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