At Slate, “Bob Garfield and Mike Vuolo discuss the widespread belief that other languages are spoken more rapidly than your own”; it’s a podcast, but they sensibly provide a full transcript for people like me who prefer to take in information visually. I’ll give you the key paragraph and let you read the rest over there:

What they found was that the languages with the longer blocks of text, like Spanish, were spoken faster and the languages with the shorter blocks of text, like English and Chinese, were spoken slower – so that the rate of communicating information was approximately the same.

Makes sense to me.


  1. Makes sense to me.
    It would make sense if the languages themselves were in competition, trying to impart information at the same rate, but they aren’t. Some people speak fast in English, to get through their own long blocks of text before you leave or fall asleep, and some speak slowly to spread the few words out thinly. I expect it’s the same in other languages.

  2. marie-lucie says

    I am not sure what is meant by “languages with longer/shorter blocks of text”.

  3. I think they mean languages that require more words or fewer words to say the same thing.

  4. Time had an article on this, entitled Slow Down! Why some languages sound fast in November last year. In fact, I thought I found it through Languagehat.

  5. Pimsleur and a couple of his colleagues determined that an average speech rate is between 160 and 190 words per minute.
    People delivering speeches in English speak at a rate of about 110 words per minute.
    A blind friend has specialized equipment and software for “reading” books and on-screen text that allows him to speed up the audio delivery to 300 words per minute and possibly more, which is about the reading rate of sighted people whose native language is English. Unlike the blur of high-pitched squeaks emitted from standard audio cassettes running at high speed, the devices maintain normal tones. They even allow him to select different “voices,” both male and female. I don’t recall the brand names of his devices but here’s a sampling.

  6. cathasturias says

    Tv newsreaders in English in UK read at 3 words/sec = 180 words/min. I know, I wrote it!

  7. Paul Odgen is talking about text-to-speech, but it is also possible to speed up recorded speech without changing the pitch. It is often marketed to students to speed up listening to a recorded lecture.
    The approach involves shortening all the pauses down to a minimum length, and I think some system also shorten extended vowel sounds while leaving the consonants the same.
    I’ve heard speech sped up by around 50% by this kind of technique, and it’s pretty intelligible, although it makes me feel like I’m listening to someone from New York City.
    When I’m listening to a language that’s not my native language, speed (or length) can be a problem though. There’s a lag processing the beginning of the sentence and then I miss the rest. So I might be able to deal with “Did you enjoy your visit to the art gallery?” but not “The minister stated that prospects for increased employment in the industrial sector would depend on creating a favourable economic climate for foreign manufacturing firms”, even if I could understand each piece by itself.

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