I propose that women are better than men at learning and using a second language.
I support this thesis with reference to many happy couples, and single travellers, exploring the delights of a region in which they are forced to communicate in a language that is not their own.
The woman can normally be seen commanding a conversation, whether it be dedicated to finding a bus or a room, organising a tour, negotiating a taxi fare or ordering a meal. The oratory skills of the male customarily extend only as far as “uno cervéza por favor‘, or it’s local equivalent. The missus may let her man off the leash on some occasions, but will inevitably interject when she witnesses him flailing in a maelstrom of linguistic turbulence.
If it please your worship, I would like to present my first piece of evidence; Kiwi Simon.
The sheep farmer from the south Island of New Zealand was a solo, male backpacker winding his way along ‘The Gringo Trail’, a popular travel route through South America. I met him in Bolivia, when he was three months into his adventure which had begun in Chile and taken him to Argentina, Peru and Uruguay, as well as Brazil.
We were aboard a local bus taking us to the Bolivian Amazon, and arrived at a dusty, decrepit, crowded bus station. Simon joined a few of us as we ambled around, waiting for the already full bus to fill up, before moving on.
“Ba..Ban.. Bano..Oi, what does that sign say?” he asked.
“Baño,” explained one of his companions.
“What does that mean?” he enquired.
“Toilet,” came the clarification.
“Oh…that’s probably a good word to know, eh!”
Don’t ask me how he’d been managing for the last three months.
Simon’s approach to international communication centred on two words – “Bloody Beauty”. This is how he greeted everyone in South America. No, it’s not Spanish, and no, he didn’t seemed to have learned any Spanish, or Portuguese, during his trip.
Surely this was a problem, how did he get by?
I soon found out.
Illness forced Simon to stay in the town of Rurrenabaque while the rest of our loosely assembled group left for a three day trip into the Amazon. We worried how he would survive without his travel buddies, who had rescued him from so many situations borne of his linguistic ineptitude.
How would he find a toilet?
We needn’t have worried. Not only was Simon healthy when we returned, but now every second local in Rurrenabaque greeted us with “Bloody Beauty”
The last time I saw Simon was at about 5am in a hostel in La Paz, as I left on the way to the airport. I obviously wasn’t quiet enough, because Simon woke, and after saying a short, sleepy goodbye, he told me,
“Oi, I think I got a local girl pregnant hey.”
I don’t know what he was planning to say to her parents – Bloody Beauty?
Darren from Bristol
As further proof of my assertion, your honour, I present Darren from Bristol.
Darren was a hefty lad, sporting a regrettable tattoo on well-sunburnt arms beneath a chubby face with stubble that was two days beyond fashionable. He flicked through his phone, relaying the declining fortunes of his beloved second division football team, to his equally beloved girlfriend, as the third Singha slid easily down the hatch at a beach-side bar in Koh Samui, Thailand.
He soon motioned to Jemma to order another beer. A disgruntled Jemma explained that ordering was quite a simple procedure, until Darren reminded her, yet again, that he didn’t even want to attempt to speak Thai,
“…because if I mix up the Kha and the Khap, they’ll think I’m a ladyboy”
“You wish,” snapped Jemma, wistfully.
As further evidence that women are better than men at languages, I present the international couples. Specifically, I am referring to ‘western’ men from relatively wealthy countries, who date/marry local women in developing countries. Countries throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America play host to many of these couples, comprised ordinarily of an older western male and a young, often attractive, local woman.
In almost every case, the woman speaks the man’s first language, and, conversely, the man rarely speaks more than a few phrases of the woman’s language. In these cases, though, is the ‘lingua franca’ dependant solely on gender, or is it the result of the socio-historical context of the dominant wealthy culture elevating the status of the man’s first language ?
Why are gay men better at languages than straight men?
That’s quite a statement, I hear you say. Yes, but it based entirely on first hand experience. Most gay men, for whom English is a second language, converse very well in English. Many have asked me to help them ‘practice their English’, even though I’m no George Clooney, or have even suggested I give them ‘private English lessons’. One request for private English lessons came from a Filipino male nurse as I was being wheeled into the operating theatre to have two skin cancer moles cut out of my head.
In every case, I declined the offers – because most gay second language speakers don’t need lessons.
Furthermore, with the rise of androgyny coinciding with globalisation, will everyone be linguistically gifted, or will the androgyny fad dissipate as quickly as the K-Pop wave on which it is surfing?
Finally, the ability to learn and dominate a second, or third, language is a wonderful skill to have, but will it be less valuable in an age of language and translation apps?
Maybe they’ll have to make some of these apps specifically for men.