Friday, December 15, 2006

Are women better than men at learning languages?

What’s the key to success in learning a foreign language? Surely it’s a genuine desire to communicate with other people. I can’t think of another valid reason. That’s why in general women are better than men at learning languages. If you’re a man and you want to learn a language, I’m going to tell you why you will find it more difficult than a woman and what you can do about it.

I’m probably going to be accused of stereotyping men and women here, but time and time again studies have shown that generally, (there are always exceptions) men score higher in maths tests and women score higher in language tests. I’m not a scientist, and I don’t want to bore you with scientific detail, but my experiences as a teacher pretty much confirm the scientists’ view.

When I’m teaching a conversation class, it’s instantly obvious who are going to make the fastest progress because these are the ones who quickly get involved by asking questions. And more often than not, it’s the female members of the group that ask the most questions.

Women are simply more interested in human beings than men. They genuinely mean it when they ask “how are you?” Being wives and mothers may have something to do with it, I mean, they are conditioned by society to be the ones that care. Men, on the other hand, are less interested in people and more interested in things, notably, cars, computers, gadgets, etc.

If you are man reading this article, you have to get out of your macho cave and learn to be more interested in people. And swallow your pride when it comes to making mistakes. Women have fewer complexes about committing errors, because the important thing for them is building relationships. We all learn by making mistakes, it’s a natural part of the process. Learning a language is not a competition – men sometimes see their limitations as a “defeat” so they prefer not to speak at all. Giving up the idea that your are in a competition to see who's the the best would be a good start for a lot of men.


Stephan said...

In my experience women are far more worried about committing errors than men are. The men in my language classes tend to be far more concerned with being able to make their point rather than speaking the language correctly.

Studies have shown that women are more concerned with speaking a language properly. This is why women tend to speak in non-standard dialects far less frequently than men do.

I do agree though that girls / women tend to do better in languages than men. The reason I believe lie somewhere else however.

Women are still being socialised in a way that makes it far more vital for them to be good communicators and most of their bonding is via language.

Jonathan Lewis said...

Thank you for your comment, Stephan. You are right, women are perhaps more conscious of making mistakes and are more diligent in working on their grammar problems.
I was thinking more of the human side of things - it's true women are more conditioned to be communicators than men.
On the statistical side, there are simply more women than men attending language classes, and there are more female teachers, too - which tells us something.

SusMita Barua said...

As a woman I wish to learn different languages, but I don't like difficult grammar, punctuation etc. I like to expand vocabulary and use simple structure with proper selection and placment of words and speak from personal experience than impersonal ways.

Men really can learn a lot from women about relationship, communication, healthy expression of emotions and personal care, if they consciously lighten up their competitive and macho social conditioning.

I havn't read the book 'Female Brain' yet, but diffrences in male-female brain architecture has something to do with differences in gender communication, feeling impressions and perception of same events.

Jonathan Lewis said...

Thanks for your observations. I don't think I will go into this kind of subject again - I'm not sufficiently qualified! I hope that no-one found this post offensive, I certainly didn't want to start a battle of the sexes...

Isamu said...

I go to a women`s college--and my academic adviser once told me that women tend to do better than men in languages. She couldn`t explain why, but she said that it`s commonly told.

When I came to Japan, many people were surprised to see how much I was able to speak, having only living there for 7 months, and being around other exchange students alot. One of my Japanese guy friends, said something along the lines of `Oh! yeah! I mean girls tend to chatter alot.` I guess in the end, it`s all about practice.

However with writing, I`m not so sure about...I know plenty of men who are able to write very well--it`s just that when it comes to speaking, girls tend to pick it up faster (as far as what I`ve seen)

Jonathan Lewis said...

Thank you for your observations, Isamu. Going back to Stephan's comment about women speaking non-standard dialects less than men, I remember that when I lived in the north-east of England, the men would have really strong Geordie accents and use words that I didn't know, while the women almost always spoke a more 'standard' English.

Cecilia said...

I know that I am trying to learn Spanish and I haven't had too bad of a time with it. I don't know how that compares with men, but it is an interesting thing to consider as to whether or not there is a difference. Thanks for sharing!