Ever feel like your brain can't quite keep up with all the mental processing that must occur to understand native-speed Chinese speech? That's perfectly normal. Your brain is actually doing a tremendous amount of work. It must segment the incoming aural data stream into words and phrases, recognize words and retrieve the meanings from memory, and identify the syntatic, semantic and contextual relationships that comprise the big-picture meaning.
Natural-speed Chinese speech is about 3.5 characters per second. This means you have less than 290 ms to process the information contained in each character and place it into context. Well, to give your brain an easier time of all this processing, we now offer audio playback at 75% natural speed. That's an extra 95 ms per character for your brain to search for meanings, analyze structure, or 休息一下. It actually makes a big difference. The new audio player looks like this (just a picture, not the actual audio player):
The play-back speed can be toggled using the 快 (fast/natural) / 慢 (slow) links. Try it out on one of the Asking Directions exercises.
So what's going on? Well, it's really simple. We're just playing back the same recording at a slower rate, but adjusted in such a way that the pitch stays the same. While it would be preferable to have all our recordings spoken slowly and at natural speed to begin with, this is nearly as good, and much easier.