What is Code-switching?
Code-switching occurs often between speakers of two languages or more. It also occurs within a language. There is two ways I’d like to present for code-switching.
One is an embedded language within our mother language or matrix language. The matrix language may not be your mother tongue but the target language of work or society which you have to speak to get things done.
Code-switching happens when you speak the two languages at the same time, embedding one language in the other. Here are several ways you can code-switch between two languages.
For example: We are sehr glucklich fur dich. Embedded language
We begin speaking English and perhaps we are aware we are code-switching or we may do it without realizing that is what we are doing.
We can use a second or other language to define or explain:
I’m trying to remember; I’m using a memory aide we call such memory aides an Aselbruecke.
We can use our second language for tag switching:
Her name is Angel, nicht wahr?
Non-native speakers may code switch to be a bridge when they are at a loss for a word in the target language.
In German we would say, “Probe” I can’t think of the English translation. Is it rehearsal or test?
We can use it to speak emotionally:
This isn’t right, Mensch!
It may be an inclusive gesture. When you speak, like I do, a few German words, you know to let shopkeepers and restaurant staff know that you respect the language as well as the people.
Gutes Essen! That means good food, right?
We can use code-switching for a poetic function; a joke, a metaphor or saying:
In German we say „Nicht durch die Blumen sprechen“. Do not speak euphemistically.
This is code-switching between languages. Then there is when we code-switch in a register or dialect of a single language.
How do you code-switch with pidgins, dialects and shop talk?
When code-switching happens in a single language it may be to use a dialect;
East Coast dialect
“Havad Yad” is how we Yanks say it.
What I want to say is, “We good, Bro?”
“Girl, you do you,” I’m sure that’s what she wants to say.
Or in your team, or group you may have created your own code words, and references that you can embed in your speech.
"He's got a good reach." A large blog audience.
Why does code-switching occur?
Code-switching happens in any situation where the speaker switches from one vocabulary or language style to another style to communicate a message they perhaps feel isn’t easy or apt to say in the matrix language.
We code-switch to include people into our group or conversation, to show solidarity for a group or to exclude a group or person.
We code-switch all the time. Most of us wouldn’t use the same words with our best friend that we would use with our boss. African Americans have learned to code-switch for survival. How many times have we seen now in videos, interviews for jobs or homes, that if you sound “too black” you won’t even be considered by some associations or people? Also, different dialects or pidgins are considered to be used by people who are intellectually inferior. Why do we still speak them? For some people it is a sign of rebellion, or they believe this is as legitimate language style and makes you sound not too far from the neighborhood that perhaps financially you no longer belong to.
You may use this speaking style for emotion while you would only use standard English when you speak to police or with coworkers. If you slip into street talk, slang, or a heavily accented pidgin you will be stereotyped as “refugee”, “ghetto (hoodbilly) or trailer (hillbilly)” or “ignorant”. It is the wrong audience and so many people, black, white or foreign have learned how to code-switch so you can’t really tell where they are originally from unless they want you to know.
To flip from one language or language style to another can show solidarity for a group. Code-switching is also used to exclude people from the conversation if there is something you want to say that you don’t want others in your group to understand.
What is not code-switching?
If you don’t know the language well enough to use it as a second language and must rely on your mother tongue to complete a sentence; that is code-mixing or interference. If you are not achieving your goal of communication then it is possible that you are having a communication breakdown. If you do not understand what is being said, or you can not convey your message then you are not effectively code-switching. You are not code-switching if your message is not getting across to your speech partner or they do not understand the code you are using.
Similarly, it is not effective code-switching if your reference to another language is seen as offensive. You may want to say to a male colleague, “Hey Bro” or to a female colleague, “You go Girl!” but would s/he understand this slip into code as an attempt at solidarity or a ghetto reference that s/he rejects and is offended by? Be careful with code-switching when you are in a group where they are obviously code-switching. If this is not your inner-circle they may be engaging in their own code or shoptalk. It is okay to say you don’t understand and let them tell you, if they’d like where the code they are using comes from and what is its significance to them. That is being respectful of their group and their language. You may learn a new way to code-switch.
“I can’t learn I’m too old.”
It may be easier for children because they are in a learning environment all day, where as most English language learners are trying to do it in an hour, once a week! This isn’t nearly enough time to learn and so it’s not only age that might affect how much you learn but the time you devote to learning.
“I struggle to learn vocabulary.”
You’d have to live in a cave with no human contact and no contact to ideas- which is near impossible- in order not to pick up something from what you are engaged in. If nothing else your imagination would hijak you and give you random English words. You would begin thinking about something, and then having ideas and notions in English. It’s not easy to remain without thought. Yogis are probably the best at it, but even they are not shutting thought out every second of the day. If you are listening to English songs, your mind will actively try to translate it automatically. Therefore, yes, we are capable of learning, however what is our expectation?
“I forget everything I learn.”
Why do we forget so much? We have to because we can only hold a certain amount in our short term memory and our long term memory is very selective. We have to concentrate on what we want to remember, use it actively, remind ourselves of it with pictures, stories, and usage. Then, you are always learning. As a wise person has said, “It is not the destination, but the journey, you should enjoy.”
“I need to take a class and I have no time for that.”
