What is the Average Reading Speed in Various Languages?

What is the Average Reading Speed in Various Languages?


As we’ve discussed in a previous post, 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? There are a couple of factors to consider when discussing reading speeds between 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. Let’s see how this plays a role when it comes to reading speeds in different 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 researches 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 CodeNumber of wordsTexts/MinWords/MinSyllables/MinCharacters/Min
Arabic2501.16 (0.17)138 (20)339 (48)612 (88)
Chinese2501.67 (0.19)158 (19)255 (29)255 (29)
Dutch2491.43 (0.21)202 (29)330 (49)978 (143)
English2491.49 (0.18)228 (30)313 (38)987 (118)
Finnish2501.59 (0.18)161 (18)426 (49)1078 (121)
French2491.46 (0.18)195 (26)301 (39)998 (126)
German2491.36 (0.13)179 (17)307 (30)920 (86)
Hebrew2501.54 (0.25)187 (29)462 (73)833 (130)
Italian2491.39 (0.20)188 (28)405 (61)950 (140)
Japanese3601.21 (0.19)193 (30)447 (69)357 (56)
Polish2491.31 (0.18)166 (23)354 (49)916 (126)
Portuguese2501.35 (0.22)181 (29)376 (60)913 (145)
Russian2501.46 (0.27)184 (32)439 (78)986 (175)
Slovenian2501.32 (0.21)180 (30)232 (38)885 (145)
Spanish2501.53 (0.19)218 (28)526 (64)1025 (127)
Swedish2501.36 (0.23)199 (34)327 (56)917 (156)
Turkish2501.51 (0.23)166 (25)444 (66)1054 (156)

Source: Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science (iovs)

Through 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 Chinese and Japanese, nonalphabetic languages, the characters per minute are similar to syllables per minute for alphabetic languages. Something else that played a role in the character speed was vowels. Vowels in Hebrew and Arabic are partially written, or nonexistent, making their character speed lower than 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 then 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. Want to beat the bell curve and read faster? Contact us today to find out more about all of our courses that can help you to read faster, comprehend more, and stay focused.

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