How I Expanded My Understanding of Code-Switching

When I came across the term ‘Code-switching’ during my studies, I recall how it opened up the world for me, a space in which I could be ‘ok’ with not knowing right now. I grew up between multiple cultures and languages and would sometimes struggle with feeling shame. Mainly in professional or formal settings when I would grasp for a word but only know it in a language that was not part of the current conversation.

Code-switching was introduced by Hans Vogt in 1954 and was only considered as ‘normal’ by scholars for bilingual and multilingual speakers in 1980. As the primary focus of my research was language acquisition at the time, I also only looked at how code-switching related within that context. I recently stumbled upon the following article and had an ‘Aha’.

Codeswitching is Crucial to Pioneering and Cross-Sector Collaboration

Code-switching is so much more than alternating or mixing words from different languages into a phrase or sentence in a conversation. among other sources define three areas in which code-switching occurs, with point one being the linguistics. But more interestingly to me and concerning the above article were the areas of sociolinguistics and the modifying of one’s behaviour, appearance, etc. Similar to asking children for their focus and concentration, without teaching them why or how this is important. Dandapani, stipulates in his TED talk, January 2016 the importance of practising concentration versus our default, hours of practising distractions. Speaking from a teacher’s perspective, I think we also ask our students to code-switch. But do we integrate the time to explain why? And how? And which context requires which behaviour?

Working in an international school environment where the multi-culture of the school with its local and Third Culture Kids is vastly different to the culture just outside the gate, students are on a journey of developing their identity and in that process, may find themselves unknowingly or knowingly, code-switching to fit a context depending on their interactions. One setting may require them to, for example, respect your elders no matter what, don’t question, be submissive be seen and not heard, the other setting demands the opposite, e.g., share your thoughts, look people in the eyes, speak up, express yourself, illuminate your hues, and show who you are!

So what is this all telling me?

  1. Stay as low as possible on the Ladder of Inference
  2. Empathy and understanding are a daily requirement
  3. Ask questions before judging a behaviour
  4. Learn the similarities and differences of your culture vs. your host culture
  5. Learning never ceases
  6. Be reminded of the iceberg model; there is so much more behind a behaviour
  7. Assume positive intent




Reading – Fast or Slow, Does it Matter?

Have you ever considered yourself to be a ‘slow reader’?

As a life-long learner, I always strive to develop myself professionally. This year I have put myself up to a challenge to be a voracious reader. My aim is to apply and model a growth mindset and to bust the myth that I tell myself that I am a ‘slow reader’.

In discussion with a colleague and critical friend, I was asked, what made me think I’m a ‘slow reader’? And I wondered, does it even matter how fast I read? And, where did that ‘story’ originate?

Years ago, while watching my husband work his way through his Master’s Degree, I was astounded at the rate of which he could read, comprehend and summarise books in English, as a Native German speaker. I marvelled at his skill and became curious about myself as a reader. In our relationship, I was the native English speaker, and I was not able to digest the same amount of information. I wondered, how did he do it? That was a learning point for me, decades ago.

I researched and found a course on speed reading at the University of California. The course set me on the path of learning to improve my reading skills. And it worked! I still remember the time that I was able to read a book about parenting (my sole interest at the time) in four hours – from the time my kids went to bed until I fell asleep, and finished it in the morning before the boys woke up. I read within one night what would otherwise have taken me maybe a week.

What I didn’t know then, I know now. Due to the fact, that my husband had a solid foundation in his native German language throughout his formative education; he had developed the essential skills at reading in German. I may have been a native speaker, but circumstances, familiar to the lives of expatriates or immigrants, led to changes in my academic language. These required me to switch between English and German four times during my formative school years. As a result, my reading skill development in English was fragmented.

What I didn’t know how to label back then was that I lacked a grounded understanding of my mother-tongue. I had failed to acknowledge the fact that reading skills in my native language were intermittently stalled during the development of language at an early age.

The above, along with other personal experiences as a balanced trilingual (English, German, and French) motivated me as a to delve into the world of education. As we only see the tip of the iceberg in the lives and profiles of our students, we need to be cautious with our judgements about the readers we teach. Krashen (2004), stipulates Mother-tongue is paramount when considering reading ability.

In the book ‘The Power of Reading: Insights from the Research.’ Krashen, S. (2004), stipulates the following:

“In early stages, it [reading in the first language] can profoundly accelerate the development of reading ability in the second language.” This is true because:

This is true because:
“Reading skills transfer from language one to language two
reading provides knowledge of the world that makes second-language texts more comprehensible the pleasure of the reading habit itself transfers to the second language.”
Krashen, S. (2004) The Power of Reading: Insights from the Research. Heinemann. Portsmouth

Back to my challenge and my why. My motive is intrinsic. I love learning, and I love challenges. Challenges help us grow. My husband still reads and digests information far faster than I can imagine it and I’m sure there are many colleagues I work with who are equal to his calibre or better (if they are native monolinguals). I understand that there are many reasons why we read, but then the purpose and focus of our reading is or should be for understanding and not to just read as fast as possible. Therefore, my aim is to read faster, understand, and be better able to summarise what I am learning in the process.

As I researched how I might tackle this endeavour, I came across this website full of wonderful ideas such as how to read more books and how to read and make sense of what you have read. The site includes lots of appropriate tools, apps, and ideas on how to organise a ‘readers life’.

I’m sure this will be helpful to anyone; students from primary to those with a high demand on reading to accomplish a successful IB Diploma.

I will personally start with exploring

Have you ever considered yourself to be a ‘slow reader’? What’s your story?



source: APAStrategies for Parents – ELL – Somerset County School District. (n.d.). Retrieved from Bilinguals

Other interesting resources regarding reading:

Hooked on books – Daniel Fader (International Journal of Foreign Language Teaching)

Learning how to learn through asking great questions

I enjoyed reading the suggested text ‘User Generated Education’ I was immediately reminded of the time I became aware of how I could personally take control of what and how I learn. Of course, that was a few decades ago. It was odd, and it ‘s hard to describe. What I do remember is how empowered I felt about being able to take charge of my own learning.

While reading the article, I wondered – if learning is innate to our being, beginning in the womb of the mother, how important is it that we have the ‘cognisant‘ when we are learning?  Oodles of research explain and prove that we are learning from the day we are born.

The article talks about asking essential questions. What does that look like then in and EY classroom? For sure, you won’t hear little Emma come to you and ask “How does gravity influence bodies of water?” But what you might find is that the question they ask is often hidden in their non-verbal actions while interacting with play.

Next time you visit an EY classroom take a moment to observe a child playing with water or in the sand pit. Their questions are not verbal, but they are definitely visible.

water play

IMG_9436 IMG_9439

bike on hill3


Sources and interesting further reading/listening/viewing: