You are here:

  • blog

Why do Genders and Sexualities Matter to Language Education?

Written by Daniel Ferraz |
Pride flag collection

The field of modern language teaching and learning emerged within the framework of modern education, with structuralism as its language philosophy. Language teaching and learning was also the field of inquiry that played a pivotal role in the inception of Language undergraduate courses, Language postgraduate courses, and Applied Linguistics. In this sense, I recognise its enormous contribution to education per se. However, we must admit that, as society is transformed at paces never seen in past centuries (digital technologies, online connectivity, glocal and transcultural relations being some examples of these transformations), the field of language teaching and learning has also been expanded. Nowadays, we can talk about languages that are not necessarily stuck in their national territories, isolated from the world; we can talk about transcultural, translingual and plurilingual practices that happen around us; we can talk about the fact that language is a social practice that is always contextually positioned, therefore being creatively created and recreated by its users. Especially in spaces where the internet has enormously altered social relations, languages are alive, on the move, and in constant transformation. Languages also belong to a myriad of bodies (Judith Butler) formed by the intersections of race, class, gender, and sexuality, among others. These views of language should be encompassed by Language Education.
Thus, besides problematizing, questioning, and expanding the traditional concept of teaching and learning languages, language education revisits the binarism in teaching and learning, considering linguistic, critical, and sociocultural dimensions. For Paulo Freire, this suggests that language teachers should in fact be radical educators (or critical language educators) who position themselves in relation to the memorising and mechanical teaching and learning of a language by targeting the ontological and epistemological emancipation of both teachers and students. In this sense, critique seems to be a sine qua non condition for the emancipation and empowerment of students and educators, as proposed by Freire. In summary, language education encompasses:
•    Teaching the linguistic aspects of a language without neglecting its cultural, critical, local, and global dimensions.
•    The promotion and negotiation of students’ capacity to build and distribute knowledge;
•    The language education of students, so that they can interpret the world around them, within their communities of practice, but also subjectively;
•    Creating affordances that allow students to critically engage in their own educational processes;
•    A transdisciplinary search for knowledge from other fields besides the language field.
•    A post-humanist approach that considers that we—Sapiens—are not the only living creatures on this planet; thus, there are other languages and possibilities of living.
As it is not a teaching methodology or method, language education encourages the educator to create her/his/their own course designs and pedagogical practices according to her/his/their knowledge, experiences, and locality. Furthermore, language education is based on a prior understanding of language: what does language mean to me and to my context? What are the differences between training and education, the teaching and learning of languages, and language education? Who are my students in terms of race, sexual and gender orientation, and socioeconomic identities?

Then, why do genders and sexualities matter to language education?

I agree with Foucault when he states—in The History of Sexuality 1—that sex was never a taboo for modern Western societies. On the contrary, sexuality has been a pervasive subject in human societies, has been subjected to scientific scrutiny, has been controlled, and has been subject to educational endeavours. In Brazil, even though one might think that sexuality (especially homosexuality) and genders (transgender, non-binary) are taboo topics, they have been used as discourses to help spread fake news through social media. Brazilians witnessed, mostly between 2016 and 2022, a resurgence of misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia, along with the discourse that any Brazilian family should be conservative and heteronormative. For instance, Bolsonaro’s motives for spreading homophobia aimed to boost the support of some of his evangelical voters. The problem is that when political leaders begin to demoralise LGBTQIA+ communities, they grant their citizens permission to do the same.

As we can see, these discourses necessarily involve language education (and teacher education, for sure). I believe that more investigations need to be carried out, not only in relation to the period in which the far-right and its ideologies were in power, but mainly now, in 2024 and onwards, as Brazilians struggle with the fact that these deliberate discursive attacks in relation to sexual and gender minorities in Brazil have been spread. In similar ways, we witness waves of far-right ideologies winning elections in South/North American and European nation-states.

In the research project that I have been developing at ILCS/CLACS, I investigate how language education—as a research field—positions itself in relation to the presence of bodies, genders, and sexualities that are not heteronormative. My hypothesis is that these research themes, although present in educational discussions in several areas—for example, anthropology, psychology and psychiatry, social sciences, law, and literature—seem to be neglected by language studies and language teacher education not only in Brazil but also in transnational contexts. I believe that the contributions of this research to the fields of Cultural Studies, Critical Applied Linguistics, and Language Teacher Education in transnational contexts will offer us new perspectives on sexuality and language teacher education and shed light on epistemologies and ontologies that might help us not only understand the attacks that these specific minorities have been suffering but also design analytical tools and teacher education courses to fight back.

Daniel Ferraz is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Modern Languages, and Vice-Coordinator of the English Language and Literature Graduate Programme, at the University of São Paulo. His research and teaching focuses on teacher education, language education, and critical literacies. His research has received support from CNPq (Brazilian National Council for Scientific and Technological Development), and from the University of São Paulo International Office.

Image: Pride flag collection (

Creative Commons License
This blog contribution has been published under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0). The article may be distributed and republished, online or in print, provided the author and original publication are appropriately credited.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the position of CLACS, ILCS or the School of Advanced Study, University of London.