A woman looks at her smartphone while sitting on the floor at the observation deck of the Shanghai World Financial Center. (Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg)

Do men and women prefer to learn different languages?

A new survey by the language learning site Babbel has come to surprising conclusions. "Our data shows that men have a bias towards learning German, Portuguese and Russian, whereas women seem to choose Dutch, French, Italian and Spanish," Thomas Holl, the company's co-founder and president, explained in an email. The survey is based on data provided by Babbel's 1 million customers from around the world — the majority being based in Europe and North America.

While some of the differences might seem insignificant, some stood out. "We were surprised to see the differences between German and Dutch," Holl said.


"Despite the similar structure and shared roots of the two languages, women tend to prefer learning Dutch and men are more likely to choose learning German," he explained.


Ulrich Ammon, a professor at Germany's University of Duisburg, believes that many of the differences are based on stereotypes. "German has always been associated more closely with technology, industry and business while especially French but also Italian have been associated with fashion and culinary excellence," he said.


Ammon said that stereotypical perceptions of gender differences may still have real effects on some men or women in terms of deciding which languages they should learn.

Among the survey's most gender-neutral languages were Danish, English, Indonesian, Norwegian and Polish.

The future of language ]

"Globally, we found that more women are learning in comparison to men —  in the U.S., the numbers are close to equal," Holl said. The survey's conclusions are similar to a recent study by Education First, an international education company, which showed that girls largely outperformed boys in learning English as a non-native language. Education First believes that most of the differences can be explained by the fact that girls learn English earlier in their lives and that in many countries women are over-represented in higher education.

 


Education First also concluded that "women use a wider range of learning strategies, which helps them to memorize vocabularies better, for instance."

The researchers involved with the Babbel report, however, came to a slightly different analysis: "Our data actually shows that both men and women learn very similarly, based on learning time and rhythm. Women do seem to be a little more disciplined" in their study habits, Holl summarized the findings.

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