India

Why Do Some People Talk Lightning Fast?

I have a lot of Indian clients who talk fast, really fast. It’s not even just the speed, it’s the up and down intonation and feels random to a native speaker of American English. The hardest part is figuring out how to have a conversation with someone who is talking lightning fast. When you try to wait for a pause, one never comes. If you try to interrupt, they just keep talking. It leaves American listeners wondering if there is a cue for when to speak or if they have to “work for it” by talking really loud or more aggressively interrupting.

I asked some of my south Indian clients who talk like that what is driving them, and what I learned was fascinating. They told me in India (at least in their part of India and in their peer groups) speaking fast is a sign of intelligence. The inference is that “dumb people talk slowly” so you have to speed up to be heard and taken seriously as being “intelligent.”

What struck me as so interesting about this is that in US culture one could argue just the opposite. People who talk lightning fast are generally considered hard to follow and in some venues “powerless.” I say “powerless” because they are the ones who can’t control their own time … perhaps because they have bosses who control them, so they have to rush. Executives, on the other hand talk more deliberately, and the more in control they are, the more they have the freedom to pause and talk clearly and deliberately, taking time to organize their thoughts. That’s “power”.

I also suspect that if these speedy south Indians want to slow down, it could help to think of it as “powerful speech” rather than “dumbing it down”. If nothing else, it’s more of a psychological draw.

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