Gender differences in language development

Updated December 15, 2016

Any parent who has raised both boys and girls can tell you that there are some major differences between the genders when it comes to language development. Researchers too have long agreed that girls develop language skills far earlier than boys. These differences are attributable to various factors, including brain development and differences in how parents treat children of different genders.

Brain Activity

Researchers from Northwestern University and the University of Haifa used functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure brain activity in children participating in a 2008 study while they performed various spelling and writing tasks. They found that in girls, the two areas of the brain responsible for language development work harder than in boys during activities requiring the use of language. The study also found that boys rely on different parts of their brains than girls do when completing language tasks.


The researchers found differences in how boys and girls process language. For instance, when boys read words but did not say them, the information remained largely contained to the visual areas of the brain, and when they heard words but did not read them, the information remained contained in the auditory areas of the brain. Meanwhile, girls in the study did not have these limitations. Thus, while boys process language in a very sensory way, girls can process language in more abstract ways.


Boys and girls also differ in how quickly they acquire language skills, according to a 2005 study by researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry in London, the University of Oxford and the University of Missouri-Columbia in the U.S. Girls tend to begin speaking before boys and tend to have a larger vocabulary, concurs an article on the University of Michigan's website.

Additionally, girls tend to make more two-word utterances and to make them sooner than boys do. The reason for that is that cognitive changes related to language acquisition take place between the age of 14 and 20 months in girls, while in boys, these changes take place between the age of 20 and 24 months.


Children's gender affects treatment by parents, according to the University of Michigan article. In turn, different treatment impacts language development. For instance, fathers tend to play more with male children, and this play tends to be of a more physical nature. When they play with female children, they use more communication skills. So while boys may be presented with more opportunity to develop physical skills, girls receive more opportunities to develop their speech.

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About the Author

Cynthia Gomez has been writing and editing professionally for more than a decade. She is currently an editor at a major publishing company, where she works on various trade journals. Gomez also spent many years working as a newspaper reporter. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Northeastern University.