One of the main pet peeves Spanish language learners tend to have is the speed at which native speakers talk, spitting out words at a rate more suited to rap battles against the clock.
Could it just be because learning a new language can be overwhelming and so many words are still foreign? Is it just the perception that talkative Spaniards give when quickly telling a story before somebody else butts into the conversation?
Well, turns out it’s not just a perception but a scientific fact that Spaniards speak faster on average than English speakers.
In a scientific study published in September 2019 by Scientific Advances magazine, researchers found that Spanish was only second to Japanese in terms of the rate of syllables spoken per second.
Japanese and Spanish were followed by Basque in third, then Finnish, Italian, Serbian, Korean, Catalan, Turkish, French and English in 11th position.
However, if during your Spanish language acquisition you’ve theorized whether English is a more precise language, you’d also be right.
When researchers Christophe Coupé, Yoon Mi Oh, Dan Dediu and François Pellegrino quantified the amount of information conveyed in bits per second for each of the studied languages, they found that all of them – including English and Spanish – did so at roughly the same speed.
They achieved this by recording the rate at which 170 native speakers read 15 texts out loud.
In terms of grammar, English speakers have ‘advantageous’ rules such as contractions (I am – I’m, I will not – I won’t), phrasal verbs (“look up” as opposed to “levantar la mirada”), the Saxon Genitive (Adam’s car) and an easier use of nouns as adjectives.
By comparison the team found that one spoken syllable of Spanish transmitted very little information i.e. e-qui-po vs team.
In general terms, languages packed with information are spoken slower, while simpler ones are spoken faster.
Across the board there’s a “synchronization” based on the speed of assimilation of listeners.
So the next time you’re left asking “¿Qué?” when a native Spanish speaker jabbers something to you, remember that it’s not your imagination – Spanish is indeed a speedy language.
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