“Schnitzel is a veal cutlet that has been pounded paper thin. It's the size of a small country and easily extends over the border of the plate.” I explained to Marlene “It’s wonderful! You have to experience it”. Marlene was traveling on a Eurail pass and only had a few hours before her train departed for the next European destination.
“Let’s have dinner at a traditional German Schnitzel House,” I suggested.
The Schnitzel house I chose was a cavernous room, with a hodgepodge of heirlooms; a porcelain chamber pot, a spittoon and a butter churner, each sat on a pedestal, in a corner of the room. The light décor was reminiscent of dungeons and dragons. Heavy chains hung from dim fluorescent chandeliers. I made my way across the creaking planked floor. The gaps were wide enough to trap loose change, high heels, and small children.
The server approached our table in a laced dirndl and wearing corrective shoes. There were sweat patterns in her makeup, yet somehow, she was still smiling.
“Water, please,” Marlene said.
“Americans,” She said as if to flip a switch in her head. Without preamble she handed us English menus. “We have sparkling water, Perrier, Canada Dry, as well as Regional and Aquafina still water, which would you prefer?”
Just tap water, please,” Marlene said.
“You’ll have to buy the water, Marlene.” I said looking at the waitress and trying to get her sympathy.
“Can’t you drink the water in Germany?” Marlene asked.
“Yes, but not in public. I’ll have an alcohol-free beer” I said almost in a whisper, knowing that asking for water and alcohol-free beer put us on display as “not locals”. The waitress turned on her heels and left.
“This menu looks interesting. What should I order? Wiener schnitzel, Greek, Gorgonzola, Zigeuner, Madagascar, Jaeger schnitzel, there are so many,” Marlene said using the votive on the table for light to read the menu.
“Try the Jaeger schnitzel, it’s with a gravy and mushroom sauce.” I counseled, “it’s very popular.”
“That’s too much sauce,” She said, frowning at the plastic protected picture of the dish. She scrunched up her nose. “You know what, I’ll get the sauce on the side.
“Marlene, you can’t change anything.” I said, kneading my temples with my finger tips.
I was afraid Marlene would be exercising her right to be as special as possible. I blame Burger King and their slogan “Have it Your Way”. Suggesting that any meal on a menu can be altered, adjusted, even abandoned due to our intestinal issues, tastes or time constraints. The waitress returned, placed our drinks on the table and asked our orders.
“I’ll have number 38, the Weiner schnitzel” I said.
Ignoring my advice, Marlene said, “34, the Jaeger schnitzel with the sauce on the side. I’ll have the salad instead of the fries and a side of coleslaw,” I shrunk in my chair as the harried waitress looked dead-eyed and inhaled, vacuuming the room with her nostrils.
“Let me go talk to the Chef,” she said and left.
“In Germany, they don’t like to take special orders,” I explained again. Then for effect I held up the votive candle illuminating my face with its flickering light like in a ghost story, “You are more likely to find hobgoblins here than special service.”
It had begun to rain I could tell by the people dashing past the window. Enthusiastic accordion music played on the sound system. I cowered behind my alcohol-free beer fearing the worse, while Marlene leaned forward emboldened.
“We tip them for good customer service.” Marlene said staring down the chef who was in a heated conversation with the waitress who was jabbing her finger in our direction.
“Yeah, that. They don’t actually live from tips like they do in the U.S. so, they have no incentive to practice anything beyond the bare minimum; bringing a meal.”
Marlene’s mouth dropped open, for a moment I thought her bottom lip would get stuck between the planks.
After the chef’s blustery show in the entranceway of the kitchen the waitress returned to the table with our orders.
“I did it. Schnitzel with sauce on the side, salad instead of the fries and a side of coleslaw.
“Remarkable,” I said. She gave us a wink, and a triumphant smile. “I was an Au Pair for a year in Canada. This is my restaurant.”
When she left the table, we began our meal commenting on the beautiful presentation with garnish and parsley. “This looks amazing, I don’t know how I’m going to eat it all,” Marlene said. I smiled, “Pace yourself!”
We were there for over two hours enjoying the ambience and our meals.
“What a wonderful dinner. I won’t forget it,”” Marlene said. We both were grateful for the waitress who came to the table several more times to check up on us. Even the chef came to our table to see how everything was going. As we paid to leave, Marlene wanted to leave a tip.
“You don’t have to tip,” I said.
“We have to tip!” Marlene said.
“She said it was her restaurant. You don’t tip the owner,” I said firmly.
“I don’t understand the customs here at all!” Marlene said, shaking her head.
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?