4 Reasons Why Women Have a Natural Ability to Learn Languages

by Tracey Chandler

An interesting infographic, generated by Engineering Degree, focuses on data which shows how women, in general, lose confidence in their abilities with age.

In primary school, girls outperform boys in both math and science classes and studies prove that girls tend to have a higher IQ in their early years. As time goes by, confidence in their abilities begins to dwindle and, despite early promise, women tend to shy away from professions which relate to math and science.

However, one area in which women can, and really do, excel in is language learning. The question is… why?

1. Language protein in women
The average woman is supposed to use approximately 20,000 words a day, whilst the average man only uses approximately 7,000 words a day. One of the most recent studies into why this gender difference exists relates was conducted by researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in the United States. The results of the study revealed that female brains have higher levels of FOXP2, a language protein which induces women into talking more at length.

The more that women talk, the more opportunities they have to practice conversing in a foreign tongue. This is believed to be one of the main reasons why women excel in language learning and one of the main reasons why more female teenagers opt to study foreign languages at school.

2. Open to new language learning techniques
Anne Merritt, in a recent feature for The Telegraph UK, discusses the importance of employing a variety of study methods when learning a foreign language. According to Merritt's research, women are more prone to practising a wide range of language learning study techniques, which also helps to encourage them into taking a holistic approach to language learning and to keep boredom at bay.

Various studies over the past five years have shown that, even from early on in life, boys/men need to be taught both visually and orally in order to excel in the learning of languages. Girls/women, on the other hand, are able to learn in any kind of environment, which leaves them free to experiment more with learning methods.

3. Admitting limits and asking for help
In a study conducted by Professor Adrian Furnham, of University College London, men tend to overstate how intelligent they are, while women tend to underestimate theirs. The natural tendency towards underestimation means women are more likely to admit when they're unsure about something; they're more likely to ask for help. It could be argued that women are more comfortable at admitting their limits than men are and that this is why it's easier for them to learn a foreign language at a quicker rate too.

4. Women travel more on their own
It's a fact that more and more women are now traveling on their own. Numbers grow annually. Female solo travel is becoming really trendy, according to the Travel Industry Association in the US.

The US Census Bureau reports that 28% of married women made more than their husbands in 2011 (and that this revealed a 17.8% increase on the same from 1987). The Bureau of Labor Statistics also reveals that salaries for female college graduates in the US have increased by 31% since 1987, whereas salaries for male college graduates during the same period have only increased by 16%. Therefore, women have the money to be able to travel and it appears that they have the interest too.

The more women traveling alone, the more time they have to practice conversing in foreign languages. This practice time is crucial and one of the main reasons why women seem to have a natural ability for learning languages.

But what if gender has nothing to do with it?
It's important to highlight the fact that many studies reveal that language learning is affected by all kinds of factors, not just gender. Age, genes, the size of particular areas of the brain and social/cultural contexts, are all elements which can affect a person's ability to be able to learn a language, to learn it quickly and to learn it well.

However, the scientific research which puts female language learners just a few steps ahead of their male counterparts is well-documented and just as valid. Women, in general, have a don for learning languages. It's about time more of us put that down to good use.

Tracey Chandler represents Language Trainers, which provides individually-tailored language training on a one-on-one or small group basis worldwide.

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4 comments

Dora Baldwin said...

I knew it! hahahaa. This was a great post to read. I am currently learning my second language, Spanish. Its not the easiest thing in the world, but this post gives me hope...

Deb Bailey said...

Dora, I'm glad this post has inspired you! Thanks for your comments.

VisioningWoman said...

As an American expat in Munich, learning German is crucial and, I must say, quite fun! I am extremely motivated to be able to communicate well and have no problems asking for help (or sounding dumb). Those are surely two key success factors. I'll take any extra help a "language protein" can give me!

Deb Bailey said...

VisioningWoman - that's great to hear. I think when we're not afraid to "sound dumb" and we take risks, we're open to learning. Thanks for your comments!

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