The purpose ofthis essay is to investigate what role the gender plays in ESL context.
To findthe answer, I will focus on the research that were done in the field in thepast 15 years. During my research, it became obvious that the quantitativeapproach seems to be more popular among researchers, with Likert scale being ontop of overall choices. Despite the fact that gender differences are easilymeasured with MRI, there is still lack of work done when it comes to learningsecond language. Few of the researchers approached the topic with thequalitative approach and conducted the study using interviews and observationsas their main instruments. Mixed methods using questionnaires and interviewsare being recognized and gaining popularity, especially in the most recentresearch. BackgroundThere are threemajor theories in the field of gender differences versus language: the deficittheory, the dominance framework and the difference framework. The deficittheory (Lakoff, 1975) is based on the characteristics of women’s speech: emphasize itsnegative aspects while considering male language as stronger, more prestigiousand more desirable. The dominance framework, that was developed in the mid1970’s, started to connect the negative evaluations of female’s speech to theirsocial domination by men (Bergvall, 1999).
One of the most popular book on gender differences describesgender differences as being socially constructed (Tannen, 1991). Tannen’s book is often being cited by sociobiologists as well, tosupport the theory of difference in language processing in the brain (Moir, 1989). There are hypothesis that language is more strongly lateralizedfor males than for females. Left-lateralized brain activation was shown in somestudies, whereas bilateral activation was shown in female’s brain (Kansaku,Yamaura, & Kitazawa, 2000; McGlone, 1980; Shaywitz et al., 1995). Finally, thedifference framework, known as the dual-culture model, suggests that males andfemales are socialized differently into their role, thus the differences intheir communicative style.
Gender plays a significant role in foreign languageperformance and in general females outperform males. Kissau (Kissau, 2006) claims that females are better due to their higher levels ofmotivation in second language acquisition. Few more research confirm the theoryof females’ better performance in the aspects of foreign language (Koul, Roy, Kaewkuekool, & Ploisawaschai, 2009). They tend to show a higher level of interest in language comparedto boys. Quantitative approachThe first study (Chen et al., 2007), used functional MRI (fMRI) to investigate how sex determines theoptimal brain functions.
The team has created an artificial language, based onKorean writing and sound system – Hangul – but the visual forms did not correspondto their original sounds to avoid the grapheme-phonology-correspondence. Thestudy was carried out in China on 24 Chinese college students: 13 males and 11females, between 19-25 years old. They have never learnt any Korean languagebefore and all of them were right-handed. The subjects went through 2 weekscourse, studying visual form, phonology and semantics of 60 logographicartificial language characters. The program consisted of 2 hours a day and 5hours a week training. Additionally, to administered the training outcomes, thein-house software was developed.
Initially, the subjects were trained on 20characters, which extended to all 60 after the first 3 days. Several types oflearning tasks were incorporated to achieve measurable results, i.e. dictation,naming, copying words by hands, translation, listening comprehension. Thesubjects were tested on their visual word learning at the end of every daysession. The behavioral data indicated that the training was successful. Thepre-training MRI data showed the similarities in activation in the bilateraloccipital, fusiform cortices and parietal lobule for males and females. Maskedcomparison revealed no significant sex differences.
The post-trainingperformance analyses showed the first evidence for gender differences in visualword learning. For males, to optimize the language learning, the left fusiformis used, whereas for females, the use of bilateral neural network plays thesignificant role. The finding correlate with the previous research (Xue, Chen, Jin, & Dong, 2006) and indicates the sex differences in native language processing(left-hemisphere dominance for males and bilateralism for females), which canbe corelated to second language acquisition.
This study provides a newperspective, and can be seen as a pioneer in a second language learning. Themain limitation is the usage of the artificial language; the further studiesneed to use another languages’ pairs and research other learning aspects suchas listening or production.The next studyinvestigates the gender differences in the foreign language classroom anxiety (Park & French, 2013). The study was conducted in South Korea on 948 university studentslearning English: 368 males and 580 females; with the average age of 21 yearsold. The subjects were studying English for more than 10 years with a range of2-4 hours weekly. To measure the anxiety level, the Foreign Language ClassroomAnxiety Scale (FLCAS) was used with a 5 point Likert Scale. Teachers who wereresponsible to collect the questionnaires, were instructed on data collectionprocedure, students were voluntarily participating and they were asked toanswer the questions honestly. The previous studies (Koul et al.
, 2009; MacIntyre, Baker, Clément, , 2002; Matsuda & Gobel, 2004)showed mixed findings in gender studies. The hypothesis was that males might bemore anxious than females and their results in L2 performance would be adequatelylower. The results of this study reported significantly higher anxiety level onFLCAS scale in females.
ANOVA results indicated that female and more anxiousstudents received the higher grade compared to males and less anxious students.The mainlimitation to this study is socio-cultural aspect thus view on anxiety inKorean male dominated culture. It was expected from females to receive highergrades because they have higher motivation level. The next research isfrom South Korea as well.
What differentiate it from other research is the biggroup of subjects: 5545 cases in total. It was a longitudinal study taking intoaccount years 2005 – 2009. Korean Educational Longitudinal Study was conductedby the Korean government and it included nationally representative sample. Theresearch was measuring the intrinsic motivation for English and Math in middleschools’ 7th grade students till 11th grade in highschool. There was a good variety of schools themselves: urban and rural areas,private, national and public, different curriculum tracks, and the mostimportant – targeted genders: boys, girls and coeducational classrooms. The4-point Likert scale was used to measure the motivation: interest in thesubject, the importance of it and engagement. Students’ intrinsic motivationbegan to decrease for English and Math and it only changed the pattern afterentering high school: the motivation for English increased.
The genderdifferences were examined and it was noted that for English, females’ motivationwas higher at 9th grade, during middle school it was slowlydecreasing, and again increasing at faster rate during high school years (Lee & Kim, 2014). This study supports the previous one that reported advantage inlanguage for females (Fernández, Quiroga, del Olmo, Aróztegui, &Martín, 2011). Althoughthis research provided new insight into intrinsic motivation and genderdifferences, we need to look at its limitations: different psychological andenvironmental factors, as well as identify if its result can be generalizedinto other countries (including non-Asian culture countries). The next researchreports the gender difference in learning oral English skills using technology.
(Harb, Abu Bakar, & Krish, 2014). 30 males and 70 females were the subjects and research wasconducted in Jordan using 5-point Likert Scale. The study investigated the attitudetowards learning oral skills between girls and boys and to find if females arebetter in language acquisition than males. Questionnaires were administeredtwice: during the first week of the compulsory English course in theuniversity, and at the end of the semester – week 14 of the course. The resultdid not show any significant differences between genders, both in pre-test andpost-test.