Category: english

Polyglotism, men and women/Poliglotismo, los hombres y las mujeres

English (español abajo)

Okay, so if you are a language enthusiast you’ve probly come across articles about polyglots in your internet wanderings at some point or another. Most claim that the vast majority of such people are male, though no one’s completely sure why. Often phrases such as “the drive to master complex systems is endemic to the male brain” are lightly tossed around. While I don’t want to say that that stereotype is totally wrong (stereotypes are often correct, just not on an individual level) and that it’s not true that once you get passed, say, 10 or 12 languages the vast majority of such polyglots are male, I personally know (and a cursory look at a site like Tumblr will show you) that there are plenty of female polyglots out there, many speaking 5, 6, 7 languages as different as French, Russian, Mandarin, Arabic, etc.

So yeah, are men more likely to go a little crazy, overboard, master 20 or more languages? I’d say probly yeah. But like any other gender trait, it’s really best mapped out with two overlapping bell curves.

I’d suspect that women polyglots tend focus more on the social uses of language (id est, are more interested in using language for activities like activism, making deeper personal connections, et cetera, rather than focusing simply on acquiring new languages). But that’s just a hunch, a stereotype that we could never say should be true for any given individual.

This begs the question, where do trans women fit on here? And trans men? Tentative research seems to indicate that our brains often fall in the middle of the masculine-feminine spectrum: either they were not fully masculinized or were “accidentally” partially masculinized (yeah, I know “accidentally” sounds super cis-normative, but lack of a better term, mates). As far as language learning, would we match our assigned sex more or our identified sex? Or somewhere in the middle?

Seeing as there is just loads of money, waiting to be spent on researching polyglotism in transgender people, I can’t wait to see the results in the upcoming years.




Si eres entusiasta para los idiomas, probablemente has encontrado algún artículo sobre poliglotos en tus viajes por internet. Muchos dicen que la mayoría de esa gente son hombres, aunque nadie sabe exactamente por qué. Frases como “el impulso de dominar sistemas complejas es endémico al cerebro masculino” se usan bastante a menudo. Aunque no quiero decir que estos estereotipos son completamente falsos (los estereotipos normalmente son válidos, aunque no en una escala individual) y que no es cierto que una vez llegues a 10 o 12 lenguas la gran mayoría de esos poliglotos son hombres, conozco personalmente (y un rápido vistazo en webs como Tumblr te lo demostrará) que hay muchas políglotas femeninas, muchas que hablan 6, 7, 8 idiomas tan distintas como el francés, ruso, mandarín, árabe, et cetera.

Ahora bien. ¿Es más probable que los hombres se entusiasmen muchísimo con la idea de aprender 20 idiomas. Creo que sí. Sin embargo, como cualquier otro rasgo del género, se representa como dos curvas campanas en superposición.

Sospecho que las políglotas femeninas tienden a enfocarse más en los usos sociales de los idiomas (id est, que son más interesadas en usar los idiomas para actividades como el activismo, en hacer conexiones personales más profundas, et cetera, en lugar de enfocarse simplemente en la adquisición de idiomas nuevos). Pero solo es un presentimiento personal de mi parte, un estereotipo que nunca podremos decir debe ser cierto para una sola persona cualquiera.

Que plantea la pregunta, ¿dónde se quedan las mujeres y los hombres trans? Investigaciones provisionales sugieren que nuestros cerebros se encuentran en el medio del espectro de masculinidad y feminidad: o sea nuestros cerebros no fueron masculinizados completamente o fueron “accidentalmente” masculinizados parcialmente (y sí, sé que la palabra “accidentalmente” parece muy cis-normativo, pero me falta una mejor). Cuando se trata de la adquisición de idiomas, ¿debemos parece más a nuestro sexo asignado o más a nuestro sexo identificado? ¿O tal vez estamos en el medio?

Dado que existen montones de dinero para investigar el poliglotismo en personas transgénero, espero con mucho entusiasmo ver los resultados.

ESL classes, gender, jingoism

As an ESL teacher, I’m expected, albeit implicitly, to take on the mindset of my students when in their cultural space, that is the classroom. This is mostly just fine. If it’s occasionally annoying and ethnocentric, it’s often kinda funny at the same time. For example, Monday a student told me, “I like all Mediterranean food, but none of that foreign crap.”

No matter. For every idiot there’s a student who’s a joy. The problem is, it doesn’t always end there. Let me tell you about an incident I experienced today, but first some information about my classes:

Most times I have students twice a week. I usually give them a traditional business English lesson for one of these classes and a more general lesson about a cultural topic for the second. Honestly, the students really like this, a lot. Their responses usually go something like “Your classes are a great mix of practicality and cool expressions and facts I can use anywhere.” ‘Cause, let’s face it, they may need English for their work, but what they really enjoy is being able to converse colloquially about culturally relevant topics. This week’s cultural lesson was about teenage pregnancy rates in different Western countries, a topic which I don’t think, as lesson for adults (often old enough to be my parents) ventures anyway close to the controversial. And you know what, in the various classes I gave the lesson to, everyone thought pretty much as I did: that it was fun and interesting.

Then I had a one-to-one class with a lawyer who, unbeknownst to me, sent his children to a Catholic, Opus Dei school. In his own words (paraphrased), “I disagree with this video that says the Nordic countries and Germany have a lower teen pregnancy rate because their schools universally teach children about contraception.” Well, you know what, bald man (’cause an ad hominem argument is totally fine if supported by other facts!), said video also states that the World Bank, World Health Organization and the United Nations’ statistics disagree with you and it links to their data. I was then subjected to forty minutes of Catholic explanations to life’s mysteries whilst he drilled me about my own slightly religious upbringing, which I found myself profusely exaggerating. When we got to the part about Indonesia and Guatemala tackling sexual assault of teenagers with curricula at least based on “a feminist perspective,” I was told how this would not help the countries because of feminism’s immorality.

I sort of longed to say, “I actually DO have philosophic issues with academic feminism, that is, what people usually study in conjunction with other subjects like ‘gender studies’ and ‘queer studies.’ But I can guarantee you that’s not the least bit relevant to this issue here.”

Oh, and did I mention, this student is f***ing obnoxious to his secretary and a big fan of bringing up his porn habit?

Now, this guy is the exception. Most of my students are great people. The problem is the occasional male who feels English class is 90-minutes to goof off. Now, I’m totally for goofing off. I’m 110% for goofing off. Just please refrain from stereotyping and demeaning me and others with your data-denying fundamentalism. Like fuck dude, Pope Francis is 10 times more reasonable that you!

As a trans person who’s just started their transition, I am a little concerned. I am not in a legally protected class in Madrid (though if I moved back to Andalusia, I would be), do not have the advantage of Spanish or European citizenship and am in a business where I am constantly face-to-face with the clients. Unfortunately a built-in fact of for-profit education is that the “client” is always correct. No matter how unreasonable, narrow-minded or jingoistic that correctness might be.

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