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Are women really better at learning languages?

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PhilippeSalmon
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:48
Member (2013)
English to French
The work of Stephen Heppell shows why Jan 17, 2014

Stephen Heppell has carried out significant research into the differences in how the brains of boys and girls develop and he explains why girls are better at language and social skills and boys excel in maths and science. Fascinating stuff.

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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 07:48
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Sorry guys... Jan 17, 2014

...but this kind of studies is what sexist people use when they need to prove that men and women are different and deserve a different treatment.

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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 01:48
Russian to English
+ ...
I doubt it. I personally strongly dislike surveys like that Jan 17, 2014

and studies on human brain in order to analyze talents and skills. There are a lot of great male linguists and translators as well as women, and there are many women who have serious difficulties learning any foreign language. I think it depends on the individual, not on the person's sex.

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Frankie JB
France
English to French
+ ...
Sorry Tomás... Jan 17, 2014

Tomás Cano Binder, CT wrote:

...but this kind of studies is what sexist people use when they need to prove that men and women are different and deserve a different treatment.


but if you are serious when you imply that men and women are intellectually alike, you are an ignoramus mi amigo.

It doesn't take a neuroscience degree to know that women do have an advantage in languages and, more broadly, in all speaking abilities. It's one of their signature strengths, and it's why they tend to like chatting more than men, whose prominent cerebral advantage over them is their superior spatial/logical abilities.

Females have specific locations in the brain dedicated to speaking/language functions, which is not the case in males. In addition, those locations are to be found in both hemispheres, creating a synergy and adding to the strength.

I have much more respect for researchers who can help us with guidance on our strengths and weaknesses than for all those "all-parity" bigots who claim we are the same. It's not "this kind of studies" which explains why 95% of secretaries in the UK are women (it's a natural inclination because they are by far better than us at multitasking).

And all this doesn't mean there will be differences in treatment. If a woman wants to become a programmer, alright, it means she feels like it or feels good at that, which means she must have a brain not 100% feminized but maybe 25% masculinized.

But this case remains a minority, because women and men are actually dissimilar (and saying otherwise is sheer dumbness). Forcing people to be the same is foolish, while au contraire separating them on occasions may prove fruitful, for example in education, as it's shown that boys and girls don't learn at the same pace given their different abilities, and thus single-gender education can give better results if properly leveraged...


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Vinita Dudhat  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 11:18
Member (2014)
English to Hindi
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For technical study purpose Jan 18, 2014

This may not be true. It depends on individual capacity and interest, and not on gender difference.

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Claudia Cherici  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 07:48
Member (2010)
English to Italian
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genetics and epigenetics Jan 18, 2014

I am also strongly suspicious of studies like this one. So girls are better at languages and boys at maths uh? Maths and physics too complicated for our pretty little heads? The brains of men and women are wired differently: it's a proven fact. In men's brains, intra-hemispheric connections are more numerous and complex (front to back of each hemisphere); in women's brains, inter-hemispheric connections are more numerous and complex (left to right hemispheres). BUT, what about nurture? what about the increasingly acknowledged, key role played by epigenetics (the small genetic variations due to environmenal influences that do not alter the DNA code arrangement but have a mightly influence on individual genes or groups of genes)? I am truly convinced that gender differences are mainly at an individual, and not whole gender, level, especially when it comes to highly specific skills like maths and languages!

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urbom
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:48
German to English
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How many read before commenting here? Jan 18, 2014

I wonder how many of the commenters above bothered to read the Telegraph article. Did anyone actually click through from the Telegraph piece to the original academic papers cited therein to find out what phenomena they studied and what the researchers' findings were?

Anyway, whenever I encounter a clickbaity headline phrased as a yes/no question, I find it useful to recall Betteridge's law of headlines.


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Vanda Nissen  Identity Verified
Australia
Local time: 15:48
Member (2008)
English to Russian
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Not true Jan 18, 2014

I have been teaching languages for more than 15 years, (and not the easiest ones, Russian and Polish), and talking about language learning, I can put gender differences on the last place. My own statistics doesn't prove the importance of gender.

I do not agree with the opposition math vs. language either. Both language and math require logical thinking, ability to recognize patterns.


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Vanda Nissen  Identity Verified
Australia
Local time: 15:48
Member (2008)
English to Russian
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I agree Jan 18, 2014

LilianBNekipelo wrote:

I think it depends on the individual, not on the person's sex.



I second it.


