Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Talk Faster, Listen Faster

One of the complaints I hear from the classes I teach is that I talk too fast. I've tried to work on it, but maybe I shouldn't:
The average person talks at a rate of about 125 – 175 words per minute, while we can listen at a rate of up to 450 words per minute
Even if that second number is half what the research says it is, we should all be talking faster.


  1. Absolutely, if you can pull it off there is no reason not to speak quickly. People who talk fast also seem smarter.

    My hypothesis is that not only can people understand you just as well but that they might understand you better if you speak quickly. My theory for why my comprehension has improved since playing podcasts at 1.7x speed is that it forces me to focus more on every word instead allowing my mind to wander off in between phrases.

  2. students are just complaining because they can't copy down everything you say :-)

  3. And that's just because they are talking themselves, ha ha.

  4. Dude. No. I've heard you talk. I can only imagine how fast you go in a classroom. Take the kids' advice and slow down.

    As a professional that assesses and retrains language comprehension and speech production skills, believe me that "listening" is more complex than you're making it out to be. You have to consider a student's attention, processing speed, ability to organize and plan, and memory.

    I'd assume when you teach, you'd like your students to be able to understand what you're saying, be able to mull those ideas over, and then later be able to recall some of the information? If so, you need to give them a chance to do so - which means not talking at lightning speeds. I'm not saying slow motion, just slower than full throttle Harrison speech.

    Also, that statistic is being used out of context both on that stupid Listening Association website and by you. What that study actually says is that with specific training, a person can process up to that speed - but the study wanted to find out the ceiling speed at which people process auditory information. Not what is an effective speed for learning. A later study by the same dude (Carver 1973) finds:

    "It takes a fixed amount of time to relate the stimulus, or input words, to the long-term stored information, and a certain minimum number of these chunks of information must remain in short-term storage in order for the chunks to get processed. When this minimum time requirement is exceeded, there is no information processed."

    All to say, your students' complaint is legit - slow down!

    (Also "we should all be talking faster" would result in many more people who stutter and demonstrate other speech difficulties, so no, we shouldn't.)

  5. Who am I to argue with the graduate of Vanderbilt in Language Pathology? I'm convinced. Or should I should I say: I- -a-m- -c-o-n-v-i-n-c-e-d.

  6. haha : ) just advocating for the students

    if you need some ideas for decreasing speech rate, let me know. and also, happy thanksgiving!!

  7. Wow, yeah, tough to argue with that.

    Another thing to consider is that it is especially difficult to take handwritten notes when someone is speaking even at normal speed (a typical person writes between 20 and 30 words per minute).

  8. I love it when friends get to use what they've learned first-hand. It's like having experts around you all the time! Great discussion, guys. Really interesting read.


You are the reason why I do not write privately. I would love to hear your thoughts, whether you agree or not.