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Archive for January, 2011

Do Spanish-Speakers Really Talk Too Fast?

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

As a language instructor, many people interested in learning Spanish say to me: “I try to understand Spanish, but they speak too fast.” My response is that it may seem that way, when you first start learning, but once you feel more comfortable with the language, it won’t feel as though the Spanish-speakers are speaking so quickly. As you progress with your knowledge of the language, you won’t even notice the speed of the words being spoken.

When people are beginning to learn a new language, they usually try to listen to every single sound in every single word that a speaker says. Then they translate each word they hear. When they’ve finally translated the word in their head, they’re already many words behind. It can certainly be frustrating for beginning learners, but if they keep practicing, it won’t be so difficult.

Eventually, listening to Spanish becomes just like listening to English; you hear the whole sentence and you understand everything that was said, naturally, without translating. When you have a strong grasp of the language, you no longer have to focus on each word individually. You understand the language in chunks instead of separate words.

I also suggest to those with the concern about Spanish-speakers talking too quickly, to pay attention to their own rate of speech and realize how fast English must sound to a non-native English-speaker. If you say a few sentences out loud, you’ll notice how the words sometimes blend together as you say them. It’s the same as when you’re listening to a Spanish-speaker. It seems fast, but it’s just a natural rate of speech.

Besides the above mentioned reasons why Spanish may seem faster to English-speakers, there are some other factors to consider. I’ve noticed that there are definite variations in the pronunciation of words and the rate of speech among native Spanish-speakers. The differences I’ve observed depend on gender, the country of origin and the topic being discussed.

As far as gender affecting a person’s language, in my experience, sometimes women seem to pronounce words more completely from the first syllable to the last. Their pronunciation of words appears to be clearer and at a slower pace. On the contrary, men seem to cut off the endings of words and blend them together more often. I can’t say that I’ve read research on this topic; it’s just something I’ve observed personally.

Another factor to consider is that Spanish-speakers may come from an array of countries and that may also affect how fast they talk. Culture influences the language of people, so it seems only natural that those from different countries may speak differently. Next time you’re listening to a Spanish-speaker, pay attention to how they pronounce their words and how quickly they are speaking. Take note of the country where they were born and see if you can find a correlation with others from the same country.

A final aspect that I’ve noticed affects a person’s rate of speech is the particular topic the speaker is discussing. If it is a casual conversation, the speaker has a relaxed, slower pace to their communication. If it is a sensitive or volatile subject being discussed, the speaker increases the speed at which they speak. This probably happens no matter what language is being spoken.

Overall, I believe that a Spanish-speaker may sound like he or she is speaking faster, but there are many reasons why this may seem true to a beginning language learner.  After much practice with the new language, it won’t matter how fast they are speaking. When you internalize the language, understanding it becomes natural to you, no matter how fast they talk. It just takes lots of practice with the language, but you’ll get there!