What is the Average Reading Speed in Various Languages?

What is the Average Reading Speed in Various Languages?

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The average reading speed across all languages is 1.42 ± 0.13 texts/min (± Standard Deviation).

The average reading speed of most English-speaking adults is around 200 to 250 words per minute. But what about a native Italian speaker, or a native Japanese speaker? 

Have you ever wondered whether language determines reading speed? Some languages seem more complex than others, and presumably, the words per minute will be fewer than the average reading speed in English.

A study by Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science has found that people read the fastest in English, Spanish, and Dutch, with 228, 218 and 202 words per minute, respectively. At the same time, people who read in Arabic, Chinese and Finnish tend to do so at a slower pace, namely 138, 158 and 161 words per minute, respectively. 

Read on to find out the results for the average reading speed in more languages, as well as the factors that influence reading speeds, considering different languages and their characteristics.

Average reading speed in various languages

To find out the average rate that people read in their native language, a study took one piece of text that was at a sixth-grade reading level and translated it into 17 different languages. 436 participants ages 18 to 35 years read the text and were timed on how quickly they could do so. The number of words formulated in each text varied, especially when it came to Japanese, but most stayed within the 250-word range.

The researchers presented the text to readers all in the same font size and at the same viewing point distance. Below are the results of the average reading speeds for each of the 17 languages.

Language Code Number of words Texts/Min Words/Min Syllables/Min Characters/Min
Arabic 250 1.16 (0.17) 138 (20) 339 (48) 612 (88)
Chinese 250 1.67 (0.19) 158 (19) 255 (29) 255 (29)
Dutch 249 1.43 (0.21) 202 (29) 330 (49) 978 (143)
English 249 1.49 (0.18) 228 (30) 313 (38) 987 (118)
Finnish 250 1.59 (0.18) 161 (18) 426 (49) 1078 (121)
French 249 1.46 (0.18) 195 (26) 301 (39) 998 (126)
German 249 1.36 (0.13) 179 (17) 307 (30) 920 (86)
Hebrew 250 1.54 (0.25) 187 (29) 462 (73) 833 (130)
Italian 249 1.39 (0.20) 188 (28) 405 (61) 950 (140)
Japanese 360 1.21 (0.19) 193 (30) 447 (69) 357 (56)
Polish 249 1.31 (0.18) 166 (23) 354 (49) 916 (126)
Portuguese 250 1.35 (0.22) 181 (29) 376 (60) 913 (145)
Russian 250 1.46 (0.27) 184 (32) 439 (78) 986 (175)
Slovenian 250 1.32 (0.21) 180 (30) 232 (38) 885 (145)
Spanish 250 1.53 (0.19) 218 (28) 526 (64) 1025 (127)
Swedish 250 1.36 (0.23) 199 (34) 327 (56) 917 (156)
Turkish 250 1.51 (0.23) 166 (25) 444 (66) 1054 (156)

Source: Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science (iovs)

According to this study, it is clear that the various aspects that make up a language play a large role when it comes to reading speeds. For nonalphabetic Chinese and Japanese, the characters per minute are similar to syllables per minute for alphabetic languages. 

Something else that played a role in the character reading speed was vowels. Vowels in Hebrew and Arabic are partially written or nonexistent, making their character speed lower than in the other languages.

Spanish speakers read the fastest syllables at 526 syllables per minute. This is because Spanish has many short syllables. Compare that number to Slovenian speakers who read only 232 syllables per minute. When it comes down to words per minute, English was the fastest at 228, followed by Spanish and Dutch. 

Researchers also found that reading speeds changed with age. Older participants (60 – 85 years) read about 20% slower than the rest. With a little practice, that can improve. 

Factors that can influence reading speed

Reading speed is influenced by various factors, such as education, content type, and age. 

Reading speed increases with education level

Education level has a substantial impact on reading speed. People who read a lot are continually improving their reading skills. Thus, their reading speed is higher. College students, for instance, have more books to read and postgraduates even more books. 

Reading speed, therefore, increases with education level, reaching its peak in postgraduate students. This dynamic is common throughout all age groups. Overall, reading speed is influenced by one’s education level and time spent reading.

Reading speed increases if the reader is familiar with the content 

Acquaintance with the subject is also critical in achieving a higher reading speed. So if what you are reading is technical content, this will impact how quickly you can go through a text. Your reading speed rate is likely to increase the more familiar you are with the content you read.

Reading speed declines with age 

Age is another factor that determines reading acuity and reading speed. The reading speed picks from childhood to teenager and then gradually declines from young adulthood to old age. Senior citizens aged 60 to 85 years read at a slow speed.

Why average reading speed varies in different languages?

There are a couple of factors to consider when discussing reading speeds in different languages. One is the character length of words. Take the word “view” for example. In English, we can see that it is four letters long. When translated into Italian, visualizzazioni, it becomes 15 characters long. That’s a significant difference! Comparatively, in Japanese, the word “view” is two characters long 見る. Of course, this will influence how fast one reads in its native language.

Another factor is similar content across different languages. When determining why reading speeds vary in various languages, the amount of information needing comprehension must be the same, notwithstanding the different lengths of texts for other languages. 

The length of the text is fated since we are comparing alphabetic and non-alphabetic languages. The two have different language characteristics. For instance, Hebrew and Arabic vowels are not written or only partially written, while Chinese and Japanese languages are non-alphabetic. 

Thus, the valid measure of reading speeds using a stopwatch are words per minute, texts per minute, syllables per minute, and characters per minute, exclusive of punctuation marks and spaces. 

Natives also tend to read faster than individuals who speak the language as a second language.

Conclusion

The average reading speed varies across languages, age, expertise in the subject, how often one reads, language skills, native versus individuals who speak the language as a second language, and text difficulty. 

When considering language characteristics, reading speeds depend on the syllables, words and characters, not counting spaces and punctuation marks. English scores the highest number of words per minute, followed by Spanish with shorter syllables. In non-alphabetic languages, reading speed is slow since they have characters rather than syllables.

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