a {text-decoration: none; } En la punta de la lengua: Language learning styles between genders

3 oct 2012

Language learning styles between genders

Méndez, L. A. (2012). Language learning styles between genders. Unpublished Manuscript, Languages Department, Universidad de las Américas Puebla, Cholula, Mexico. Retrieved from http://www.enlapuntadelalengua.com.mx/2014/05/language-learning-styles-among-genders.html


There has always been inquiry concerning the fact that each individual has a set of genetic material that will determine many of their intrinsic and extrinsic qualities such as: height, physical appearance and eye color; but also cleverness and intellect to succeed more than others in certain fields. Thus, it is not so uncommon to hear parents flattering themselves of how proud they are of their offspring’s innate aptitude for solving mathematical problems or understanding language arts and foreign language. Therefore, it can be assumed that many of the distinct capacities that an individual may have are in some way related to genetic information of their ancestors and so forth. However, the fact that some people have an evident gift for solving specific problem in contrast with others and vice versa cannot be excluded. It has been assumed that despite the unique features of every person, human beings tend to be more capable of carrying out certain tasks depending on factors such as sex[1] without taking into account further unique aspects of every person such as gender[2].  It has been generally accepted for a while now the popular belief that women are more capable than men when it comes to perform certain activities such as multi-tasking, and the other way around when it comes to spatial perception, but could it be true that all women and all men have these “default settings” only because of their genetic code in charge of giving humans a male or female sex?

During the first phases of cognitive development when language acquisition occurs, both, boys and girls manage to become fluent speakers in what would become their L1; however, according to Trudgill (1974), girls use language before and more accurately than men by learning and applying more prestigious and proper variants of the language, which might be related to female social insecurity (Agnihotri, 1979).  Also, because of the substantially different relationships between parent and children depending on gender, girls normally speak before than boys since parent talk more to them and respond more to girl’s early attempts to use language, besides that parents have longer and more complex conversations with daughters and encourage more responses from them than sons (Beal, 1994)

An undeniable fact regardless of the culture and in which an individual has been raised, is that there are gender traits and behaviors that are formally and informally taught to people since early childhood depending most of the time on their biological sex; from clothing and hair length to what taste and feelings should be like in order to satisfy social impositions. Furthermore, sex and gender are commonly materialized in daily discursive acts, not only in what is proper for men and females to say but also the way in which is said. According to Ellig & Morin (2001) women have been trained since childhood to be less direct, and to believe that they would get more through coyness than through directness; hence stereotypically, females simply gather and process information differently from men. In fact, they approach the whole process of communication in a different way.

So despite of women being more “chatty” and perhaps more careful with discourse than men, it does not means that they are the one with the power. In 1973 George Lakoff proposed the deficit theory that stated that the masculine speech is accepted as the norm while women’s speech is considered to be deficient.  Although, it is probably true, it can be assumed that this occurs not because of the fact that indeed men are better communicators than women (which in fact is doubtful), but because of the patriarchal society that rules most societies until today. Studies have suggested that because of male gender features imposed upon boys since early stages of their lives, they gain and maintain power over women in social interaction by interrupting and overlapping woman’s speech, using a high volume of words, or denigrating them (Davis & Skilton-Sylvester, 2004).

In spite of men and women being raised in the same environment, it would be found that within the same culture coexist two different subcultures separated by sex and reinforced by gender. Although not in all cultures; boys and girl start to build their social identity based upon social relationships and everyday interaction that normally take place with kids of the same gender, which leads to create a group identity that follows what is stated by society. This cultural discrepancy between genders becomes evident with the everlasting issue concerning communication problems between men and women, which happens not because the dominating power of males over females, but because cognitive differences embraced since early development. In other words, both genders go through a cultural clash when it comes to understanding the opposite sex, since in most cases is hard to find individuals of different gender who share the same conventions and schemata towards reality. Therefore, in order to achieve mutual intelligibility, men as well as women should develop a type of bicultural awareness and interpretation skills, so misunderstandings can be avoided and both genders learn to understand the opposite gender’s understanding (Tannen, 1993).

