Role of Gender Differences in Children's Language Acquisition

Gender Differences in Speech Development in Toddlers

Gender difference plays a vital role in the development of linguistic abilities in children. Studies have shown that even in similar environmental conditions, there’s a clearly visible difference in language acquisition in genders. Biological evidence shows that processing of language in girls is more abstract, whereas, in males, it’s sensory.

Right from the beginning, people display differences in their behaviour when interacting with baby girls and baby boys. Girls are commonly treated with more gentleness, while boys are dealt with more playfulness. However, infants and most young toddlers can’t really be differentiated on the basis of their gender when they dress up in similar clothes. It’s only when they reach the age of about 30 months that differences begin to appear, whether through the activities they like to engage in, their personal choices, behaviour, and manner of speaking.

It seems that boys have “weaker” or “slower” capacities for language acquisition. Boys represent more than 70% of late talkers and just 30% of early talkers. Studies on early language development (first three years of life) find systematic differences between boys and girls in the process of early communication development and language acquisition. These differences are not observed only in the development of the language system, but also in the development of overall social communication skills. Boys lag behind girls in the development of many communication features – eye contact, gesture use, gesture imitation, joint attention, social referencing, etc.

Read on to know more about gender differences in language development.

Understanding Gender Differences in Language Development

  1. Even though girls begin to speak at an earlier age than boys, the difference is only a few months. There’s a normally accepted range in age within which most children begin to speak, which is 18-24 months. Girls are often at the beginning period of this timeline and boys at the later end.
  1. Studies have revealed that the part of the brain associated with picking up languages performs harder in girls than in boys. Different parts of the brain are also involved in tasks associated with languages, creating the basic gender difference in child language development.
  1. Language processing has been found to be more sensory in boys, whereas it’s more abstract in girls. It’s a wonder then that the accuracy in linguistic performance is much higher in girls. Boys produce word combinations on average 3 months later than girls. They have also been found to be more prone to language impairment issues. The most striking difference between girls and boys is the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Boy to girl ratio in most studies is between 4:1 and 5:1
  1. Not very surprisingly, its also been found that language development in children is boosted by being engaged in physical play. This also encourages them to interact with other kids, and they develop a better sense of verbal communication. Language differences also arise from the difference in physical play in girls as opposed to boys.
  1. Studies suggest that gender differences in children’s speech also occur because boys tend to create an association between what they see and hear, i.e., a visual and auditory association. It’s only when they hear or see a word that the actual meaning of it clicks. There are suggestions that this gender difference in speech development is because of a difference in the left cerebral hemisphere, which is larger in infant girls than boys. However, it doesn’t remain different as children grow.
  1. Numerous studies suggest that girls naturally have a better ability to pick up verbal fluency than boys. They are also better at articulating their statements and have a wider vocabulary than their male counterparts. For example, at 16 months, girls have a vocabulary of 95 words, while boys have a vocabulary of 25 words.

Many studies clearly showed the correlation between sex hormones and developmental outcomes. Moreover, anatomical, histological, and brain activation differences in the speech and language brain areas were also documented. Overall, it seems that the functional organisation of the female brain gives women an inherent advantage in the acquisition of communication and language system over men. The specific mechanisms that lead and contribute to the development of this advantage are yet to be fully discovered.

While girls may learn a language faster, it doesn’t mean all boys lag behind or that they’ll have a tough time developing their speech – much rides on how parents assist. Games, activities and everyday conversations can greatly help, as can playing and interacting with kids of the same age.

What’s your opinion and experience regarding teaching toddlers to hone their speech? Do let us know!

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