Rates of Speech/Importance of SLOW

This comment-turned-article is why Robert Harrell was first published here last winter. It is worth a re-read, or a thousand of them throughout this coming year. It is so incredible – I would like to memorize those numbers below, especially the one about Mr. Rogers. If those numbers are right, then we all have a lot of slowing down to do this year:

Suzanne Perez Tobias of the Wichita Eagle published an article in 2008 (August 22) about the research done by Ray Hull, an audiologist at the University of Wichita. He says that most adults speak too quickly for children to process in their native language.

The basic facts:

1. Average 5-to-7 year olds process their native language at about 120 words per minute.

2. Average high school students process native language at about 140-145 words per minute.

3. Average adults speak at 170 words per minute.

Fred Rogers (“Mister Rogers”) trained himself to speak at a rate of 124 words per minute – and kept children spellbound.

Hull says, “Anybody who works with children will save a great deal of time if they will simply speak at a rate children can comprehend.”

He gives an example from school: “So when an algebra teacher is speaking at 160 or 180 words per minute and is introducing a new math concept … that is a problem.”

Now consider that our students are processing a foreign language.

I’m still trying to slow down enough.

Here’s a link to comments on the original article:
http://www.dyslexia.wordpress.com/2008/08/28/help-students-hear-your-words-speak-slower-says-audiology-professor/

And here is a comment on this topic from Chris Stoltz which also sheds valuable light on the subject:

Simple speed test:

110 wpm is on the high end for a 2nd language class. Get your phone’s stopwatch and read the following sentence aloud:

“Tomorrow, I am going to the store with Mary and John.” That should take 10-11 seconds. If you can go that slow, you are at the right speed for a 2nd language class.

It’s AMAZING how slow we have to go!

Chris

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19 thoughts on “Rates of Speech/Importance of SLOW”

  1. Most people do not place Fred Rogers in with the most important thinkers of the 20th century. But in terms of the impact he has had on people, I think he deserves to be ranked up there with the other great philosophers, educators, theorists, etc. There are few collections of his phrases/aphorisms (“The World According to Mr. Rogers”) that are as worth having on your shelf as anything by Marcus Aurelius, Plato, etc. And certainly more worthwhile than any new age self-help junk that is out there.

  2. I did a workshop today and at the end of the demo the participants read a 250-word German story — in 3 verb tenses– no prob (after I asked it). When the “wow!”s all died down, somebody said “so what’s the secret?” and I answered with “GO SLOW.” They looked at me quizzically– a lot of French immersion teachers.

    When I said “das…Mädchen…wollte…eine…blaue…Katze” they all understood. When I said it at regular speed there was silence and one guy said “well you never taught us that.”

  3. ‘120 words per minute’

    That is 2 words per second. I just tried the following reading. There are 60 words in Spanish. I read for 30 seconds w/ a cadence in which I felt slow. I read only 38 words in 30 seconds (up to the diagonal). This is 1.25 words per second. When I read more words I felt fast. So conclude that slow is about half as fast as Mr. Rogers.

    (Micaela, la hija de Inés, necesitaba comprar un vestido para el baile de fin de año de la escuela. Inés y Micaela fueron al centro comercial, pues pensaron que allí había mucho almacenes que estaban abiertos hasta muy / tarde. Querían comprar el vestido, los zapatos y las joyas. Cuando llegaron al primer almacén Micaela pensó que todo era muy …) From Piedad Gutiérrez’ Avancemos TPRS, Dos, p. 35.

    One issue may be that slow is different in different languages. I recall a study which compared Spanish and English. Spanish was perceived to be spoken faster. But English actually resulted in more syllables per second. Spanish is spoken more evenly, like staccato in music. English is spoken less evenly, in groups with pauses between.

    Thinking about it this way, perhaps syllables per minute/second may be a more helpful measure for Spanish or languages which have a staccato feel.

    1. Wow! That musicality piece of the rhythm of the language is so much a part of language and why second language learners sound so stilted to native speakers. Thank you for the reminder.

      We all want to get to the flow of the language as it sounds naturally, but what we really need to do is SLOW down. If the listener’s ears aren’t tuned to the rhythm of the language at speed, they can’t understand and above all we are doing this language learning so we can communicate.

    2. Simple speed test:

      110 wpm is on the high end for a 2nd lang class. Get your phone’s stopwatch and read the following sentence aloud:

      “Tomorrow, I am going to the store with Mary and John.” That should take 10-11 seconds. If you can go that slow, you are at the right speed for a 2nd lang class.

      It’s AMAZING how slow we have to go!

