I have only been back at school for two days and already found something to be sceptical about. During a French lesson we had to write a sentence describing ourselves – mentally and physically – and halfway through the teacher stopped us. At first, I thought she was going to give us help or instructions. However, it was even better. She wanted to make us aware that the French are creating ways to use gender neutral terms so if someone is transgender they have their own way of describing themselves. This made my day. I did not believe the teacher at first. However, after some research at lunchtime, they actually have joined the bandwagon of trans inclusivity. C’est absurde!
There are moves to create feminine versions of masculine words to “balance the scales of centuries of male domination”. It gets worse. Some French institutions – such as Le Sorbonne – are using gender neutral terms in lieu of their traditional masculine alternatives, such as saying ‘être humains’ (the human beings) instead of ‘hommes’ (men). Le Sorbonne has also added the feminine ‘e’ and plural ‘s’ to masculine words to neutralise them. For example, turning ‘cher lecteur’ (dear reader) into ‘cheres lecteurices’. Other gender neutral pronouns include ‘ol’, ‘ul’, ‘yul’ and ‘iel’. They just sound like grunts.
France’s First Lady Brigitte Macron, who clearly has not yet received ‘le memo’, has spoken out against the use of gender neutral pronouns saying:
Learning French is already difficult. Let’s not add complexity to complexity. It’s a cultural position. The language is beautiful. And two pronouns are fine.
French is one of the hardest languages to learn because its grammatical structures are difficult for English speakers. For example, word order, compound nouns and the agreement between adjective and noun, which can change depending on number, gender and case. Students in lower ability classes already find learning the basics extremely difficult, let alone mastering these new terms.
However, one positive for students is that it will make it easier to gain higher marks. It is likely we will still be marked on the correct use of feminine and masculine terms – for example, using ‘une’ for a girl and ‘un’ for a boy. However, if we make a mistake and use ‘une’ for a boy and ‘un’ for a girl, how is the teacher to know that you were not using the language in an inclusive way to describe a transgender person?
It is to be hoped that British schools will not prioritise or even introduce the use of gender neutral French into the curriculum. The U.K. already has problems with illiteracy among children – 413,000 children do not own a single book and one in five children struggle to read and write. In particular, students are struggling with French. Only 12,500 students received a 9, the top grade, in their French GCSE last year, representing 10.3% of overall entries. In French, pupils should be learning how to have a conversation with a person who speaks French. Let’s not put more obstacles in their way.