The idea that language learning happens in a classroom is not entirely true. What happens in a classroom is kindling. Think of a matchstick for what you need to know. Stoking your curiosity by providing it information. The most valuable lessons, however won’t take place in a classroom. It’s when you need English to fill out a form. When you need English for small talk, or a presentation. These words will be burned in your mind because you need them. Unfortunately what the teacher tells you, you might keep 10% of that. That 10% will help you, but you need to get yourself immersed in the language. Read a book in English, chat with someone on one of the many chat sites like Babbel. Make your environment your classroom.
“We use only 10% of the brain, so why bother. “
We use different parts of the brain for different jobs, but it has been proven this is a myth. Depending on what we’re doing we are using more or less of the brain. However, I believe in osmosis. That you can learn passively. So why not have the radio on and listen to an English radio station and begin singing in English. Watch a soap opera or The Simpson’s in English. Memory is unlimited for complex mental processing when it happens in an authentic context. A classroom is out of context and so rote learning happens and this is more difficult to retain.
“I have no motivation to learn.”
Motivation is a muscle that you have to train. When we don’t exercise, we don’t have the strength to lift heavy weights, but if we train, we can make ourselves fit for the challenge. You can turn your motivation on by starting. Try the Promodoro method. Set a timer and begin for five minutes and see how far you get. Usually, if you just get started, that will give you the momentum you need to continue. Train your motivation by giving yourself a small reward after you have trained for ten minutes or just giving yourself a pat on the back. Do whatever you have to, to make it easier for you to learn. Turn on English T.V., buy audio books in English or when you’re waiting in line or the doctor’s office work through an English learning app. Set yourself up for success.
Get started improving your English! What are you waiting for?
Fear is a powerful motivator. It can be the fuel that causes us to change something, as well as make us react to perceived dangers or obstacles. It floods our body with a fight or flight chemical cocktail that works like speed, alcohol and cocaine combined. It is hard to think, we are in react mode and more often than not our head brain cannot be reached. We have a choice, which means fear can paralyze us. It can keep us from moving or speaking unable to decide or think; in a state of hyperawareness where our nerve endings are vibrating and our brain has been detoured to the construction lane.
Have you ever been out in public in a situation where if you speak you will be overheard by more than one person? Do one of these thoughts go through your head? Everyone is listening/looking at me. They will know I don’t speak English well? I can’t think of anything to say in English? I have no words? I will make a mistake? When we are on this small stage it’s easy to get stage fright. Why? Mostly because we doubt our ability to speak English well. We think people will judge us or misunderstand what we want to say. We see the worst-case scenario. We will get stuck and can’t find words to express ourselves and then what? Let me share with you 5 things you need to know about speaking English in a group:
1. It’s not Nascar, really, it’s more of a bumper car race. Your listeners, who are your friends, co-workers, clients, etc. are also sharing your lane. Some people, as well as some cultures are reckless bumper car drivers. They will speak over you, cut you off, or change lanes (i.e. subjects) in a willy nilly fashion. It’s hard to keep up with them. They are the bumper car drivers that end up causing you to hit the wall in the conversation. But have no fear you can jump back in the conversation at any time and at any position because this is not a life or death race. I repeat this is not a life or death race!
2. “You tell me that, but Bee, these are my clients, my bosses, my customers and they are listening to me and hear my mistakes and I will be humiliated.” First of all, you have information that they need, so they are listening intently not to your mistakes, but to your information. If you have information that they need they will not think less of you because you do not speak English fluently. You are an expert in your field, and in your native tongue. This is not your native language, so both you and they have to work twice as hard to understand one another but you’re both doing the work to make the communication happen.
3. Don’t doubt the generosity of your listeners. They want you to succeed even if it’s for selfish reasons. They need the information or the customers or clients that you have. People will try to help you find the words. Let them. Don’t feel you have to know everything. If you have a smart phone look up what you want to say. There are now very clever translating apps that can help you. Don’t be afraid to depend on your listeners as well as technology to help you get over the rough spots where you can’t find the words. Accept that you need help and keep talking until what you want to say becomes clear.
4. Don’t underestimate body language, hands and feet speak as well sometimes as words. Or draw a picture. Don’t limit yourself in your communication to your words. If you are on a conference call use your tone of voice as much as your words to convey your meaning. We all know how to sound apologetic on the phone or simply say sorry. Smile, they can’t see it but you can hear in someone’s voice if they are smiling or frowning. Be overly apologetic, but get your message out there. I mean, say "I’m sorry", but I don’t mean continuously say “My English is so bad." ignore that and keep trying to communicate. They will appreciate that you are trying especially if they don’t speak your language. They need you and your information! Be as prepared as you can for the conversation, but don’t beat yourself up for not speaking the language perfectly. Communication is a partnership and all of you are participating in the transfer of knowledge.
5. Understand failure is not the end of the world. It can give you a sense of freedom if you realize no one is perfect and that you are speaking a foreign language to help the communication take place. If we all only spoke our own languages communication would be impossible which means progress wouldn’t be possible. Whatever fear you have of speaking in a group imagine what is the worst thing that could happen. Visualize how you would handle it. Tell yourself you are prepared and that it will go well. Self-talk can help you prepare yourself for conference calls as well as deal lunches and other group activities where you have to speak English.
“That’s all, really??” That’s it! Speaking English in public is about just letting the person or people you are with know what you are thinking. Being able to speak in a group of three or more can be stressful, but it can also be a chance for you to take the highway of English and step on the gas. It might feel like a Nascar race; a race of life and death at 200 miles an hour but it isn’t. It is more like bumper cars. A bit chaotic, but if you relax it can be exciting as well as fun.