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The Gender Gap in World Languages


Just as there are more boys than girls studying the STEM subjects (sciences, technology, engineering and math), there’s a gap between the number of boys and girls studying foreign languages. Many boys either drop out or don’t enroll in language classes. Why?

The few academic studies that appeared during my Google search are not currently accessible, so I’m going to offer a few theories on my part.

A common conception in English-speaking countries is that knowledge of another language will not bring economic benefits. The attitude that learning languages other than English is not important  dates way back, when the U.S. was supreme and Europe was in smolders after two World Wars. This was before the global economy. So boys who had the responsibility of preparing to be the sole provider of a family, may not have taken language study seriously. Times have changed, but old attitudes still persist.

Is there some embarrassment involved with trying to speak a new language: making unfamiliar sounds, and making mistakes? Boys may be more susceptible to this than girls.

My own experience teaching elementary school is that boys do just as well as girls, if they start young enough. As they get older, they may be more affected by the attitudes of society. Unless parents, peers and society remind their children of the importance of learning many skills so that they can compete in the global world, the children will lose the motivation to continue and their possibilities will be limited.

In the U.S., most students start study of a foreign language at age 12, just as they are becoming more self-conscious and aware of the opposite sex. They don’t want to make fools out of themselves.

This article written by Carolyn Little, a teacher of French in a boy’s school talks about her efforts to encourage boys to continue studying French. Look at the chart and you will see some interesting statistics. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/engaging-boys-world-language-classroom-caroline-little