Teaching Gender-Neutral English in EFL Classrooms
The use of gender-neutral language instead of gender-biased one is rapidly becoming important in the business and academic world. In fact, gender-neutral words such as “human being”, “person” and “chairperson” are commonly used as generic meanings in English-speaking countries, whereas the use of gender-biased words such as “man”, “he”, and “chairman” has been avoided recently. Some language reformers point that the reason why such gender-specific terms as generic meanings should be avoided is not only because they confuse us, but also because they do have effects on our thought. In fact, the results of some experiment studies show that readers of terms like "he" and "man" are more likely to think more readily of males than of females (Erlich and King 1998). It is also true that recently many English-speaking countries have passed strict law prohibiting discrimination based on gender. Consequently, quite a few organizations, especially, academic organizations prohibit gender-biased language in their writing (Ferguson 2004). Therefore, it seems very important for us EFL teachers to equip our students with ways to avoid sexist language by teaching it in classrooms. Otherwise, our students may not be aware of such language and may even use it in English-speaking settings in the future. Therefore, in order to enable our students to skillfully interact in authentic situations, as EFL teachers, we should have a responsibility to equip our students with an understanding of gender-biased language and appropriate substitutions for such language. First, this paper reviews exactly what gender-biased terms have been replaced by what gender-neutral terms in English-speaking countries recently. Second, this examines how much EFL learners are currently aware of gender-biased language by administering a questionnaire survey toward about 66 Japanese university students. Finally, I would like to discuss exactly what gender-neutral terms and how to teach in EFL classrooms effectively.
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