Top 10 Languages in the USA: Speaking Rates Per Minute
The English language is one of the most popular languages globally, partly because it’s the universally-accepted language of science, politics, and business. But multiculturalism and multilingualism are alive and well within the USA, too, so content creators are constantly needing to translate their English scripts to other languages to reach broader audiences.
This is where voice actors come in. Voice over artists are lending their multilingualism to provide the translated recordings needed by content creators and brands, but the cost of these recordings vary because it may take more or less time to communicate the same message in a different language.
What Affects Speaking Rates and Costs?
The cost for hiring talent is usually based on the hours or minutes of finished voice over work or an industry rate based on a words per minute charge to be produced.
If the piece is recorded and cost estimated on the original English spot, recording it in another language may cost less or more, and may overrun or underrun previous time slots for the English version (if the content is airing in an advertising spot, for instance).
If the speed at which the talent can record the translated material seems similar to English, it’s possible not much will change. But a decrease in words per minute, like from English (200 wpm) to German (179 wpm), could mean a significant billing difference between the original and translated content.
Below, we’ll help you understand if you’re in a position to charge more for these types of projects, knowing that you’re providing a speaking rate based on the initial target audience, or on the English speaking rate.
The Top Ten Most Spoken Languages in the United States
There are over 350 languages spoken in the United States, but we will be looking at the reading and speaking rates for the top 10 most popular languages—excluding the English language—according to the 2010 US Census,
Each of these languages has a different per-word reading speed that varies from English’s standard 200-250 words per minute speed.
The comparison table below draws its words-per-minute data from a research study that examined the reading speed of native speakers of different languages.
In the study, a passage of text was translated into 17 languages at a sixth-grade reading level and given to 436 participants. The timed reading was then averaged by language category.
Speaking Rates Comparison Table
|Rank (Popularity)||Language||Words Per Minute (wpm)|
Various factors can influence the speaking and reading speed in different languages, such as:
- Length of the word
- Dropped or “swallowed” syllables
- Special characters
- Density of information in fewer words
For example, “please” is a simple six-letter, one-syllable word in English but becomes “s’il vous plait” or “s’il te plait” in French, which are longer, three-syllable phrases.
Top 10 Languages Up Close
Let’s take a closer look at each of the top ten languages:
The rate of speech varies per speaker, but Spanish is generally about 218 words-per-minute.
Native Spanish speakers tend to speak quicker sentences than English speakers, even when communicating the same message, because Spanish words have less information per syllable and shorter syllables, which allows them to be expressed quickly while giving out the same information.
There are also a variety of accents and dialects within the Spanish language (as there are in every language) that can make an impact on the speech rate, too.
Chinese (which includes Mandarin and Cantonese) is one of the slower languages to read, clocking in at about 158 words per minute. This is partly because Chinese and related languages use characters that allow for a character-per-word translation.
When translated to English, a typical Chinese speech averages out to 1.3 characters for each English word. Therefore, a voice actor providing an English to Mandarin translation is able to quote for a longer completed minutes project.
French is a language with one of the fastest speaking and reading rates. With a speaking rate of 5.02 syllables per second, equivalent to about 195 words per minute, the French language can speed through words via dropped syllables and abbreviating words.
While different dialects of French will raise and lower this average of 195 words per minute, providing the French recording of an English script will likely mean the quote will come in lower than the English recording would.
Tagalog, (a language of ¼ the population of the Philippines, and over 1 million people in the USA) has a speech rate of about 220 words per minute.
Native Tagalog speakers can speak the language quickly thanks to information-rich phrases often the same length as English phrases. With that comes phenomenal opportunities to provide exceptional dubbing of videos for both English and Tagalog speakers, the rates for which will be right on par with each other.
Much like Tagalog, the Vietnamese language is spoken at the rate of six syllables per second and possesses a density equal to the average number of syllables in most English sentences.
Native Vietnamese speakers are slightly slower at speaking than Spanish speakers, but faster than speakers of languages such as Mandarin or Korean. Falling in between like this gives way to numerous opportunities for Vietnamese speaking voice actors to provide translated readings of English scripts with a longer completed-minute final file, and for content creators to pursue simple dubbing projects that bring Vietnamese-dubbed versions of English videos to Vietnamese viewers, because the syllables per second are so similar to the English language.
The Korean language, or Hangul, has a speaking speed of about 150 words per minute.
Like Chinese, Korean also uses characters that don’t translate to a one-to-one character-to-word ratio, therefore allowing for much of the information to be communicated in less time than in the English language. These voice over jobs will result in much shorter completed final files.
The speaking rate of the German language is an average rate of 179 words per minute. François Pellegrino at the University of Lyon in France found German to have the second slowest speaking rate after Mandarin.
This could be because German phrases often include longer compound words that say the same amount as English, but in fewer words. English to German translated scripts will, then, result in longer completed minute final recordings than the original English recordings.
Russian has an average speaking rate of 184 words per minute, making it a slower language to speak than English.
Like other languages such as Spanish, Russian speakers often “swallow syllables” by running words together and decreasing the number of words they speak per minute.
With an average speaking rate of 188 words per minute that varies slightly based on the different regional varieties of the language, Italian sounds much faster than it actually is.
Rounding out the group of the top 10 most spoken languages in the USA, Portuguese has an average speaking rate of 181 words per minute.
This language has two aspects: Brazilian Portuguese and European Portuguese, although both have relatively similar spoken rates. This means that regardless of the type of Portuguese, the voice over projects resulting from English script translations will both result in shorter completed minute recordings than the original English recording.
Keep the Speech Rate in Mind when Budgeting—and Quoting—for Jobs on Translated Scripts
Every language has a different speaking rate, and yet the rate they pass along information from speaker to audience will often average 200-250 words per minute. Using these tables as estimates can help to start the discussion about different speaking rates and the voice over rates that go along with them.
Having knowledge about different reading and speaking rates can help keep you aware of the differences, plan and budget accordingly, and reach a multicultural audience.
Sign up for a free account on Voices to find voice actors in these 10 languages, or to book voice over work in these languages if you’re a multilingual speaker!