Whereas from a neurological perspective, several studies concerning female language processing have been conducted, showing that women have more brain cells in the left hemisphere of the brain where the Broca and Wernicke areas are located. Therefore, due to this neurological proportion and a richer connection between both hemispheres, women tend to have more easiness when it comes to coding and decoding language. Although, male use also the left hemisphere for communicating, women give identical assignments to both sides when necessary, making their speech more creative and feasibly more proper and accurate (Legato, 2005); giving women an early and persistent advantage over men with respect to skills and social integration, since they normally incite their conversational partners to talk more, remember more details, encourage politest forms as a result of their desire for social connections and greater valuation of communicative competence.

Based upon these biological and socially constructed discrepancies between men and women, it can be inferred that many activities and actions of life are approached in a different way that make certain tasks easier for women than form men and vice versa, this paper intends to find the differences in language learning strategies and styles between males and females, regarding solely the factor of biological sex, leaving aside the great range of factors such as culture, family background occurrences that might have had and impact upon the studied individuals.


This research is meant to be a quantitative and explicative research since its main goal is to analyze, inform and explain the readers about the most notorious differences when it comes to selecting learning strategies by males and females. Although, several studies similar to this have been conducted before, the replication of this research is considered relevant in order to keep up to date with possible changes in university students learning preferences in Latin America, where the biological sex factor continues to be a divergent social issue strongly related to gender.

For this research it was applied a quasi-experimental design, since the individuals studies were not chosen arbitrarily, but instead depending on their biological sex, in order to have a balanced number of evidence and information that could analyzed on to detect which learning style is more frequent among men and women depending on their language learning strategies.

The present study was conducted on the first week of May 2012 to student of the University of the Americas in Puebla, Mexico whose age varied between 19 and 23 years of age,[3] without taking into account any other factor but their biological sex. The sample of the research entailed 15 male students and 15 female students of different disciplines who were currently enrolled in a language class at the university.

The measuring instrument applied to gather the necessary information about the preferred learning strategies for both sexes, was a condensed survey[4] of Oxford’s  (1990) Strategy Inventory for Language Learning, which contained subsections according to different learning styles.

The results of the survey applied, were analyzed using the dichotomy presented by Kob & Fry (1975), based on the Experimental Learning Theory, which is believed to the basis of a good language learner when used in a balanced way. However, due to sexual or social gender, it seems probable that men and women tend to be classified with different strengthens in different styles.

Learning Style
Learning characteristics
Abstract conceptualization + active experimentation
·    Strong in practical application of ideas
·    Can focus on hypo-deductive reasoning on specific problems
·    Unemotional
·    Has narrow interests
Concrete experience + reflective observation
·    Strong in imaginative ability
·    Good at generating ideas and seeing things from different perspectives
·    Interested in people
·    Broad cultural interests
Abstract conceptualization + reflective observation
·    Strong ability to create theoretical models
    Excels in inductive reasoning
·    Concerned with abstract concepts rather than people
Concrete experience + active experimentation
 .   Greatest strength is doing things
·    More of a risk taker
·    Performs well when required to react to immediate circumstances
·    Solves problems intuitively

Based upon the 17-question survey applied to the 30 university students, each question was placed in one of the learning styles. The results were estimated by adding together the relevance points given in the survey according to the Like-scale in every question classified in one of the four learning styles presented on the previously showed table, to then proceed to graph the result on the following pie charts.
Chart 1

Chart 2

Chart 3

Chart 4


Despite of the prior assumptions, it was found that men and women don’t have enormous differences when it comes to learning styles for language learning. However, it was also found that women tend to be more extrovert and performance oriented when it comes to develop communicative skills actually talking than men, who were found to prefer the understanding of language studying the conventions more intrinsically instead of going out to the “field” and find a way to practice what they learned so far with speaker who are willing to correct their utterance, which finally could lead us to conclude that as a matter of fact it is difficult to establish weather the selection of language strategies is based on biological sex per se or the average socially constructed male gender in Latin America and perhaps the Western World in general, that looks at language learning and  more specifically the appliance of it,  from a cold and indifferent perspective that only contributes to either enhancing or worsen academic grades. 

