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In a book called The 4-Hour Body by Tim Ferris, Tim applies Pareto Principle (also known as the “80/20 rule”)

Vilfredo Pareto

to gaining conversational proficiency in speaking and understanding a language. He states the following:

95% proficiency with conversational Spanish = 2,500 words = 5 months

98% proficiency with conversational Spanish = 100,000 words = 5 years

Thus, learning 2.5% of the words in the Spanish language would yield 95% of the desired result – – – in this case, the desired result is to both join in  and understand conversations in a particular language.

“The trick is finding that 2.5%” – Tim Ferris

How can I apply that to learning Italian, and later, to learning Spanish? Well, quite simply: find the 2.5%. I would think that this 2.5% would be easily found on the internet, but not so. After searching and reading a bit, I’ve learned that the problem isn’t in finding it as in a game of hide and seek, its to identify it as in: many people claim they know that 2.5%, and are willing to share it with you, however, each of these options are different in some way, thus its clear that the 2.5% hasn’t been exactly identified.

But thats not a problem really. Instead of 5 months, I’ll just need to study for 7 or 8 to make up for the inefficiencies in the identifying of the 2.5%.

Of course, this is not saying one would merely need to memorize 2,500 words in order to become 95% conversational in a particular language. This process would include learning the grammar and sentence structure that goes along with it.

After thinking about all of this, I’m bit frustrated that I haven’t learned Italian yet.

Very frustrated actually.

To think that I could have spent the first 7 or 8 months of my time here, studying for 30-45 minutes per day, and have become 95% proficient in conversational Italian…well, its quite disappointing. Many opportunities have been missed as a result. Yet, its not so much that I’ve been lazy and not taken that time, its more of an issue of other things taking priority over that time – including traveling, freelancing, exercising, and spending time with my wife. All of which, of course, are good things.

I have another 1-2 months until I finish my day-to-day time here in Italy (I’ll be finishing my contract with Vivocha and then traveling for several months before returning to the United States). With that 1-2 months, I could spend time each day studying Italian…specifically the 2.5%. I won’t reach the 95%, but I do have a head start since I have been learning some Italian, and have been around it and listened to it quite a bit over the last 8 months.

This effort is going to be an exercise in efficiency more than anything. There are a lot of activities I need to optimize, and if I do so, I’m sure I can find the 30-45 minutes each day that I need to study Italian.

I think my plan will be this:

  1. Identify the 2.5%
  2. Review the current use of my time, and find ways to act more efficiently
  3. Schedule the 30-45 minutes each day

Step #4 is to execute. If you haven’t realized already, its the most important of the 4. 🙂