Language Matters: Inclusivity in Language Choices

If you’re on Twitter, join the next #CdnELTchat on Tuesday, January 28 – on the topic of Authentic Listening Materials. You can access the #CdnELTChat padlet here. Below is a recap of the January 14 chat.

Image source: #CdnELTchat

By Bonnie Nicholas

While I was starting to work on this summary, this quote by Maya Angelou popped up in my Twitter feed: 

Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.

These words effectively sum up the January 14 #CdnELTchat around the topic Language Matters: Inclusivity in Language Choices. Much of our discussion centred around our responsibility as language teachers to be mindful of the words that we use, how we can know better and how we can do better. 

We were very happy to welcome Lorisia MacLeod BA, MLIS (@LorisiaMacLeod) as our guest moderator. Lorisia is a member of James Smith Cree Nation, born and raised in Edmonton and an instructional librarian @norquestlibrary. Lorisia guided us through some questions and shared some resources for deepening our thinking about what it means to make inclusive language choices. 

We started by asking Lorisia Q1: how do you see your work as a librarian intersecting with your identity as an Indigenous person, and with the language that we use? Lorisia suggests that “libraries are starting to look at how  they have used language to define communities” and “how we can work with communities to improve these terms to better represent terminology we use for ourselves.”

Our subsequent discussion was guided by these questions:

Q1 is a good reflective question for all of us in #ELT: How do our intersecting identities impact the language choices that we make every day, both as speakers and as teachers?

Q2: What does it mean to be inclusive with our language choices?

Q3: How can we know if our language choices are excluding groups or individuals? 

Q4: How can we approach this subject with people who may not agree with the importance of making inclusive language choices?

Q5 (Part 1): What are some strategies to promote thinking critically about language both in our learners but also for ourselves as teachers

Q5 (Part 2): AND As language teachers, how can we teach language learners to be more mindful of their language choices?)

And two questions that we didn’t have time to discuss during the live one-hour chat: 

Q6: Language can take a long time to change, and habits can be hard to break. How can we proactively learn so as to avoid misappropriating words in the first place? 

Q7: What resources are available to help us make more inclusive language choices? Please share resources or connections that might help others be more inclusive in their language! 

You can read the collected tweets on Wakelet, but here are some key points from the participants in the conversation.

  • Think about what voices are not being heard; who is not at the table? We need to try and hear these voices. 
  • Listen to Indigenous voices on terms relating to their culture like spirit animal, chief, tribe, etc.
  • Listen to people talk about the effects that misgendering or exclusionary language has had on them, on Twitter, YouTube, podcasts, and blogs.  
  • Think about who has the power; whose voice is being amplified?
  • Language has power; language and relationships are connected. 
  • As professionals in #ELT, we need to educate ourselves on language choices.
  • Notice how we might be using sexist, racist, ableist, ageist, and LGBTQIA-phobic ways of speaking. 
  • Don’t be afraid of making mistakes, but learn and do better. And remember that we are not alone.
  • Nuanced attention to language is more important than ever. 
  • And a final comment from Lorisia: “It’s not about ownership of the words – it’s about respecting their context and the communities that are asking folks not to use them uncritically. I think that’s the key – it’s about respect.”

We’ve collected some of the resources that were suggested in a Google Doc, Resources for thinking about inclusive language choices. Thanks once again for Lorisia for bringing so many ideas and resources to the conversation, and reminding us that #LanguageMatters.

#CdnELTchat is a collaborative effort that we hope will lead to more reflective practice for all of us involved in ELT. If you have any ideas for topics or have comments about #CdnELTchat, please send @StanzaSL, @EALStories, @Jennifermchow, or @ELTAugusta a tweet. We are also looking for guest moderators who are interested in leading a future #CdnELTchat. Send us a message with a topic of interest. 

Our Padlet, Questions and Topics for #CdnELTchat, is always open for sharing questions, ideas, and resources. We create our promo images using Canva and collect the tweets using Wakelet


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