The need for speed
A few years ago, the Université de Lyon conducted research into the speed at which languages are spoken. The researchers wanted to explore why speaking quickly doesn’t result in transmitting information in less time.
To unravel this interesting conundrum, volunteers were recorded reading 20 different texts in their native languages.
Vowels, stress and hedging
It isn’t only the information density of English which has resulted in it being a comparatively slow language.
The English language features 20 vowel sounds, and this necessitates a certain degree of verbal gymnastics when enunciating words. This high level of linguistic agility requires speakers to slow down.
On the other hand, there are only five vowel sounds in Spanish, enabling speakers to fire off syllables at a much faster rate.
In addition, spoken English involves a complex system of stresses. Certain parts of sentences are stressed, and this involves the inclusion of small pauses. In some languages, most or all syllables are equally stressed, removing the need for the pauses that tend to punctuate spoken English.
Are faster languages more difficult to master?
It is no harder to learn to speak a faster language than it is to master a slower one. Beginners will speak the new language slowly anyway as they need to think about everything they are saying.
However, it is harder for most beginners to understand other people speaking a faster language.