Hammadou-Sullivan, Joann

Advisor Department





French; Grammatical gender; nominal gender; French as a second language; L2 acquisition


Grammatical gender in French language is one of the biggest guessing games for a native English speaker. Why a table is feminine and a book is masculine is a question that plagues those learning French as a second language. In French, all nouns have gender, masculine and feminine. The complication: only a small percentage of the nouns are assigned gender semantically leaving the remaining which are assigned gender seemingly arbitrarily. For English native speakers, the distinction of these basic parts in a foreign language is not a natural skill. The simple fact that nouns are either feminine or masculine is troubling to students of the French language.

This struggle of the English native speaker with French grammatical gender presents a valuable opportunity to study how grammatical gender is acquired. This project is a study of French grammatical gender acquisition of English native speakers. First, it examines the existing methods by which grammatical gender is acquired. The research then contrasts the acquisition of grammatical gender in second language learning to the acquisition for native French speakers. This paper then factors in the different variables that affect how grammatical gender is learned as a second language. These variables include age, level of French, motivation, type and amount of explicit review, and positive and negative feedback.

I created a survey of students from high school French levels 2, 3, 4, and 5 asking them to identify the gender of a series of French nouns, some of which can be determined by gender by general rules, some exceptions, and nouns that are typically used within various contexts. This project summarizes the results as well as compares them to the students’ responses to the following: How did you learn to decide between masculine and feminine nouns? How do you feel about how well you can distinguish M/F? and What do you know about masculine and feminine nouns in French?

This research summarizes the pedagogy surrounding grammatical gender and its effectiveness. Processing this study thus acts as a chance to improve personal acuity with grammatical gender. Furthermore, it provides a guide for how to communicate grammatical gender in French to students. Along with the research, I provide general curricula of how to communicate grammatical gender in the French foreign language classroom. This is accompanied by complete lesson plans highlighting grammatical gender as either a focus completely on masculine vs feminine nouns, a review or frontloading activity. This paper and curricula represent the attempt to understand the many facets in the acquisition of grammatical gender in order to apply a knowledgeable approach to the instruction of grammatical gender in French.