I first came across the 80/20 rule when I was reading lifestyle design guru Tim Ferriss‘ book The Four Hour Work Week. Also termed the Pareto Principle, it originated from Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto and examines the unequal relationship between input and output.
Simply put, the theory postulates the 20% of the input will result in 80% of the output.
Now this can be applied to a range of different contexts – for example, Pareto realised that 80% of the usable land in Italy was distributed among 20% of the population. In business, evidence has shown that 80% of sales result from 20% of clients and that 80% of revenues are generated from 20% of the sales team.
What Does this Mean for You?
The implications for this research are astounding – in other words, you don’t have to put in 100% of the effort to get 100% of the results. Instead, in the real-world context of time pressure, resource scarcity and diminishing returns, you need only focus on the 20% most crucial pieces of the puzzle that will give you 80% of the return.
Call it Return on Investment (ROI) or bang-for-your-buck – the bottom line is, cut out the unnecessary fluff and focus on what gives you the most mileage.
In other words, what the Pareto principle debunks is the false notion that you need to know everything about everything before beginning.
And haven’t we all fallen into that trap before, where you tell yourself ‘Well I’m not an expert in (insert skill as necessary) just yet, so I’m just going to read these 500 books on the topic and the corresponding 100 websites and then I can start.‘
Except (a), you never do end up finishing those 500 books and 100 websites and (b) even if you do, you still find a reason not to start. So obviously, this approach needs to be chucked out with the trash.
Applying this to Language Learning
The good news is, you can.
Benny of Fluent in 3 Months explains how the Pareto concept plays an important role in re-engineering our approach to language learning and overcoming the fear of starting.
Furthermore, the evidence of the Pareto principle in language learning is backed up by this article in the Harvard Business Review that quotes Sir Isaac Pitman as an example. He invented shorthand by discovering that merely 700 words make up 2/3rds of the English language. Tim Ferriss’ post on How to Learn Any Language in Three Months lists the 100 most common words in the English language and says that:
‘The first 25 of the above words make up about 1/3 of all printed material in English. The first 100 comprise 1/2 of all written material, and the first 300 make up about 65% percent of all written material in English.’
Putting this into Practice
In line with this philosophy, let’s extrapolate this to Amiyyah Arabic. And so I’m going to give you the 21 most valuable verbs that you will need in order to multiply your understanding of Amiyyah tenfold (or more).
Are you ready? Here they are:
|to go in||يفوت||yi-fuut||يدخل||yad-khulu|
|to go out||يطلع||yiT-la’||يخرخ||yakhruju|
|to go ahead||تفضل||taf-fa-Dal||تفضل||tafaDal|
|to leave / go up||يطلع||yiT-la’||يصعد / يغادر||yu-ghadiru / yaS-3’du|
|to go down||ينزل||yin-zil||يذهب الى اسفل||yadh-hab ila asfal|
|to sit||يقعد||yuq-‘ud||يجلس / يقعد||yaj-lisu|
I will go into further detail on how to use these verbs and their conjugations in a following post. But all you need to know for now is just being comfortable and familiar with these verbs alone will go a long way towards improving your command of Amiyyah.
Responding to Naysayers
At this juncture, some of you might say that the Pareto principle doesn’t always work, because it ignores the remaining 80% of the work that needs to be done.
To this I say, that depends on what your objectives are for learning a foreign a language in the first place. If your objective at the end of the day is to achieve total mastery of the language, with deep philosophical discussions then the Pareto principle will get you a good distance, but you will have to continue refining and honing your command of the language from that point.
If that’s you’re after, that’s absolutely fine.
But I’m not personally interested in mastery. Mastery takes years and years of effort, energy and time, which unfortunately most of us don’t have. What I am interested in is getting people to overcome their fear and self-consciousness of using a language by showing them that it doesn’t have to be difficult, overwhelming or scary. All you need are a few crucial words and these will give you the ability to communicate with people with reasonable depth and over a reasonable range of topics.
And wasn’t that why you started in the first place? 😉