hard or difficult it may seem, and keep your eyes focused on your Ultimate Goal.

Visualize what it would feel like when you’re in Spain, having a fluent conversation with a native speaker.
Visualize being able to have a deeper connection with your friends or family member.

Keep your eye on the prize and in just 30 days, you’ll be able to look back at the amazing progress you have made and in 90 days, you’ll be able to understand nearly 90% of the spoken language.

You can also join our Free Learn a Language Challenge, which will send you 10 most common words in your inbox for 100 days to help you learn 1,000 words.

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