Women are from Venus and men are from Mars. A lot of the time this phrase holds true. Have you had a conversation with the opposite sex and totally misconstrue the other person’s intent? It’s interesting how that can happen even when you speak the same language. Here’s more about how men and women use language differently and reasons for these differences, drawing on research.
Male vs female differences in learning
When it comes to communication in the workplace, research shows men tend to be direct and to-the-point. Meanwhile, women often excel at picking up non-verbal signs and take longer in comparison to get to the point.
How about learning a language? Are there gender differences when it comes to learning Spanish, for example?
Women might benefit more from taking conversational Spanish classes rather than step-by-step lessons. Learning Spanish for men could consist of a more structured curriculum.
This rationale stems from the fact that men generally learn better by processing a word in parts. Women, on the other hand, are good at processing abstract information.
Starting at a young age, how men and women use language differently
As said before, men tend to be more direct than women. Whereas I know I’ve said, “It’s not what you said, but how you said it.”
Since childhood, boys and girls tend to learn rituals that are socially ingrained, explains Harvard Business Review. For example, girls typically learn to avoid sounding overly sure of themselves for fear of polarizing themselves from peers, while boys tend to overstate their status to build themselves up in front of those around them.
When it comes to learning a language, research shows that females are generally better than males at doing so. Of course, it’s not fair to generalize or to look at that point in a vacuum without cultural and social factors. Still, gals tend to use more language learning strategies than guys.
Neurological, cognitive, and environmental factors
Why are there these relationships between gender and language?
Many factors come into play. Firstly, there’s male vs female brains; there are neurological differences.
Men overall have larger brains than women. As for the hippocampus in females, which is the part of the brain that processes languages, learning and memorization, it far exceeds that of men.
When it comes to the the amygdala or the part of the brain that allows you to experience emotions. It is more prominent in men than women and works differently too.
Those studies point to female and male brains being wired differently, which helps explain the distinctions between wording things and expressing oneself.
But explaining how men and women use language differently involves more than only the learner. Language has context.
There is the learning environment and the learning process to consider. Regarding the learning process, a highly motivated learner of a foreign language would be more likely to outperform one who has no drive to learn in a second language, regardless of the person’s sex.
Furthermore, society’s expectations for men and women typically are not the same, responding differently to male vs. female anger, for instance.
Not only that but also an individual’s level of education affects the male and female speech. Some scholars posit that typically women speak with a less confident tone than men because they have minimal power in society. Along with that feeling of inferiority, those same scholars might also say that many women are less assertive when speaking than men because of their inferiority in western society.
More about how men and women use language differently
When men and women have conversations, language and gender differences can become apparent. This point can be especially true when the two people have a close relationship.
When it comes to workplace situations specifically, the differences can include frequency of questions. This workplace study of 100,000 male and female executives, for example, found that 72% of the surveyed males thought women asked too many questions.
Some of these respondents expressed that the questions slowed down progress and decision-making. Meanwhile others noted questions from female bosses felt controlling.
As for women’s responses on that same survey about asking questions, their reasons for the inquiries included to show concern, build concensus, and get to an agreed-upon outcome.
And when it comes to non-verbal uses of language, men tend to use pats, back slaps, and shoulder touches to interact, while for women it is more likely to be reaching out to touch another person’s arm. And then there’s the “man spread” whereby some men sit with their legs far apart, while I was taught at a young age that it’s “ladylike” to cross my legs.
Be wary of stereotypes about gender differences
While this post tries its best to stick to the research, it’s very important not to make sweeping gestures about gender or sex. There are absolutely exceptions to norms and a big part of this blog is about crushing gender stereotypes.
Furthermore, not every study is without its share of limitations, as most researchers would tell you. This post is not an exhaustive look at the literature about professional and social interactions between males and females.
When it comes to how men and women use language differently, I do not want to encourage gender stereotypes. Instead, there are several different communication styles and ways of leading.
Lastly, learning about the differences in language use isn’t about saying “he is _____” or “she is ______.” Instead, it’s about recognizing ways of interaction and understanding those communications on a deeper level to be more adept to them.