Fast Talkers

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All of a sudden it seems that my kids are fast talkers. They have something exciting to tell us and I find what they are saying incomprehensible. They are talking way too fast. I hear them talking like this with their friends. (The girls frequently have their friends over after school, and frequently hold their frenetic discussions right outside my office.) I find myself staring at them when they speak, then glancing around to see if anyone else is having trouble understanding what they are saying. Kelly doesn’t seem to be bothered by this, but she has super-hearing.

I’ve asked the kids to slow down when they speak. Kelly finds this amusing. “Aren’t you the one who listens to audio books at 1.7x normal speed?” Indeed I am the one who listens to audio books at that speed. Every now and then, while taking one of the kids to some event, I’ll have an audio book on in the car and the kids will ask how I can possibly understand what is being said with the narrator speaking so quickly. It would be a good lesson in irony if I wasn’t on the verge of apoplexy.

Still, Kelly’s comment bothered me. So did the kids’ observation about my audio book listening habits. Is it me? Something about my hearing maybe? I pondered these questions (as I often do) in the shower, and I think I finally settled on a satisfying (to me) answer. Why is it I have no trouble understanding an audio book narrator speaking at 1.7x normal speed, and my own kids sound virtually unintelligible to me when they speak? Well, consider…

The reason I listen to audio books at higher than normal speed is because the narrators are instructed to speak slowly and enunciate. Each work is spoken clearly and distinctly. A clear recording played faster is still clear, just faster. With my kids, on the other hand, things are different. First, they speak lightning fast without enunciating clearly. One word doesn’t quite finish, but instead blends into the next which doesn’t quite start. They are somehow not saying the complete words, but instead providing a gist of the word. Second, there are the barrage of thought-placeholders like “um” and “like” and “literally” that increase the noise in the signal. I don’t blame them for this. I was (an occasionally still am) a big user of “like” when I speak. But it does add to the mass of audio data that needs to be filtered out. Finally, they seem to speak entire paragraphs without taking a breath. Because of this, their words get faster and faster in a race for that final whiffs of dwindling air in their lungs.

None of this is true with audio book narrators. These days, when I listen to an audio book at normal, 1.0x speed, the narrator often sounds as if they are on quaaludes. They. Speak. So. Slowly. It. Is. Painful. But they speak clearly and that is the key. Speed them up, and it is clear speaking, faster. If my kids could speak more clearly, maybe, you know, say a complete word like “dude” instead of “due..” I’d understand them better when they spoke faster because it would be clear. Sometimes, after they’ve spoken an excited paragraph or two to me, I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck.

Well, that’s my rational as to why I can understand audio books at 1.7x speed and why it sounds like my own kids are speaking South Martian to me. There are probably other explanations, not the least of which is that I am just getting old.

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