Even though it’s their most important function, some languages communicate information less efficiently than others, according to a new study.

Results of research done by linguists at the University of Lyon in France were recently published in the magazine Language. Researchers recorded 59 people reading five sentences of text, identical in meaning, in their native tongues, including English, French, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin-Chinese and German.

In the study, English ranked as the most efficient language, with Mandarin-Chinese in second place and German coming in third. Bloomberg also recently ranked English and Chinese as the most useful languages for business.

The scientists in France edited out the pauses and counted the number of syllables and amount of information per unit of time for each language. Their goal was to see how efficiently information could be communicated with each of the seven languages.

They found that, while some languages are spoken faster than others — for example, Japanese speakers say eight syllables per second, while Mandarin-Chinese only say five –  a quicker tempo did not necessarily imply more information was getting across.

The study concluded that it is the complexity of the syllables that determines how efficient a language is. This means that a slow and complex language, like German, rates as more efficient than a fast-paced language, like Japanese. A similar study in Austria in 2010 garnered the same results using 51 languages and a different methodology.

[World Crunch]