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Real Men Don't Learn Other Languages

New research finds many men view learning a second language as a feminine pursuit.
College graduates

OK, it isn't strictly necessary that the president of the United States speak seven or eight languages. If Pete Buttigieg ultimately assumes the office, his remarkable linguistic abilities will be seen as a useful bonus.

Given that we live in an increasingly interconnected world, in which our next employer or new neighbor could be from another country and/or culture, multilingualism is an obvious plus. So why are so many men reluctant to study another language?

New research offers an offbeat answer: It is perceived by many as unmanly.

A study from Canada reveals undergraduates consider language learning to be a feminine pursuit, and that men with traditional beliefs about the proper roles of men and women report less interest in such study if their masculinity has been threatened.

"Holding traditional gender role beliefs may cause men to handicap themselves by limiting the scope of educational choices they consider," writes a research team led by University of Alberta psychologist Kathryn Everhart Chaffee.

The researchers describe two studies in the journal Group Processes and Intergroup Relations. The first featured 1,673 introductory psychology students at a Canadian university who were asked where most of their peers would place various majors on a scale of masculine to feminine.

"Both male and female participants stereotype mathematical domains as masculine and languages as feminine," they report.

The second study featured 182 male introductory psychology students. They first took a "pretest" that would ostensibly provide initial psychological profiles for each. In response, they were given fabricated feedback. Specifically, they were told their "masculinity score" was a below-average 33 or an above-average 73 on a zero-to-100 point scale.

Between one week and three months later, they took a second test, in which they noted whether they would like to learn a foreign language, and whether they planned to study one of six languages as part of their college curriculum. They also completed a questionnaire designed to determine their views on traditional concepts of masculinity. Specifically, they indicated their level of agreement with statements such as, "In some kinds of situations, a man should be ready to use his fists, even if his wife or girlfriend would object."

The key result: Men who tended to endorse such macho attitudes, and had their masculinity threatened (by receiving the fake low score), expressed less interest in learning a language, and lower intention of taking a class to do so.

"In order to encourage more men to enter female-dominated areas of study (including languages), it may be important to challenge stereotypes about those disciplines," the researchers conclude. "Our results show that men who have traditional beliefs about what it means to be a man are likely to avoid foreign-language study if their status as a 'real man' is questioned."

To which we can only say: Sacré blue! Or, to translate for you manly men: That's astonishing!