As a final conclusion, I think teacher could be the one to take the watershed decision regarding male and female students aptitudes to improve their   performance in the foreign language classroom. That is to say, motivating men to be more outgoing by showing them the advantageous consequences that future can bring with the ability of being actually speaking a foreign language instead of studying for the mere fact of passing a language class, and for women the importance of knowing the rules, conventions and foundations of the language that is being studied, because as it has been said exhaustively said and proven in the literature, good language learners have to acquire the necessary knowledge and skills that only the balanced and eclectic use of tools, strategies and styles can provide.


Beal, C. (1994). Boys and girls: the development of gender roles. .
(pp. 213-234). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Davis, K. A., & Skilton-Sylvester, E. (2004). Looking back, taking stock,
moving forward: Investigating gender in TESOL. TESOL Quarterly, 38(3), 382.

Ellig, J. R. & Morin, W.W. (2001). What Every Successful Woman
Knows. New York: McGraw-Hill

Kolb. D. A. and Fry, R. (1975) 'Toward an applied theory of experiential
learning;, in C. Cooper (ed.) Theories of Group Process, London: John Wiley.

Lakoff, G. (1973). Language and woman's place. Language in
society, (2), 45-47.

Legato, b  M. J. (2005). Why men never remember and women never
forget. New York: Rodale.

Oxford, R. L. (1990). Language learning strategies. (pp. 293-296).
USA: Heinle & Heinle Publishers.

Oxford, R. L., Nykos, M., & Ehrman, M. E. (1988). Vive la
différence? reflections on sex differences in use of language learning strategies. Foreign Language Annals, (21), 322.

Tannen, D. (1993). Introduction. In Tannen, D. (Ed.), Gender and
Conversational Interaction (pp. 3–13). New York: Oxford University Press.



                                                          Género:    M     F

1.     Nunca o casi nunca
2.     Generalmente no
3.     Generalmente sí
4.     Siempre o casi siempre

Califica las siguiente estrategias de aprendizaje de acuerdo con la frecuencia con que las utilizas dentro y fuera de tu clase de lengua extranjera, aplicando la escala presentada anteriormente.

·       Visualizo mentalmente como se escribe una palabra _________   (Converger)

·       Uso fichas bibliográficas  con la palabra de un lado y la definición del otro__________ (Diverger)

·       Repaso temas que ya había visto hace mucho__________ (Assimilator)

·       Imito la forma de hablar de un hablante nativo_______________ (Accomodator)

·       Leo una historia o un diálogo tantas veces sea necesario para entenderlo_________________ (Assimilator)

·       Inicio conversaciones en la lengua que estudio con hablantes nativos_________________ (Accomodator)

·       Veo series de televisión o películas en la lengua extranjera que estudio____________________ (Converger)

·       Intento pensar en mi nuevo idioma_________________ (Divenger)

·       Leo por placer en la lengua meta_______________(Assimilator)

·       Busco similitudes entre la lengua que estudio y mi primera lengua____________ (Assimilator)

·       Busco patrones generales de esa lengua_____________ (Assimilator)

·       Invento palabras si no se la adecuada________________(Accomdators)

·       Me organizo para estudiar consistentemente y no sólo cuando hay presión de un examen_________ (Divenger)

·       Busco personas con quienes practicar______________ (Accomodotors)

·       Monitoreo mis errores e intento encontrar la razón de éstos___________ (Divengers)

·       Les pido a otros que me corrijan_____________ (Accomodators)

·       Me auto-premio cuando he sé que he hecho algo bien en mi clase de lengua extranjera____________(Divengers)

[1] Biological based dichotomy
[2] Socially and culturally constructed identity of an individual
[3] Although this factor was not included to determine the outcomes of this research
[4] Availabe in  the appendix section
[5] The actual copy answered by the sample did not contain the given learning style classification.

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