How Gender Builds Language Barriers

English is a language without gender. Well, sort of. What that debatable affirmation refers to is the lack of gender inherent in lexicons of the English language (i.e., any words other than certain pronouns). For people who speak only English, this is something that isn’t an issue. Now if those people want to learn, say, German or Spanish or French, well… we may then run into a few obstacles along the way.
A simple sentence such as “I like the book” becomes “Me gusta el libro” or “Ich mag das Buch.” The word book in English has no gender, but in Spanish it’s masculine, and to further complicate things, it’s neutral in German – and neutral doesn’t mean “no gender!” In Spanish, there are just two genders: masculine and feminine, and this is reflected not only in certain pronouns but also in articles and in other words such as adjectives. This means that all words have to have concordance in their usage throughout one same sentence. “The ball is small” becomes “La pelota es chica”, but if we say “The boy is tall” then we have to say “El niño es alto”. Basically, we have to pay a lot of attention to small details in Spanish that weren’t even an issue in English.
German is different and, let’s just come out with it, quite a bit more difficult due to its wonderful system of cases. Yes, cases – that term you haven’t heard since high school Latin courses is back to haunt you. Nominative, Accusative, Genitive, Dative – and all words change depending on the cases that they’re in and depending on their gender! That’s almost like multiplying Spanish’s difficulty by four. But, once you get the hang of it (memorize, memorize, memorize), you’ll start to assimilate the differences between Die, Der and Das – feminine, masculine and neutral – and be able to recognize which words in German are what gender (and it may be totally different from the notion a Spanish speaker for instance already has instilled in them).
A couple of final examples: in Spanish, a tomato is masculine. However, in German it’s feminine! Die Tomate. In Spanish, a book is masculine, but it’s neutral in German as we’ve already pointed out. In English, nouns don’t carry an inherent gender concept, so re-learning words based on what Gender they are in different languages will certainly affect the way you see the world and your thought system. Especially if you’re going to tackle languages as different as Spanish and German, Romance languages versus a Germanic tongue. It’s like rebuilding your idea of the world around you, one gender-filled word at a time.