How to use Warren Buffett’s 5/25 rule to learn a foreign language

The 5/25 rule comes from a piece of advice that Warren Buffett gave to his personal airline pilot. They were talking about the pilot’s career when Warren told him to make a 25-item list of his professional goals.

Maybe it’s true. Maybe it’s just a legend. But whether the story is real or not doesn’t matter. The advice is gold either way. And we’re going to see how you can apply the 5/25 rule to learn a foreign language.


The 5/25 rule in 3 steps

The rule is very simple. And very efficient. The goal is to focus on what matters. You want to prioritize what you need to work on, and discard everything else. Here are the 3 simple steps to apply the 5/25 rule to your goals:

  1. Make a list of 25 items with your goals (professional, personal, …).
  2. Choose the 5 most important items of this list.
  3. Focus on these 5 items from now on. And ONLY on these 5. Forget about the other 20.

The steps are simple, but you may need to spend several minutes (or hours?!) on each one.


Learning a foreign language with the 5/25 rule

It’s easy to become overwhelmed when you start learning a foreign language.

You want to buy a dictionary, or download a brand new app.

You want to learn grammar rules, or make flashcards.

Ouh and you also have to find a language partner!

And remember to book that sexy Spanish tutor for one-on-one lessons.

And you need to finally read this polyglot’s blog.

And… and… and… and that’s too much!! You need to make choices and to prioritize. The 5/25 rule is here to help you.


Let me give you an example. I plan to learn Russian in the next few months. My initial list would look like this:

  1. Read the Wikipedia page Russian phonology.
  2. Write a Russian roem (rap+poem).
  3. Find Russian singers.
  4. Record myself saying simple Russian words to check my pronunciation.
  5. Learn the Russian alphabet.
  6. Sing Russian songs.
  7. Find Russian Youtubers I like.
  8. Set a goal.
  9. Film myself saying a few Russian sentences everyday.
  10. Create drills to master Russian sounds.
  11. Create a Russian one pager, with pronunciation tips and basic grammar rules.
  12. Find Russian IGers.
  13. I heard about a Russian social media, can I do something with it to learn Russian?
  14. Try Russian recipes.
  15. Plan a trip in Russia.
  16. Use the app hinative to get feedback.

Ok I only have 16 items. But you get the point. Write 25 if you have 25. Write only 10 if you can’t think of anything else. Or write 60 if you can’t stop writing!


Now I need to choose the 5 most important items to get started:

  1. Read the Wikipedia page Russian phonology.
  2. Find Russian singers.
  3. Record myself saying simple Russian words to check my pronunciation.
  4. Set a goal.
  5. Create drills to master Russian sounds.

And I let go of everything else!

It doesn’t mean that the rest doesn’t matter. It means that it doesn’t matter NOW! You only have so much brain power at every moment. When you know (and decide) what to focus on, you become more efficient.

These 5 items are, according to me, the most important things I need to focus on at the beginning. And I can also reorganize them, by priority:

  1. Set a goal.
  2. Read the Wikipedia page Russian phonology.
  3. Create drills to master Russian songs.
  4. Record myself saying simple Russian words to check my pronunciation.
  5. Find Russian singers.


Let me give you another example. I’m learning German right now. And my routine consists of 5 items:

  1. Find a song.
  2. Work the song.
  3. Read the lyrics and their translation.
  4. Review previous songs.
  5. Work on my German roem.

These 5 goals are on repeat everyday. And that’s all I focus on. It’s worth noting that I didn’t do it on purpose. I naturally created a routine of 5 items.


Clear, rinse, & repeat

You make your list of 25 items.

You choose your 5 most important goals.

You work on these 5 goals.

And then you make a new list of 25 items…

Clear, rinse, and repeat.

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