Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

Navigating Pronoun Use for Transgender and Gender Non-Binary Students in the Foreign Language Classroom

Navigating Pronoun Use for Transgender and Gender Non-Binary Students in the Foreign Language Classroom

Nicole Markovic

Many Romance languages are built on a binary conception of gender that provides limited room for gender-neutrality. Additionally, the lack of a queer pedagogy and the heteronormative assumptions of most language textbooks pose barriers to educators who are increasingly faced with navigating gender neutrality in the classroom (Nemi Nato 2018). To address these challenges, this paper explores how foreign language educators can address gendered pronouns for transgender and gender non-conforming students in the language learning classroom. While it can be noted that gender-neutral pronouns have not been adopted by Romance languages in the mainstream, there has been a significant shift in the way educators are adapting to new language patterns regarding gender pronouns. Data are collected to analyze for current practices of and recommendations for educators from sources including discussions from language learners and educators via online sources such as Quora and Twitter, as well as strategies found in the language learning software Duolingo. Discussions on Quora spotlight how, in French, speakers have begun to use the pronoun “iel” and sometimes “ille” to refer to a non-binary individual. Language learning programs like Duolingo have begun including gender-inclusive language (e.g., “his husband” or “her wife”), but less focus is put on gender neutral and gender non-binary pronouns. Further, discussion boards on Duolingo note how representing gender-inclusivity and gender-neutrality is more easily put into practice in the written form, but more challenging in spoken forms and within the classroom. The implication of this study promotes further discussion and inquiry about the strategies navigating pronoun use for transgender and gender non-binary students in the foreign language classroom.

April 16, 2020 - Posted by | abstract


  1. This is exciting! I’m glad there’s increased discussion on gender neutral terms! I know that this is something that was discussed amongst German classrooms as well (though it’s not a romance language) as well, and there’s also the difficulty of speaking terms while written ones are easier. I’m interesting in finding what possible solutions you’ve found!

    Comment by Mikayla | April 22, 2020 | Reply

  2. The language can really make a difference in the ease of gender-neutral or inclusive expressions. I’m curious if the discussion extends beyond Romance languages which definitely have a harder time than Sino-Tibetan languages which often do not distinguish gender in the pronoun, except in writing.

    Comment by Shannon Yee | April 22, 2020 | Reply

  3. Really interesting topic. I’m curious to give it a read and see what your findings were, in order to see how language learners are pivoting and if there are any projections on how change will resonate from the classroom outwards. Will there be sustainable impacts?

    Comment by Juliette André | April 27, 2020 | Reply

  4. Hi Nicole, I echo the sentiments others have posted in that this topic is both important and likely to be impactful. When I first read the title I wasn’t sure where you were situating the “foreign” of “foreign languages.” I see now that it is English-speakers learning languages other than English. To this end, I wonder what you find of English-speakers openness or reception to gender inclusive language, should this be something for future research to observe. It also seems that you are advocating for gender inclusivity regardless of one’s gender identity and gender presentation. Is the purpose of the study solely for “transgender and gender non-binary students”? Are you interested in the reproduction of heteronormativity and “traditional” gender roles when learning, specifically, Romance languages? Either aim is important. I value that have linked the larger discourse with implications for those that hold membership to the trans and gender non-conforming/non-binary communities, and just wanted to point this out (which you likely already are negotiating). :)

    Comment by Bethany Hedden | April 28, 2020 | Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: