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Speaking at a natural rate

Speaking at a natural rate
Four people chatting and working around a lap top

In the previous step, you watched Nisha attempting a Describe Image item, and Rose identified that she could work on improving her rate of speech. Let’s see how this can be achieved.

Rate of speech

As mentioned in the previous step, rate is the speed at which you talk, and this should be both natural and consistent in the different item types.

A natural rate means that you should avoid speaking too slowly or too quickly so that you are clear and easy to understand and follow.

A consistent rate means that you should maintain a similar rate of speech and avoid considerably slowing down or speeding up.

Estimating your rate of speech

Rate of speech is often calculated in words per minute (wpm) and this varies depending on the purpose of speech. A natural speech rate is estimated to be between 125 and 150 words per minute.

You can calculate your rate of speech with the following exercise:

1) Download the Rate of speech text at the bottom of the page. It contains 256 words and you will see that each is numbered.

2) Press on the play button of the timer below and start reading the text when you hear the first beep. Make sure you read aloud.

3) Stop reading when you hear the second beep and record the number of the last word you read. This number represents the number of words you read in a minute and is your estimated rate of speech.


If the number you have recorded is below 125, it is on the slow side of rate of speech. On the other hand, if the number is above 150, it is on the fast side of rate of speech. Aiming to speak at between 125-150 words per minute is a good goal.


Hesitation refers to unnecessary pauses made when speaking. It is often characterised by the use of filler words such as uhm, er or uh. While this is a natural feature of speech, excessive hesitation should be avoided as it can have an impact on the rate of your speech.

You may be more likely to hesitate in the Describe Image and Re-tell Lecture items as you will be using your own language to complete these. You may hesitate due to:

  • Lack of Vocabulary: You cannot think of an appropriate word to describe the image or to paraphrase or summarise what was said in the lecture.

  • Lack of understanding: You are unsure of what the image is describing, or you could not hear the main points of the lecture.

Avoiding hesitation

Consider the following points to minimise the amount of hesitation in your responses:

  • For Describe Image items, use the planning time (25 seconds) to identify and organise the main features of the image. If you like, you can take some notes in the Erasable Note Booklet.
  • For Re-tell Lecture items, use the Erasable Note Booklet and take notes on the key words only. Review and organise your notes before you start speaking (remember that you have 10 seconds before you start recording your answer).
  • Watch the time closely and do not rush towards the last few seconds of your response.


Did you try the rate of speech activity above? Did you speak too fast or too slowly? Did you have to slow down or speed up? Feel free to share the number of the last word you read (i.e. your rate of speech) below.

© Macquarie University
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