When it comes to languages, English could be called the strange love child of Latin and German. Although Latin and German are riddled with grammatical gender in their nouns, adjectives, articles, etc., grammatical gender in English is almost obsolete. In the year 2021, the idea of gender is a hot topic. Try stating to a middle or high school class that words in Spanish have gender, and they may lose their minds. Tell them that the Spanish genders are masculine, feminine, and neutral, and you are likely to have students questioning you right and left. The way you introduce the terminology surrounding gender in a language classroom will determine how smoothly any mention of gender will go from there on out. Follow these tips for avoiding conflict when introducing grammatical gender in the year 2021.
Use the Term “Grammatical Gender”
If you tell students that Spanish nouns have gender and state that the genders are masculine and feminine, students will without fail try to start a debate about all the types of physical and identity genders that should be taken into account. By phrasing your statement as masculine and feminine being the two main grammatical genders in Spanish, you remove their ammunition to start an argument because the grammatical gender of a noun does not change.
Clarify that Gender Describes Words, Not Objects
Students tend to think that the grammatical gender refers to the actual object it describes. A quick and easy way to correct this misunderstanding is to grab an object such as a pen that has two different names with two different genders and tell them the two different names and their two grammatical genders. In Spanish a pen is called el bolígrafo (masculine) and la pluma (feminine). Students need to understand that the pen does not change genders depending on what you call it. The names for the pen have two different grammatical genders. If you do not make this distinction, prepare for an avalanche of questions, comments, and debate. One concept that you may want to add is that adjectives do have to match the gender of the word being described which is usually determined by the person or animal being described, unless it is a neutral adjective. Mentioning that adjectives do change gender based on the person or animal being described will help as you utilize the next tip.
Give English Examples of Grammatical Gender
Words in English that have a grammatical gender do exist, even if we may not think about them often. A more notorious example are nouns ending with “ess” implying that the person or animal is female. Some examples are waitress, lioness, princess vs. the masculine versions of waiter, lion, and prince. Other endings implying femininity are “ette” (bachelorette vs. bachelor) and “trix” (dominatrix vs. dominator). Adjectives with affixes indicating the gender of the person or animal being described are extremely rare. In fact, there is only one gendered adjective that is commonly used in English today: blond vs. blonde. Many native English speakers do not know that the different spellings indicate a difference in gender of the person being described. “Blond” implies that the one being described is male, whereas “blonde” indicates that the person is female. When introducing these examples to students, you will again need to reinforce the fact that grammatical gender always refers to the word itself and not the object, although at times it may reflect the gender of the animal or person being described.
So, in summary, avoid conflict when introducing grammatical gender by making sure to use the term “grammatical gender” each time you are discussing gender. Also make sure to be clear that the grammatical gender describes the word itself and not the actual object. And finally, follow up with examples in English that can help students wrap their brain around this new concept of grammatical gender.