Languages have been part of the fabric of women’s lives for generations. It’s strange to think that a mere few centuries ago there were a multitude of European languages and blended dialects spoken in the UK, at least among the elite classes. The mother tongue of the king in England was French until the end of the 14th century. One education specialist reveals that in the 18th century women were recommended to learn Italian as well as English on the basis that these two languages “could possibly help develop women’s reasoning.”
In the 19th century, when education was only for the elite, well-to-do young women learned a foreign language as a fundamental element of their education. Does this mean they were and still are better at learning languages than men?
Language learning styles
In the 18th and early 19th centuries, Swiss writer, educationalist and advocate of education for women, Albertine Necker de Saussure, stated that women made better translators than men. It’s an interesting fact that today women continue to excel at language learning, and appear to be more interested in undertaking it than men.
- 1. Studies from schools and universities in various parts of the world indicate that girls process language differently from boys and use a wider range of study strategies to learn.
- 2. Female language students employ their conversation skills when learning a language, confirming opinions expressed by some linguists that they have a useful ability to make connections through speech.
- 3. Generally, female students are thought more motivated than their male counterparts.
- 4. 2013 statistics reveal that of the 28,710 university languages students in the UK, 69 per cent were female.
- 5. 2016 figures from France indicate that 74.1 per cent of the 110,813 language students are women.If you feel you’ve missed out, it’s worth looking into the courses available at City Lit, where more than 27 different languages are taught. You can book a daylong session or embark on more in depth language learning lessons, depending on your circumstances and personal preferences.
Academic research findings
Various studies have indicated that, generally, women are better than men at learning to speak a new language. Here are some of the reasons cited by researchers as to why this might be.
- Listening skills: women are good at absorbing what they hear and at the same time observing facial expressions and gestures. This aids their interpretation of conversations and communications.
- Talking skills: as many linguists have observed, women are comfortable with conversation and can interpret accurately tone of voice and pitch or volume of speech.
- Women are not afraid to engage in fuller discussions using, and asking for, plenty of detail, compared to men who tend to opt for conversations that are more direct and often sparse.
- Communication efforts: while making a mistake when conversing in a foreign language can be embarrassing, women are less likely than men to be affected by this. The drive to communicate is such that women are happy to keep going in order to understand and make themselves understood.
- Family matters: where there are close relatives from a different country women are more likely to teach their children sufficient vocabulary in, say, German, to communicate with an in-law.
Learning a language is a challenge however the benefits can be tremendous when it comes to making the best use of your innate skills and abilities. When surveyed, women were in the majority when asked about whether a new language was a pleasure to learn, whereas more men than women said they learned for work purposes. More women than men said they embraced a new language to help their personal development and for fun and traveling.
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