The debate about whether women are better at language learning has been around for a while and it might be justified.
Are women better at language learning?
Since the 19th century, women from affluent background had a prominent role in language learning and later they started making a living out of their acquired knowledge.
For instance, in France 74% of language students are women and same trends are registered in The US, Latin America and Asia. Does this mean that women are better at language learning? Not really.
Historically we see that language learning was considered a feminine task and young girls where encouraged to follow this path. Nowadays, even though modern society has managed to break lots of stereotypes, I still think that at a deeper level this misconception has not entirely been lifted. More women than men follow this path at university level and they are more women language teachers in our classrooms. This might help to maintain this trend as young girls will take these teachers as role models and try to emulate them. Contrarily, boys will carry on thinking that this is not the career path for them.
Historically language learning was considered a feminine task.
In the past 40 years, researchers have noticed that girls and women have some advantages over boys and men when trying to learn a language, and they have tried to document whether there is a biological reason for this.
A research published in the journal Neuropsychologia seems to have the answer. The researchers measured the brain activity of 31 boys and 31 girls age 9 to 15 as they performed spelling and writing language tasks. They had visual and auditory cues. The findings were that girls activated language-related areas of the brain associated with abstract thinking and speech. These areas are included in the superior temporal gyrus (implicated in decoding hard words), inferior frontal gyrus (speech processing), and fusiform gyrus (spelling and meaning of words). The activation of the inferior frontal gyrus and the fusiform gyrus seem to give girls grater language accuracy. It didn’t matter if they heard or read the word, which suggests that the girls learning attributes are more abstract. On the other hand, the visual and auditory portions of the boys’ brain were more active depending on the way the words were presented during the exercise.
Men and women use different parts of their brain when learning a language
This suggests that the gender difference solely consists in the way girls and boys approach language learning.
Another study made on 71 adults, age between 18 and 50, reported the same results between men and women.
In the light of these findings some consideration should take place when creating a language program for male students as they approach language learning in a different way. Men tend to learn better when the concepts they are studying is reinforced with visual cues such as words and illustrations, or auditory cues through listening or repetition. These two elements should be incorporated anyway, independently from gender, because they are a necessary part of language learning. The use of these methods should be encouraged in both men and women.
Learning a language is always a challenge and both men and women should be taught how to deal with the multiple hurdles that they will encounter in their path. One of the attributes that holds everything together, in my opinion, is motivation. Studies taken place in the US, Europe and Canada showed that girls were more motivated to study a foreign language at school than their male counterparts. Again, it might be because their role model is a female language teacher.
As described here, there is not really a big gender gap in terms of studying a language. Male and female have the same ability; the difference lies in how each of them processes and learn the language. Each use their brain differently to get to the same result in the end: fluency.
Do you think there's a language battle between men and women, who would win in your opinion? Comment below.