Is Code-Switching a Skill or a Short Coming?

By: Faten Alzaid

One day I was sitting with my 3 years old boy and we were having this conversation:

Me: Hi Faisal, what are you doing?

Son: I want to play with my toys.

Me: Ok, Let’s play“pretending game”?

Son: Ok.

*The font in the bold= English

*The font in the italic = Arabic

Right after this conversation my husband whispered in my ears “please use only Arabic!”.

Implementing code-switching in the context of using two languages at the same time is considered as a fancy speech back home in Saudi Arabia. People most likely believe that the person who uses code-switching is trying to be more prestigious. Interestingly, since I arrived to Montreal, four years ago, I notice that people do naturally exchange two languages in their speech using French and English. Even in the bi\multilingual education context, there are conflicts opinions regarding code-switching phenomenon. For example, Creese and Blackledge (2010) have shown different research studies that some of which are counted code-switching as positive pedagogy while others not. These different beliefs towards code-switching lead me to wonder why code-switching is considered as a disadvantage in some contexts while it seems as an advantage in the others?

I went through different blogs and literature to explore such beliefs about code-switching which happens most likely in bi\multilingual communities. I found out various perceptions about code-switching. For example, Herk (2012) stated that “Code-switching is a skill, not a short coming” (p.131). However, a blog post written by Jacomine Nortier in the multilingual living magazine, she reported that, in the social level, sometimes people consider speakers who do code switching as “careless” and lazy that they go back and forth using more than one language.

Few weeks ago, I was watching an interesting video of one kid who did code switching using English, French and Indonesian with his parents. You can watch it here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wgWQoZz6nEk). This kid reminds me of my child’s way of switching between English French, and Arabic. What come to my surprise, is the fact that my 3 year old is able to use English and French when he at the daycare and use English and Arabic when he is at home. I find out his ability to do such an attitude is very skillful and smart in terms of applying successful communication with different people. However, I am also afraid that this code-switching will become a habit in the long run. As sequence, in places like job interview, academic settings, and even during any public speech code-switching could perceived as negative factor sometimes that might effect his life later.

In terms of educational context, I was arguing this point with my classmates so I expressed that I personally find out code-switching in the language classroom is necessary as it keeps the lesson flows smoothly beside the other advantages. In the contrary, I am not sure if this attitude will be useful or useless in terms of shaping effective language learning and successful communication skills. Hence, here are my questions for you; 1) As a teacher, how would you perceive code-switching as habit outside or inside classroom interactions? 2) Would you consider using two languages in a general social dialogue as a negative or positive thing? And why? 3) As a parent or (future parent), would you encourage your child to do code switching or not? Why?

References:

Creese, A., & Blackledge, A. (2010). Translanguaging in the Bilingual Classroom: A Pedagogy for Learning and Teaching?. Modern Language Journal, 94, (1), 103-115.

Van Herk, G. (2012). What is sociolinguistics? (Vol. 6). John Wiley & Sons.

 

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6 thoughts on “Is Code-Switching a Skill or a Short Coming?”

  1. Yerim Lee (comment #5)

    Thank you for sharing this, Faten!
    I think the view for the code-switching may differ from culture to culture. For instance, in a multilingual society, code-switching can be accepted in a generous way. However, in a monolingual society like Korea, if someone does code-switching in a casual conversation, that person will be seen as a person who ‘shows-off’ his or her language skills too much, thus it might lead that person to be isolated by other people. In other words, people in Korea do not accept the code-switching very generously due to the certain linguistic or cultural aspects.
    But there are some exceptional occasions when people accept the code-switching in Korea. For instance, in an English learning environment, I think the code-switching can be allowed by everyone. Both teachers and students acknowledge the context, so it makes the code-switching acceptable.
    To answer your questions, first, as a language teacher, I’d perceive the code-switching as a way of interactions in a classroom. And in Korea, except special occasions, I would not do the code-switching to be with people in a more harmonious way. Yet, in a city like Montreal, I wouldn’t mind doing the code-switching since it’s generally allowed within the communities. For the last question, I think I would accept doing the code-switching with my child if the child feels comfortable with doing it. But, I’d still teach him/her when or where doing the code-switching would be appropriate outside the house.

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  2. Hsinhua,
    In Taiwan, we think people who do code-switching show off, too.
    As a teacher, I accept my students do code-switching since it is part of learning process.
    As a parent, I accept my (young) children do code-switching, like my son now, he is 3 and half, he doesn’t know the languages spoken in our home are different. But, when he is able to to know they are different languages,I will ask him to speak proper Mandarin because I believe it is the way to improve and maintain their Mandarin skills.

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    1. Hi Hsinhua and Yerim,
      Thank you for sharing! I hadn’t really thought of code-switching as being seen as showing off, but I can see how this could be construed as such. This goes to show how locally-responsive pedagogy needs to be – our teaching is always embedded in a wider policy/ ideological context and this will inform what is more or less possible/ relevant in our teaching.

      And, thank you, Faten, for initiating such a rich discussion!
      ~Alison

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  3. Hey Hsinhua,

    I think code-switching should be a part of oral classroom communication, especially if all members of the class happen to speak both languages, and if that code-switching can empower members of the class to express their identities more openly, without judgement. But during the last class I was wondering how code-switching works in written contexts. It seems to me that spoken code-switching, though controversial in its own right, is seen as less problematic than written code switching. I don’t think there are many teachers who would accept an English essay peppered with French or Swahili phrases. And this could have serious implications for future school or job applications. So my question would be: can/should code-switching be extended to the written domain? Or is that where we draw the line for mixing languages in the classroom?

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