Stopwatch, Stopwatch On My Wrist: Who’s the Fastest Language On Our List?

Any bookworms out there? Any people who devour words off of pages faster than those words were probably imagined? Anyone guilty of having a books I have read list that is longer than a books I want to read?

To those of you out there with a voracious appetite for literature, the answer to the question is there a fastest language to read in, the answer for you is probably mine.

But is there an actual language that is more efficient for reading in, assuming you have a) already mastered said language and b) are proficient enough to recognise the language’s colloquialisms and eccentricities essential to understanding the story?

Let’s take a look!

Hitting the (science) books


Photo via Wikipedia

Any scientist will tell you that a hypothesis is necessary, crucial even, to any controlled experiment. Linguistics is considered a science, and therefore back in 2011 when Pellegrino et. al. produced a paper on the speed of languages, their hypothesis was this:



(From: A cross-language perspective on speech information rate, Pellegrino et. al.)

Essentially, despite all the difference between languages, they are all conveyed at approximately the same speed—at least when spoken, since this is what the study was conducted into. However, at the beginning of the study linguists had sixty native speakers of the chosen group of languages being studied to each read twenty texts, to gather an average yet accurate reading speed for those languages overall. Spanish and Japanese, probably as no huge surprise, appeared to be the two fastest, and Mandarin the slowest.

Again, there will be no surprises that those reading speeds went on to correlate with the spoken ones as well. So that would mean our investigation is over already, because we already looked at this in an earlier article—Japanese is already a clear winner!

So should we stop now, pack up our own little look into the fastest language to read and find something else to do with our day? No! No, we should not!

On with the science!


GIF via Giphy

One more spiel about the technical stuff and we swear we will move on. A study by Fuchuan Sun et. al. back in 1985 theorised in a study between the speed of reading English and Chinese, that speed when reading was less to do with the language itself, and more to do with limitations imposed on readers by higher level cognitive processes.

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Since our spatial skills allow us to recognise both individual patterns (a single Chinese character for example) and long strings of words (a sentence in English) at approximately the same speed so long as the reader is proficient in the chosen language, the paper adds weight to the theory by some linguists that the reading – and speaking speed of languages is more or less the same, because syllabic rate versus information density means everything evens out in the end. Mandarin may take up less space on the paper than English does, but that does not mean it doesn’t have an equal amount of things to day.

Back to Japanese…

… because it still appears that, as far as language forums are generally concerned despite what the science is telling us, Japanese is both the quickest language to speak, and to read. Kanji, the logographic representation of the Japanese language, at first glance already looks a lot simpler than the Chinese Hanyu it has been adapted from over time. Japanese language fans will also tell you that the characters jump off of the page at them and that the verb stems stand out prominently against the hiragana – one of the Japanese syllabary components of the language, making the written language relatively easy to pick up.

Japanese sounds complicated to master, because there are three different components to the written language that have to be understood before you can seriously read at any speed – two we have already mentioned, kanji and hiragana, but the third is katakana, yet another Japanese syllabary. There are literally hundreds of tricks and tips out there for learning to pick up Japanese fast: the point must be then, that once you are in, you are in. You too can read like the wind, and speak at a million miles a minute.


Photo via Wikimedia

To conclude…

Science tells us that all languages are read at more or less the same speed, but pseudoscience and those that are actually learning Japanese as a second language will tell you that Japanese is the speed champion. Who knows who to believe; scientists are not infallible either, after all!

Over to you, language learners. In your own experience, is there a language that you have, or are learning, that seems quicker to read than others or your own native one? Let us know!