Experts recognise that when learning a language, we use two methods to fully comprehend and memorise enough of a language to be able to speak and understand it. These involve a mental dictionary, which stores commonly used sounds, phrases, words, expressions, etc. and a mental grammar (for want of a better description) enabling the mind to process sentences and longer words in real time.
Dr Cristina Dye from the child language development department at Newcastle University confirms that many experts recognise that when learning languages the mind uses real-time composition as well as an in-built storage facility of sorts. The specifics of how this works are as yet unclear; however, studies to date indicate that boys use mental grammar primarily to learn a language, whereas girls tend to rely upon the storage of language specifics or the so-called language dictionary.
Testing had previously focused mainly on adult subjects; however, Dye wanted to assess whether investigating the way that children approached the process of learning a language offered any additional insights. Clearly it did, as the results showed that girls would remember forms of words such as “walked” and their associated or linked words, whereas boys tended to assemble the words needed using smaller word and phrase sections: composing using the “grammar dictionary” as opposed to remembering the words as a whole.
Dye believes that these findings are consistent with other gender-based learning findings previously identified. An example of this would be that when it comes to remembering or memorising facts, events and pieces of information, females often managed these tasks better than their male counterparts.
National statistics showing that girls tend to perform better academically than boys during their school years has caused some to question whether the National Curriculum is perhaps geared more towards the ways in which females learn. Perhaps one way to even out this difference in performance level would be to reassess the way that the curriculum is taught in order to accommodate all learning styles.
These findings could be used to look at the way that languages are taught at all levels, with the hope that understanding the most effective ways to teach languages to males and females could entice more candidates into learning languages at a higher level.