Inclusion in Spanish Language Classes

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The school ethos has an increasing focus on creating and maintaining an inclusive environment for all its students. To promote this feeling, an initiative aiming to alter the language used by members of The Abbey community to more gender inclusive terms such as addressing students as the “class” in preference to the “girls” is currently being supported.  To ensure this manner of addressing the students is consistent, and that the inclusive environment is upheld, each subject must adopt these changes.  This poses a particular problem for the modern foreign languages department, particularly in the teaching of gendered languages, as gender is intertwined with the foundation of the language.  

In Spanish, there is no option for any neutral pronoun for the third person, as only masculine (él: him) and feminine (ella: she) terms exist. This poses a problem when trying to leave someone’s gender ambiguous. Hence, a native Spanish speaker might find themselves having to talk about a non-binary person exclusively by using their name, eg. “Juan dijo…¿Le preguntaste a Juan…?  Por favor dile a Juan…” (Juan said…Did you ask Juan..?  Please tell Juan…) or by referring to them as “él”, given that the masculine is the default gender in Spanish.

In order to rectify this problem, the idea of introducing the word “elle” and adding the ending “e” has recently been suggested, eg. “elle es liste” (they are clever).  The idea of using ‘@’ (pronounced as ‘ao’) at the end of words has also been proposed, as it looks like a mix of both the ‘o’ and the ‘a’ endings “ell@ es guap@” (they are good looking).  However, the RAE (Real Academia Española), the institution that controls the correct use of Spanish, has not authorised this so these cannot be used in official language.  

Therefore, incorporating these new terms into the teaching of the language would not be the best course of action, as it would be an incorrect reflection of the language. Other options for the school do exist, for example instead of saying “chicas” (girls) or “chicos” (boys), the teacher could instead say both, or say “la clase” (the class) to include everyone whilst not changing the existing grammar of the language. Removing gender entirely from a gendered language is difficult, and would result in only a partial understanding of the language being gained. This is detrimental to the appreciation of the language and culture that the department wishes to instil in the students.

Furthermore, for the teachers who are native Spanish speakers, suddenly implementing these changes will require a lot of effort and be difficult to remember.  Although the department is actively trying to make the classroom a more inclusive environment, specifically in regards to gendered language, some changes in the language will not sound natural to a native speaker, so being patient whilst the best options for inclusive language are considered is imperative.

With this in mind, it is clear that inclusion within the languages department is a complex issue which requires considerable thought and input from both the teachers and the students.  

Cristina and Libby, Upper VI

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