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I have noticed that women tend to have more problems with speaking than men. It's usually connected to the ''perfectionism'' ideal - women decide not to speak if they can't speak a language perfectly. My uncle speaks German fairly well, but it was always easier for him to communicate with others than, for example, my aunt. She speaks almost perfectly, of course, but until she had that almost ''native-like'' proficiency, she was hesitant to speak. Same is with me. I don't like to speak unless I can form a correct sentence which will sound good. I was curious when I found a whole theory about this in one of my textbooks. Apparently, it's a sound theory.

What are your opinions? Any thoughts? What is your experience with languages? Do you have the ''perfectionist'' problem?

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Oh, sure I think I have the perfectionist problem. I'm very much afraid to use a word or phrase that may be incorrect. My husband however, only knows a few words in Spanish and he has no problem placing them in his sentences when communicating with friends and family.

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I wouldn't say I've noticed it in men and women but I agree that some people do tend to be more inclined to perfectionism than others. I've had both male and female friends who've had no trouble with speaking to me either in English or my native language even if they couldn't form a whole sentence just as long as the idea was conveyed.

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I am just repeating what I found in my textbook, but of course, there are various cases. I am sure you can find instances of men as well as women being ''shy'' of talking because they're not sure in their pronunciation or grammar. I am not shy when it comes to English. I could talk day and night without stopping - I do talk quite a lot. But that's not the case with German. I am very insecure when it comes to German, so one factor could be the level of proficiency. If you're aware of your limitations you most probably won't experiment with the language. It's different when you're forced to use the language, such as living in that country. You have to get used to it then.

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I have not read the study that you are talking about, but I can identify with this.  As a woman, I sometimes don't want to speak in a certain language until I feel I have mastered it more.  I think it stems from my guilt of not having studied more, of not being fluent yet.  Feeling like if I had dedicated the time to 'this' language years ago, I would be fluent in it instead of stumbling and mumbling around.

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That is a really interesting point. I have been teaching English for a while now. I often notice that female adult learners are a lot more inhibited than their male counterparts. That's why I never cease to encourage them to speak up. Since we formed a women's only group, I have observed some dramatic changes. Most of the women feel more comfortable and enjoy the classes a lot more than when there are men present. Obviously, I am not suggesting anything sexist here. That's not the point. The point I am trying to emphasize, is the importance of creating an environment in which students feel relaxed and fearless.

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That's interesting. As a female, I have the same problem. Whenever I don't know how to say a certain word in Spanish, I decide not to say anything. I think that is what is holding me back from speaking Spanish fluently. We all have to make mistakes in order to learn- it's trial and error until we can get it right. I've forced myself to speak more in Spanish class, even if I don't know how to say a sentence correctly, and I've found that I've been improving. You just have to get over the initial embarrassment and keep practicing.

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Truthfully, I never viewed this as a form of trying to be a perfectionist. I more so viewed as: "I want to do this right, so I don't offend someone by mistake." It's like when you see a cute baby and you know what's going to come naturally, right? "Oh, you have such a cute baby!" Now, imagine that scenario when you go to say that, but instead the words come out as: "Oh, you have such a scary baby!" You know what that mother will do? She will weal on you for insulting her kid and you'll be trying to fend off her hits all the while wondering: 'What did I do wrong?'

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Well, you do make a point, although a very hilarious one. We find ourselves keeping quiet because we don't want to offend, true, but also because we can be insecure. Imagine the same scenario only you're saying ''You've got much a cute baby'' (cute is a word used so worldwide that I believe almost everyone knows it, a speaker of English or not). The woman would, naturally, smile at you and perhaps say ''thank you, she is such a cutie, isn't she?'' and you'd see your mistake and blush, but that's only if she's nice. There are various endings for this scenario... or course, your idea of the mother running off muttering is also a possibility.

You must bear in mind that I've found this in a textbook - a teacher's guide. I don't take everything for truth there. Some things are written simply to help the teachers and some are actually a real study. For all of you who want to check it out, the book is called:

Jeremy Harmer - The Practice of English Language Teaching (4th Edition) (Longman Handbooks for Language Teachers) - Pearson Longman ELT (2007). I think this may be somewhere from Chapter 3 to Chapter 6.

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I notice that with me. But I am talking about a dialect that my mom uses when talking to her siblings. I think I am on the above average level in understanding it. In my head, I can even make my own sentence but I am afraid to say it out loud. I am conscious because my accent is different. I seem to try too hard. It makes me cringe like what I feel when my older sister speaks that dialect. She's not scared to talk with my mom's family. But she's really often the gutsy type which is good. So I think it's more of a confidence issue for me.

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I understand, I really do, and it's nothing unusual. This can happen if you're exposed to two or three languages simultaneously - you start preferring one to the other and that starts to show. This is definitely the case if you're not speaking the language they are (her family, I mean) - if it's not your native, and I completely natural. If you grew up in a country where your mother's language wasn't spoken, it was natural that she would prefer the language of that country over her own, but still use it occasionally when speaking to family and such. Here, it's even more pronounced.

I have cousins in similar situation and when I listen to them talk in their own language, which is my second foreign language (English being the first), I can only smile and be amazed at the fluency level they'd achieved. It's truly amazing how a person can adapt to the surroundings.

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I agree with you because I am a woman and I had an issue with the English language a few years back. I stayed in a hostel where I was sharing a big room with nine girls. One girl would correct me every time I said something in English. I stayed in the hostel for six months and I stopped speaking in English while I was in the room. Now that I am away from her, I speak in impeccable English as noted by a few people.

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I am not certain I agree with this, at least from my viewpoint. I am a man, and I hate to pronounce words wrong. My issue is that I have been a lifelong amateur writer, and I have built up quite a "writing vocabulary". But because I come from humble means, many of the words I have used in writing I have never heard spoken, or I have not spoken them myself. There has been more than one incident that I misspoke and someone outside my social circle corrected me. This is incredibly embarrassing. I now often use the pronunciation program found in some search engines.

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It sure is an interesting study! In one of my classes in college, it has always been pointed out that language is something women are better at (but then again, we were talking about language development). I haven't read the study, but I personally don't think this has something to do with gender. I would attribute things to a person's personality more than the gender of the speaker. For instance, even if I'm in a class with all women, there were classmates who didn't have problems speaking up even if they had challenges speaking the English language. So, perfectionism wasn't a big deal in that class, as most of my classmates were the extrovert kind.

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  • 11 months later...

I wonder if there's any way to fight this. It's probably true that women are more likely to suffer "perfectionism" when it comes to speaking in a foreign language. I know several people who have this problem and I'd like to help them somehow but I have no idea what can be done :( It's heartbreaking to see people shy away from talking in a foreign language just because they can't get it right in 100% of cases. It's vicious circle because nobody will ever be perfect, even native speakers, to say nothing of the learners. This thinking prevents my friends from enjoying the language and practising it. However much encouragement other people give them, it's never enough to change their attitude...

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Perfectionism isn't exclusively a women's problem, I know a couple of blokes having this problem too.
It's a problem that affects a specific characteristic, not a specific gender.

It's probably true that women tend to be shy, but it's nothing different to men.
I know a couple of people (both male and female) that travel to places with a language barrier (France, Germany, Spain, Japan, South-Korea, Argentina, etc.), only a very few of them learnt to speak the language of the country they visit.
Not because the others can't, but rather because they tell me they are too shy.
However, being shy in language learning is actually a matter of not knowing how to learn the language.

Before I stopped studying Japanese and started learning it instead, I was really shy on this aspect.
Heck, even before I actually spoke English to an English speaking person, this already happened.

But I came over it in both cases.
I stopped being shy about English at the university. I had no other choice, because the teachers only spoke English.
Same thing with Japanese, but on Skype.
And after that, I haven't been shy or perfectionistic or anything else when I started learning German or Spanish, I simply went for it.

So yes, it's perfectly possible to overcome your shyness, perfectionism, fear, etc., you'll just need to try until you feel more 'at home' in that language.
Then learning another language will magically become much easier.

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I have the perfectionist problem, but I still try to speak the language.  Actually, I think I try to speak the language because I'm a perfectionistI think that the more you speak the language that you are learning in front of native speakers, the more you get the changed to be corrected and fix the problems you have with the language.

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I'm definitely like that. I have a lot of issues with anxiety as it is and when I'm learning a language, I feel like I need to be perfect before I can speak. I had a lot of trouble with this when I was studying abroad. It took me way too long to get comfortable speaking in Chinese (I kept worrying about people laughing at me). I didn't realize until my program was almost over that it didn't really matter. People were always nice when I said something they didn't understand and honestly, I had people be really nice and help me out with my grammar. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

I used to have that problem with certain dialects, but now that I realize that so long as I can get my point across I'm good... The only time I have something close to that ordeal is with Asian dialects... Mostly becuase if your pronunciation is slightly off you could say something awful when you're actually just trying to say something nice... So I only have that problem when it comes down to certain languages... So yeah...  

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I don`t really have a problem with that. If I can speak a certain language fairly well and can strike up a conversation, I will go for it. Most often, that is the way to perfection, because if you talk to a native and you make mistakes, he or she will correct you and you learn from the experience. Learning through practice.

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I must have a touch of that. Ok, maybe more than just a touch LOL I have even said it on here more than once, I just seem to have a problem with the speaking part! I have no issues learning and picking up my chosen foreign languages. But I seem to clam up and get all nervous about speaking my foreign languages. I seem to also get my grammar nailed and write better than I speak, and in all honesty, I'd rather it were the other way around. 
 

I don't know if this problem is mainly restricted to women, but i do know that my husband, who is actually reserved and maybe even a little shy, has no problem whatsoever in having fun with and speaking French. His French is way weaker than mine 9and he'll back me on this!), yet he has bags of confidence! It's just strange LOL 

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