Gender differences in language learning?

An article I read in The Times today suggests that women tend to be less confident than men, particularly in work-related situations. Apparently men tend to over estimate their abilities, while women often under estimate their abilities, and women tend to over-prepare and don’t feel ready for a task unless they are 100% sure of it, while men who are around 60% ready for a task tend to think that’s sufficient, and that they can learn the rest as they go along.

Does this ring true for you?

I wondered if these differences, if there is something in them, might affect the way men and women go about learning and using foreign languages. Are men more prepared to jump in and wing it using whatever language they have, even if it’s not perfect? Are women more inclined to wait until they know a language perfectly, or as near as possible to perfect, before they use with others?

What are your experiences?

Has any research been done on gender differences in language learning?

6 thoughts on “Gender differences in language learning?

  1. This is far from a systematic study, but my impression is the opposite. When we arrived in France 27 years ago my wife got herself speaking French fluently much sooner than I did, in part because she wasn’t worried about whether what she said was grammatical or not, as long as it could be understood. My observations of various couples, in France, in Spain and in Chile, has mainly been along the same lines: the woman is nearly always more fluent in English than the man. However, I emphasize that these are just impressions.

  2. I’ve found that this accords with my impressions in Indonesia—the women don’t want to speak English unless they can produce a perfect sentence, but the guys just plunge in. Interestingly, the latter was one of the techniques given in the “learn any language in six months” video you posted a while back.

  3. Again only an impression (for what it’s worth). My experience has been that the (much smaller numbers of) men who study modern languages often outperform the women. This of course would be easy to check out by anyone with access to degree results broken down by gender.

  4. My experience matches Athel Cornish-Bowden’s: Women are far more likely to learn a foreign language, far more likely to use what they know, and worry far less about losing face making mistakes.

  5. I’m with Athel Cornish-Braden and Chris Waugh. To my mind, it goes along with the proverbial male unwillingness to ask for directions (thus losing face).

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