      Chris

  4. This is one of my biggest weaknesses as an instructor. I just forget, or get impatient, or don’t pay enough attention, or try to cram too much into a class. There are a million excuses for it… but I need to get better at going slow.

  5. Joseph, one of our group members who lives in France, Judy Dubois, wrote the comment below in response to another thread just today. I cut and pasted it in here, as I think it provides a fine answer to your question:

    I’ve been readinq a very interesting book called “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Prize winner for his research on thought processes. He describes what he calls System I, which “operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control,” and System II, “a slower, more deliberate and effortful form of thinking.” And he states that it is System I which understands language. Duh. He makes a clear distinction between acquisition and learning. I don’t think expecting teachers to have some idea of how the brain acquires language is unreasonable. Comprehensible Input is not some hippy New Age thing. It’s science and it’s there for anyone who cares to read about it.

  6. Just a Sunday afternoon tangent:

    I was thinking of all you Latinists here this morning listening to the choral piece below (If you’re into choral music at all, I recommend this if you don’t know it!). The text is set so slow that I can really understand the Latin as it’s sung…so cool! Is this how slow you Latinists speak in class? This is how slow I need to speak to my kids next year. And just as beautifully and calmly too, hopefully : )

    O Magnum Mysterium, by Morten Lauridsen:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nn5ken3RJBo

    Text:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/O_Magnum_Mysterium

    And another sublimely SLOW piece for the Russianists (I could listen to this piece for years on end):
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=InMhSNBlIg8

    Happy SLOW listening : )

  7. Hey Ben, I found this blog response that I wrote back in October 2008! Yikes–time flies!!! I had discovered “slow”–what felt like painfully “slow.” Thought it might be fun to revisit:

    “I am having an absolutely transformative experience around “speaking very slowly” and “pause and point” this year. Truly slowing down brought up so much anxiety and fear about my “fast kids” – a completely relative term with beginners, that I really never did it consistently. I THOUGHT I was doing it – ha. right. If you truly get SLOW, then you don’t give a thought to much else. It is a state of being and it goes more purely to a more pure story, a more honest story, one that sounds like English to the kids, and TPRS is bumped up to a fine level, a pure level. Not the Pure Land, which only is an affair of moments, but close.

    I have forced myself to take the challenge and the result has been thoroughly, counter-intuitively positive. It is a no-brainer to understand that my slower kids would benefit from me slowing down my speech, but the excitement of my fast kids is what has me completely surprised and enthused. They are engaged as they never have been before. The whole class swells and surges together – the Pacific Ocean on a tranquil, sunny day. I have been doing it with all of my classes, at first, thinking that it was just that specific group of kids who was responding. Well, I have six classes – we are talking home run in all of them. I am going to keep at it and see what happens.”

    Saludos desde México, Jody

  8. This is a wonderful reminder….thank you for reposting it!! Through a few odd loops of serendipity, next week I will be in St. Augustine FL doing a workshop for adult volunteers (mostly retirees who were not teachers) mixed with early childhood educators. The topic is reading with pre-readers and early readers. (you never know where this work will take you!!) This piece about timing is just perfect!! Thanks again!

    with love,
    Laurie

  9. Jody I remember those days of talking about slow with you online. I felt that what you wrote about slow was just about the most important thing I had read or would ever read about how to make TPRS work. As I reflect back, I was right.

    I guess we file this one under “The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same.” I would even suggest that the idea of slowing down to snail-like speech, as per our conversations back in 2008, may have played a principle role in my beginning, just then in 2007 and 2008, to finally experience success with this approach. And I started in 2001.

    Here is a suggestion for people who are new to this way of teaching: don’t even think about speaking at the rate you think is o.k. Go SLOW. Now go SLOWER. Now go SLOWEST. Now, SLOW DOWN from that pace, because that is too fast. And after you have SLOWED DOWN to that really slow pace, back it down even more. Then you will experience something.

    And I TOTALLY GET what you are saying about the response of your upper level kids to your ultra slow pace. It’s magic, is what it is.

    I am so glad to hear from you.

  10. And something from Carol Gaab at iFLT. Slowing down by inserting natural pauses and taking a breath to avoid sounding slow mo-ish. Like phrasing in a musical line and taking a breath where it would naturally occur in a sentence. It was awesome to see Katya Paukova ratchet up her speed after 20 hours of Russian last week.

  11. Alisa Shapiro-Rosenberg

    I just shared the stats with the 4th graders and timing myself saying, “Tomorrow I am going to the store with Mary and Jim” to show them what I mean.

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