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Speaking Speed for Adults and Children

5 September, 2010

Couple of factoids for you.  I can’t cite this, so my bibliography would fail, but it’s certainly anecdotally true (and I recall it came off a scientific study – but you’ll have to look that up).

  • Here’s the first one: Adults can speak at 160 to 170 words per minute.

That doesn’t sound too bad.  That’s three words a second.  Of course, none of us go around measuring ourselves speak, so it has no real impact.

Just to give you some perspective – as a public speaker, it was made very clear to me that I should speak no faster than 150 words per minute.  This slight-looking change allowed everyone to figure out what I said before I kept going (speaking speed was, sadly, a struggle that I had for many years).

  • Here’s the second one: Children, from 5 to 7 years of age, can only handle 124 words per minute.

Let’s make sure we understand that one – that’s two words per second.  Again, not that much.  The proportion brings that home better – children when they begin primary school can only handle adults talking at about 67% of their normal speed.

What’s the moral of the story?

The moral is clear if you’re a primary school teacher (or want to be): speak slowly.  Use a stopwatch, if necessary.

For everyone else, it’s a little bigger: make sure that what you’re saying is comprehensible.  Sometimes there will be students who will need you to speak slowly – particularly if you’re in the younger grades.  Sometimes, though, you just need to make sure that everyone can understand you.

Children aren’t adults.  Educators slowly mold them into adults, yes; but until they are, we educators must accept that they are not, and adjust accordingly.

The speed at which we speak is the first step.

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3 Comments
  1. 5 September, 2010 3:48 pm

    I have the same speed problem of speaking too fast. At work I have to consciously remember to slow down, especially when I am training people or explaining something to someone.

    • 13 September, 2010 8:22 pm

      Are there any methods that you’ve found to be helpful in remembering to slow down?

      • 13 September, 2010 11:07 pm

        Yep: the look on their face when I can tell they have no idea what i’m talking about (or they ask me to slow down)

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