It looks like babies aren't the only ones we guys should be jealous of for their language abilities. According to Cracked:
This lady's mad language skilz have failed to impress her friend.
The areas of the brain responsible for language are over 17 percent larger in women than men, making them the well-hung studs in the horse stables of conversation. Not content to just be bigger, women's brains also multi-task; processing language in both hemispheres while men generally keep the conversation going with just the dominant side of the brain.Looking at children learning their native language, The Scientific American adds this:
Girls completing a linguistic abilities task showed greater activity in brain areas implicated specifically in language encoding, which decipher information abstractly. Boys, on the other hand, showed a lot of activity in regions tied to visual and auditory functions, depending on the way the words were presented during the exercise.If you don't trust Cracked as a source (and, really, why would you?), and if The Scientific American still isn't enough, how about the National Center for Biotechnology Information? They write:
Our results suggest that females have proportionally larger Wernicke and Broca language-associated regions compared with males. These anatomical differences may correlate with superior language skills previously demonstrated in females.Translation? While dudes may drive better (sorry, ladies, Cracked told me so), the ladies got some mad language skills that men just can't match.
Here's the thing though: these studies seem to be focusing on native-language acquisition. I did some quick Googling around, but I couldn't find anything that provided any convincing evidence of the same for foreign languages. Does the same apply?
If there is a difference in the way males and females learn foreign languages (and, based on studies like the ones cited above, I'm inclined to think that there are), then that could very well mean that what might work for a man might not work for a woman and vice versa. There's a lot of chatter about how to customize your language learning to you, but, if these gender differences can be pinned down, that could be a big clue as to what might work best for you.
The same Scientific American article referenced above offers one suggestion:
[The difference between boys and girls] implies that boys need to be taught language both visually (with a textbook) and orally (through a lecture) to get a full grasp of the subject, whereas a girl may be able to pick up the concepts by either method.I'm not sure what kind of wicked logic equates "visually" with "textbook" and "orally" with "lecture", but visual and aural versus visual or aural is a clear enough suggestion. But, again, this is speaking of children in their native language. Indeed, the article also notes that "the male sensory 'bottleneck' may disappear as boys develop into adults", so these differences may disappear later in life.
I can't think of anything off the top of my head that stands out as a clear difference between adult males and females in terms of language learning. I do note that most of the students in pretty much all of the high-level language classes I ever took were female and females seem to outnumber males on sites like Livemocha (you can often see the pattern when you search for speakers of your target language). On the other hand, the language-learning blogosphere seems to tilt male (although that probably says more about who blogs than who's better at learning languages).
So what do you think? Have you noticed any specific differences in the way males and females learn foreign languages that might help figure out how to tailor their approaches?