You are probably familiar with the 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto principle.  

According to the 80/20 rule, 80% of the consequences come from 20% of the causes.  Put another way, 80% of the work is done by 20% of the people.  

Or, think of it this way.  Look at your hand.  Think of how essential your thumb is.  80% of the work done by your hand is likely done by your thumb.  The pinkie finger is just over there coasting.   

An Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto, discovered this principle in 1896.  He noticed that 20% of the population in Italy owned 80% of the land in Italy.  

It turns out, you can apply the 80/20 rule to language learning.  

For example, in his talk, “How to learn any language in six months”, Chris Lonsdale makes the following claim.  If you know 1,000 words in English, you can say 85% of what you need to say in English.

There is a law of diminishing returns in language learning.  Once you know 3,000 words in English, you can say 98% of all you will ever need to say.  

You can apply this to any language you are learning.  I have been taking students through the book Le Français par la Métode Nature.  I am learning with my students as we read.  We recently finished chapter 16 and we now know 910 words.  

I have noticed I can understand about 80% of what I am hearing when I listen to French podcasts, or when I watch French livestreams on Chatterbug.  I can understand most of what I read.  

This is just one of the tips Mr. Lonsdale gives in his talk.  If you are struggling to learn a foreign language, check out his talk:

And, if you are an adult reading this, and you feel you have missed the boat on learning a foreign language, read this blog post:

Dr. Mary Hobson decided to take up Russian at the age of 56.  She kept at it, and received a PH.D in Russian when she was 74 years old.