Girls have harder time than boys adjusting in language-learning environment

October 6, 2008

Girls who don't share a common language may have more difficulty adjusting socially than boys, according to surprising new Michigan State University research looking at language acquisition among young children.

A study of 3- to 6-year-olds attending an international school in Beijing found that in general, girls had more social adjustment problems than boys. The students, representing 16 nationalities, were immersed in both Chinese and English, meaning each child was learning at least one new language.

"In early childhood, we know from previous research that girls are more verbal and more social than boys, generally speaking, but what we found in this study is that girls had a tougher time with social adjustment in the classroom," said Anne Soderman, MSU professor emeritus of family and child ecology and lead researcher on the project.

The study, published in the latest issue of European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, found that girls who did not understand teachers or classmates at the 3e International School tended to act out or withdraw more than their male peers. Students at the "dual immersion" school are taught in Mandarin during the morning and English in the afternoon.

Soderman, a consultant at the school, studied preschoolers and kindergartners last school year using more than 100 two- to three-hour observations in the classroom and teachers' perceptions of the children's social adjustment on the Social Competence Behavior Evaluation scale.

The study, which continues this year, also found that young children overall have a more difficult time learning a second language than many people believe, Soderman said.

"There's a wide-held perception that if children are very young, learning language is extremely easy for them – that they are like sponges – and that is just not true," she said. "Their motivations for doing so are very different from those of older children or adults."

Soderman said it's important teachers are properly trained to teach a second language and that they make the children comfortable as they go through the often stressful process. A child who acts out may be doing so because of the language barrier, she noted.

"While teachers may see these students as oppositional or significantly withdrawn, sometimes it's just due to the fact that they really don't understand what someone wants them to do. They also become frustrated when they aren't able to communicate their needs and wants to peers and adults," Soderman said.

By observing the students in a unique language-acquisition environment, she added, researchers are also able to identify valuable teaching strategies for children who differ by gender, culture, age, language ability and experience.

Source: Michigan State University

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3.7 / 5 (3) Oct 06, 2008
I am an american expatriot teaching english to children here in china, and i have just a side comment here, not totally related with the study. Here in Harbin, China the boys are totally a challenge. Very often, when i turn my head, one boy or two from each class will bum rush me, and then when i look at him, he will run back a step or to and then just run around a 1.5 meter perimeter. then if i chase him, he will run back and 5 other boys run up and start punching me. this happens at every class and many times at that. some boys squirm in their chairs with a spacey grin and they are usually ones to run at me. most of teh girls are responsive to my lectures and sit in their chairs. those are 10 year olds. with the three year olds, whenever i pick anybody up, the boys will rush in at me, 3 to 4 at a time, and grab my legs and shirt and punch me and push and pull at the same time. they pull on teh student i am holding and say pick me up pick me up in chinese. and i tell them to beat it, but they push eachother away and grab my waist and push me. then if i do pick up one of the troublemaker boys, then when i put them down, they will press against me even as i move away and say pick me up pick me up! A lot of fist fights and wrestling matches have started taht way. So what does all this ahve to do with this article? well i think the girls rely more on verbal communication to meet their goals, and the boys will rely on physical activity to meet theirs. so with that, i can say that the boys dont notice the challenge as much because it doesnt really affect their strategies. the girls have to change their strategies becuse the old ones wont work.

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