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Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:48
Hebrew to English
One study and a bunch of generalizations... Jan 18, 2014

Seem to pass for a news story these days. It certainly doesn't pass as a fact.

I'll just hand over my translation to my sister then, with her female brain she should do a much better job! Oh wait, my sister can't speak a word of any language other than English, she was always crap at languages.


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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 01:48
Russian to English
+ ...
Yes-- this is true. I don't agree with the languages v. math theory Jan 18, 2014

Vanda Nissen wrote:

I have been teaching languages for more than 15 years, (and not the easiest ones, Russian and Polish), and talking about language learning, I can put gender differences on the last place. My own statistics doesn't prove the importance of gender.

I do not agree with the opposition math vs. language either. Both language and math require logical thinking, ability to recognize patterns.


either. Many people who like languages, and especially those who love studying their structure, are good at math as well, but of course everything should be considered on a case by case basis.

[Edited at 2014-01-18 10:45 GMT]


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:48
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Women are neither better nor worse than men at doing all manner of things. Jan 18, 2014

The only thing I know for sure that women do better is childbirth.

Everything else is up for grabs. Whoever is better at doing something will be the person with the greatest ability at doing it. It could be a man or it could be a woman.


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Frankie JB
France
English to French
+ ...
... Jan 18, 2014

Claudia Cherici wrote:

I am also strongly suspicious of studies like this one. So girls are better at languages and boys at maths uh? Maths and physics too complicated for our pretty little heads? The brains of men and women are wired differently: it's a proven fact. In men's brains, intra-hemispheric connections are more numerous and complex (front to back of each hemisphere); in women's brains, inter-hemispheric connections are more numerous and complex (left to right hemispheres). BUT, what about nurture? what about the increasingly acknowledged, key role played by epigenetics (the small genetic variations due to environmenal influences that do not alter the DNA code arrangement but have a mightly influence on individual genes or groups of genes)? I am truly convinced that gender differences are mainly at an individual, and not whole gender, level, especially when it comes to highly specific skills like maths and languages!


Replying to Claudia's answer, the only one in this thread that's worth replying to (most others are off-base, some combining ignorance and arrogance), and following my answer above (held as 'under approval' as of writing):

Nurture does have an influence indeed, but this one, almost superficial, just can't withstand that, powerful, of nature, which was built over millions of years.

It does mean that naturally men TEND to fare better at maths and women TEND to fare better at languages, for example. It DOES not mean that women can't be as good as men in maths, but it means that without a brain orientation that's partly masculinized and maybe also a strong conditioning, they have little chance to compete. And there's nothing sexist in saying that.

Nurture may reduce the differences in abilities but it's a fact that in the first place we tend to be attracted by things we feel good at, which depends on our brain's wiring, which in turns depends on our brain orientation (nature). Which, as you know, is not the same as gender, and is not binary, ie a woman can have a brain that's only 65% feminized for example.

Same education for both genders up to 15 years old or so (and more broadly the becoming closer of male and female lifes) contribues to lessening differences but it just can't override mighty nature, especially when talking about "signature strengths". Nature's evolving through nurture but at such a slow pace that it's likely that pure mathematics will remain a very predominantly male area for (just guessing) thousands of years or more.

Finally, you are right when you say that "gender differences are mainly at an individual level", because as I said what counts is brain orientation, and ultimately few people have a brain that's 100% feminized or masculinized. Conditioning and epigenetics play a role too but in the first place it's brain orientation (a fruit of nature) that's decisive.

Most skills are certainly "up for grabs" as says Tom but there are a couple of areas that a gender is so much favorably wired to do compared to the other that AS A RULE (trend) it makes much better than the other. Try and find a manly man who's a secretary. You won't find any because multitasking is just too demanding for most males, and possibly currently plainly impossible for 100% masculinized brains. Try and find a professor for mechanics who's a girly girl. You won't find any because visualizing motions in 3D is very hard for most females, and possibly currently plainly impossible for 100% feminized brains.


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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 01:48
Russian to English
+ ...
I think girls start spekaing 2-3 months earlier Jan 18, 2014

on average than boys--as babies, which does not mean, however, that boys or men, are worse in language learning--many may just process the information in a slightly different way, but even that might be an over-generalization.

[Edited at 2014-01-18 18:46 GMT]


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Elizabeth Tamblin  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:48
Member (2012)
French to English
No Jan 19, 2014

My son was top of his year throughout secondary school in French, German and Latin. I'm pretty sure he's male.

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