I read that Chinese can be read 7% faster than English. Can Hangul also be read 7% faster than English?

Reason to think "no":

  • While Hangul and Chinese both have roughly one character per syllable, the Chinese characters might convey more meaning.

Reason to think "yes":

  • Hangul characters have fewer strokes in general
  • 1
    You probably noticed that in the research you gave a link to the size of the the texts read during the research is measured not in characters, not in syllables, not even in words, but in passages so the speed of reading hardly depends on how much "meaning" there is in a written symbol, in the English letters there's no meaning at all, not to say that no adult person reads a text symbol after symbol, but usually a word or a phrase at a time.
    – Yellow Sky
    Jul 25, 2020 at 13:24
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    I don't think you can reason it out that way - there are too many other variables. I am not sure the number of strokes is much of a predictor of recognition time either. You'd have to find a set of texts that was available in both languages (and could reasonably be said to be equally natural in both languages) and time people.
    – rchivers
    Jul 25, 2020 at 13:35
  • Hangul is quite similar to Hiragana and Katakana, so I suppose this question could be addressed to that entire class of alphabet type. Jul 26, 2020 at 18:28
  • @user1271772 They’re not really that similar. Hangul is essentially an alphabet that stacks individual letters into syllables according to well-defined principles; Hiragana and Katakana are pure syllabaries with unique and unrelated symbols for each unique syllable. Jul 27, 2020 at 11:27
  • @JanusBahsJacquet not quite, Hangeul is largely featural barring some historical sound shifts; the letters for sounds themselves are logically designed and not arbitrary and indeed place letters together into squares to form syllables. Hiragana and Katakana are not syllabaries but have a grapheme for each mora as well as a number of digraphs that repræsent a single mora with two characters, but they also have a featural element to it in that voiced sounds are regularly derived from voiceless sounds, again barring some minor historical sound shifts.
    – Zorf
    Aug 4, 2020 at 2:08

3 Answers 3


"Reading" means a number of different things, a problem that needs to be be addressed before questions of Hangul vs. English can be addressed. At the most basic level, it refers to the ability to perceive written material and articulate its content. To even talk about a "rate", you have to settle on comparable units. There are no comparable units for perception of written language that can be applied to English and Chinese or Korean. You might count segmental phonemes (if we could agree on the phonemic analysis of the languages, which we cannot), or you count count syllables (if we could agree on the number of syllables in certain words of English, which we cannot). Invoking stress feet would be a better measure for English, but not Chinese or Korean. The count of words would favor English, unless you redefine "word" so that various grammatical words of English are deemed to be part of some other word. Korean words are generally longer than English words. Chinese words are segmentally and syllabically shorter than English words, on average, but Chinese syllables are durationally longer than English syllables, so it matters very much what thing you are measuring. Actually, Hangul and Chinese do not have roughly one character per syllable, since Hangul is more a syllable-structures alphabetic system, see for example [pap] 밥 "rice" with the same-ish character in the northwest and bottom positions and "a" to the Northeast. Chinese 休 and 湖 can be treated as respectively 1 character or 2, or 1 or 3, depending on how you count.

The authors don't take into consideration a well-known cultural difference regarding speed-reading and comprehension, which is that experiential background with timed read-and-respond tests (e.g. the GRE) improves performance on these exams. Certain international students have little experience with these types of tests, while others have substantial experience. This is a further variable, one not controlled for, that can influence reading speed and comprehension, in a way that is not related to language.

  • 2
    “Chinese 休 and 湖 can be treated as respectively 1 character or 2, or 1 or 3, depending on how you count.” – Not in any way that relates to actual reading. You could also read 湖 as five characters if you wanted, just like w can be read as two letters, but doing so adds nothing useful and does not reflect how people actually parse and read characters and letters. For all practical purposes, both Hangul and Chinese do indeed have roughly one character per syllable. Jul 25, 2020 at 18:38
  • What is the independent definition of "character", or are you defining it in terms of a hypothesized method of reading? How do you know that 湖 and 밥 are one character (I'm asking for e.g. a published psycholinguistic test)?
    – user6726
    Jul 25, 2020 at 19:21
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    I don’t know about Hangul, but I did read a study once whose conclusion was that Chinese readers do not read character components, but entire characters. I have no idea where that study was now, it was many years ago, but it fit my own experience with semi-literate Chinese acquaintances quite well. Mostly, components were of little help to them in guessing characters they didn’t know. This is the opposite of how CSL students read, which is highly component-based. Conversely, do you have any references that Chinese (or Hangul) aren’t read as the character blocks they’re usually defined by? Jul 25, 2020 at 19:28

Apparently Korean is slower to read than English, according to this study: Korean reading speed: Effects of print size and retinal eccentricity (the main conclusions are in the abstract). They gave 713wpm for Korean, and 787wpm for English. However, as the other answer states, it is difficult to compare across languages. How much meaning does a "word" carry?

There is another study that looked at the information density, or how many "bits" of information there were per syllable. This varied widely between languages (from 5 to 10 bits / syllable) source. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find a study that links the two. However, the second study does show that Korean generally contains less information per syllable than English, so since Korean reads slower, and syllables generally contain less information, I would wager the answer is no.

  • 3
    Words per minute is not necessarily very useful either, since Korean is an agglutinative language and thus tends to have longer words. For example, the UDHR starts “Modeun Inganeun Taeeonal ttaebuteo Jayuroumyeo Geu Joneomgwa Gwonrie Isseo Dongdeunghada”; compare English “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”. Even written in the same script, you’d expect Korean to be read at fewer words per minute. Jul 26, 2020 at 9:12

Without diving too deeply into the study in OP--which seems like it would suffer from lots of problems involving comparing "reading speed" using translated and (the author's protestations notwithstanding) non-identical texts, comparing between different people with different backgrounds, strategies, and purposes--it's possible to answer this question from an entirely Korean standpoint, as Korean actually used to use Chinese characters quite a bit. It's much less common today, but as recently as the 1920s political newspaper articles were written at least half in hanja, which were part of the full school curriculum through the 1960s (and are still taught in middle/high school).

Wikipedia cites this source--a general text on the psychology of reading--which in turn cites studies that show 1956 readers read mixed hanja-hangul texts more rapidly than the same texts written purely in hangul; but by 1977, the purely hangul texts were read faster.

Objections could still be made to this comparison, because the two studies were carried out with different participants on different texts. But the different results indicate that there is no universal reading speed advantage between Chinese characters and hangul; and instead suggest that even within a particular language, the individual's experience/comfort with the script is more important than any intrinsic property of the script.

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