Research shows that boys think ‘language is for girls’. This leads boys to both devalue and to feel less able to succeed in learning languages. This reduces boys’ interest in language careers – a fast growing sector – and they tend to drop out of language study as soon as they can.

A fascinating experiment at Alberta University investigated if men’s beliefs about ‘manliness’ might affect their educational choices.

In the study, male students completed a questionnaire about masculinity. They rated how they valued traditional masculine traits, such as toughness and seeking high-paying work.

182 of the participants were given false feedback. Half were told they had scored in the feminine range. The other half received feedback showing a high masculine score. Then, they surveyed the participants about their perceptions of academic subjects.

Those men who said they valued traditional masculinity and who were told their score was near the feminine average reported less interest and saw less value in foreign language study. They also had had less confidence in their ability to succeed, compared to the men whose masculinity was affirmed.

It seems that traditional gender roles may lead some men to avoid study viewed as ‘feminine’ – such as language learning. Gender equality is not just a women’s issue. Men are affected by stereotypes too.

Does it Matter?

It does. Job opportunities in female-dominated fields are projected to grow faster than those in male-dominated fields. This includes fields requiring a second or third language. Being more flexible could open up broader opportunities for men.

If you have boys, encourage them to keep learning languages – it could unlock a great career. Ask us for more information about how we can help.