Code-switching? Chinglish?


“Code-switching” is an interesting phenomenon for people who speak the same languages. When we covered the concept in class, the first thing comes in my mind is “Chinglish”, which refers to spoken English influenced by Chinese for most Chinese people who learn English as a second language. However, the example gives by Van Herk (2012), “Spanish-English switching in the US is often called Spanglish, while Canadian French-English switching is Franglais”. From my understandings, Spanglish and Franglais seem to have different connotation from Chinglish.

Speakers who code-switch of Spanish and English, or French and English, they must be perfect in the two languages, and they know when to “switch” the word to make the sentence grammatically correct to others so that they don’t make wrong sentences and feel embarrassed in front of people. But for Chinglish, it seems have a different meaning. “Chinglish refers to the Sinicized English usually found in pronunciation, lexicology and syntax, due to the linguistic transfer or “the arbitrary translation” by the Chinese English learners” (Li, 1993). Chinglish usually refers to Chinese speaking English in a Chinese way using its grammar or lexicon that does not sound right to English speakers. There is one story I would like to share. Before I came to Montreal, I taught in an elementary school, my students’ English ability were much more advanced than the children in their age. However, whenever they had a fight they always complained to me saying: “Teacher! He use me.” I know the kids form the sentence directly from Chinese grammar and phrase “他用我” which means “he beat me”. Or sometimes they said “Anna don’t have come to school” (Anna didn’t come to school). Are these kinds of grammatical mistakes also counted as Chinglish? After teaching one semester kept telling them what they said were not correct in English. It seems that they couldn’t get over with the mistakes when they were in a hurry. But they understood that the sentences were not grammatically correct.

        This little anecdote proves that how L1 has an influence on L2. And I believe that Chinglish has a positive and negative way to interpret. If the two speakers are perfect in Chinese and English. The code-switching in the context would be they are looking for words that are not existed in either language, especially loanwords. On the other hand, as I mentioned, the negative way to see it is a person speak English with Chinese rules. However, I think sometimes it’s more about whether person knows the English culture well and whether he or she has the English learning context, not exactly about the person’s English proficiency. One time I wanted to show my gratitude to my American friend for she helped me a lot for my exam, and I said to her: “You’re a beneficial friend”. She laughed and said English speakers would say “You’re a helpful friend”. Sometimes translation in different languages would lose its actual meaning.

        Code-switching of Chinese and English may sound weird to Chinese speakers, since English is NOT considered as a second language, but as a foreign language. Unlike places where English is a second language, such as Montreal, Hong Kong, Singapore and so on. It may sound natural to them. Have you ever spoken with code-switching? That probably means you’re skillful in the languages. Feel free to share with me!


Van Herk, G. (2012). Chapter 11 of What Is Sociolinguistics?

Li, Wenzhong., (1993). China English and Chinglish. Foreign Language Teaching and Research.

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