We investigate the fastest languages on the planet and determine whether speed is a good indication of difficulty level.
Some foreign tongues, like Spanish, obviously sound faster to non-native speakers than others – a recent study analyzed this perceived variation and concluded that languages are, in fact, spoken at different speeds!
You’re So (Information) Dense!
Time confirmed that linguists examined different languages’ “information density,” which is a measure of the average amount of relevant data found in a single syllable. For example, the English word “bliss” might be just one syllable, but it offers a high level of information density. It describes a specific type of happiness that the listener understands to be a serene sense of joy. In contrast, Spanish translates bliss closely to the word una gloria or the phrase ¡qué maravilla! (“What bliss!”), both of which refer to an identical concept but are several syllables longer.
If many syllables are information-dense, fewer of them need to be spoken per second to convey a message or idea. This results in a slower rate of speech.
On the other hand, the more syllables a speaker needs to verbalize, the faster he or she must speak to communicate an equivalent amount of information within the same period of time compared to someone speaking a concise, information-dense language. So, some languages are indeed faster than others, but how does this affect how easy or difficult they are to learn?
And The Results Are In…
Many new Spanish learners feel that native speakers talk extraordinarily fast, and they are correct! Spanish placed second in speed, even though it earned a spot on the list of “10 Easiest Foreign Languages for English Speakers to Learn,” according to Business Insider. In contrast, Mandarin and Japanese, while also incredibly fast spoken languages, have reputations for being extremely difficult to learn, especially for English speakers, because they utilize over a thousand unique characters in their writing systems.
It is therefore fascinating that Spanish and Japanese are the top two fastest languages, indicating that there is little correlation between the speed of speech and how difficult it is to learn.