Sunday, April 1, 2018

Blogpost #1000! - Gender discrimination in L2 listening and teaching!

How appropriate that the 1000th post on this blog is on the lighter side--but still with a useful "in-sight!"

Ever wonder why girls are better language learners than boys? A new study, Explicit Performance in Girls and Implicit Processing in Boys: A Simultaneous fNIRS–ERP Study on Second Language Syntactic Learning in Young Adolescents  by Sugiura, Hata, Matsuba-Kurita, Uga, Tsuzuki, Dan, Hagiwara, and Homae at Tokyo Metropolitan University, summarized by, has recently demonstrated that, at least in listening to an L2:
  • Middle school boys tend to rely more on their left pre-frontal cortex, that part of the brain that is more visual, analytic and rule-oriented--and is connected more to the left hemisphere of the brain and right visual field. 
  • Middle school girls, on the other hand, tend to to use the right area at the back of the brain that is more holistic, meaning and relation-based--that is connected to the right hemisphere and left visual field.
Now granted the subjects were pre-adolescent. That could well mean that within a year or two their general ability to "absorb" language holistically will begin to degrade even further, adding to the boy's handicap. (Although there is still the remote possibility that the effect would impact girls more than boys? Not really.)
Research on what is processed better in the left, as opposed to right visual field (the right, as opposed to left brain hemisphere) was referenced recently in a fun piece in, How a Strange Fact About Eyeballs Could Change Your Whole Marketing Plan: What public speakers accidentally know about neuroanatomy, by Tim David, that finally provided an explanation for the long established principle in show business that you go "stage left" (into the right visual field of the audience) if you want to get a laugh, and you go stage right if you want tears and emotion. (If you don't believe that is true, try both perspectives in class a few times.)

(Most of us) boys really don't have a chance, at least not in terms of contemporary language teaching methodology either! Not only does de-emphasis on form or structure in instruction give girls an unfair advantage, moving away from boy's preferred processing style, but where are left-brained (generally right-handed) instructors more likely to gesture and direct their gaze? You got it--right into the girls' preferred left visual fields.  And that is NOT funny!

So, lighten your cognitions up a bit, move more stage left,
and cater a little more to the boys' need for rules and reasons, eh!


  1. That idea of stage left vs stage right has been around for a long,long time:

  2. Don't know it this is relevant, but since most people are right-handed, and thus tend to look to the left, it is best to put one's name tag on the right side so that other people looking at you can read it most quickly. Something sort of counter-intuitive, as right-handed people tend to put nametags on with right hand to the left side. An odd note for conference attenders.

  3. Funny you should mention. There was a post recently on that recommended that you put your name tag on your right side, so that in the initial, critical impression making, the other person does not have to deflect their gaze as much, trying to remember your name, especially if you have an odd one with too many consonants!

  4. Also on this topic, long ago I watched a video of my own teaching and realized I was paying attention favoring only to one side of the class. So that was useful information.

  5. During workshops I have frequently had one of my grad students track my covering of the audience, along with other analysis of what my body does what, when. Very helpful. Have seen teacher training rubrics that do something similar.