English Teacher Article Code-Switching


Code-switching refers to alternating between one or more languages or dialects. It also occurs within a particular language. We use different forms of expression depending on the person we are speaking to and where we are speaking to that person. There are different degrees of formality and informality. Would you say that the idea of code-switching exists in your first language? If so, would you consider yourself to be a "code switcher�??

Many times in English there is more than one way of pronouncing. Some people whose first language is English decide how they are going to speak by the context within which they are speaking. What they take into consideration is the degree of formality or informality in a particular circumstance. People don't make too much of a conscious decision about this. It more or less just happens. Some people don't often use informal or colloquial forms of pronunciation; however, they are prevalent within the English language amongst people from all walks of life and backgrounds. Understanding informal and colloquial pronunciation as compared to more careful, formal and "standard�? English pronunciation is part of obtaining a better understanding and awareness of the English language. As an English language learner, you need not feel obliged to speak using informal and colloquial pronunciation, but understanding this form of pronunciation better might help you to hear and comprehend English sounds better.

"We were alert to the gap separating the written word from the colloquial." I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou (Chapter 29)

Copyright 2005 Steven David Bloomberg questions.steve@verizon.net

Categories: Speaking Out


Code-switching: I am commenting quite late at night, so this, I will call "Part One", if you will be patient enough to wait for "Part two", soon to follow tomorrow.I am immediately attracted to your descriptive term. I understand it. I am reminded of Duty Officers in Embassies using decoders, scramblers and descramblers. It is all about the enhancement and conversely the prevention of communication.
As language teachers we are the guides to communication, for even though other communicative guides exist, such as body language, voice, eye contact, our main reliance generally is on the spoken and written word : language.
Most of us are code-switchers in our first language unless we are born, live and die in the same isolated village with no electronic or rare other exposure to other codes. In this case, there is no need for code switching.
In most people's lives, code-switching is a necessity, and, as you say, an unconscious linguistic communication which we may use with ease and sophistication. It is significant that you make the point that code-switching travels on auto-pilot, that a person is aware but not self-consciously aware of its existence and can thus communicate in a rigidly formal appropriate way with one person, and with an easier familiarity and informality with another.
I would not, for example, greet my boss with a "Yo!", and a "So, how're ya doin'?" I could, but my next performance evaluation would not be impressive.I would say, "Good Morning! How are you? That is a lovely brooch you are wearing, if you don't mind my saying so." This "code" is a personal one I have with my boss, and another term for it would be "sucking up to minimize aggravation." Other people's bosses might not need such delicate code handling;-)
I could then, when she had passed out of earshot, see my Trini friend, and, on auto-pilot, we would "Yo!" and "dap", hug and fall very easily into "Trini" speech. He would keep his pronunciation, but our expressions and idioms would be the same.
Code switching can be used as an enabler of communication, and also as an obfuscator of communication. On this last point and on others I shall elaborate tomorrow, since it is late and I must go up the wooden stairs to Bedfordshire.
Part two, then, tomorrow. This does not preclude anyone else from commenting between now and then.

I don't know if I go as far as code-switching, but I definitely change register. At what point does assimilation become code-switching?

Could you elaborate a bit on what you mean by "assimilation" here?


If you mean adapting, then I'd say code-switching would be just another word for it.

I think code-switching can be likened to register. I don't think they would be entirely different.

If we look at code-switching in its broadest, most all encompassing field, we cannot reduce it to terms of "assimilation", "adapting" or "register." It is all of these and yet it is much more.
It is conscious, it is not conscious, it is on auto-pilot, and it is also a deliberate linguistic use to a means. I said "Part Two" of my comment would be yesterday or today, but my time was severely limited. I do have a lot more to say and write, and in the very near future, will do so.

It is conscious, it is not conscious, it is on auto-pilot, and it is also a deliberate linguistic use to a means.

Hi Fleur,

That's quite true. I agree.

What I meant was that I don't change completely, but I adopt features from the environment I'm in. Last night I met a Cockney friend and when I was with him, my speech took on some characteristics of Cockney English, which I don't do in the classroom. However, I don't go the whole hog. ;-)

I get the picture.

I'd say I pretty much do the same thing here.

However, I do switch back and forth in the classroom. I have no problem revealing what kind of a speaker I can be outside of the classroom. For the immigrants I teach, I believe this is actually quite useful. I model different styles of pronunciation for the benefit of the students/learners. They're aware of it, and I believe they appreciate it.

Hi, you guys!
Tdol, my accent switches a little in the same way as yours did when talking with your cockney friend, but like you, I don't go the whole hog, either:-)) This "code-switching" could be likened to a paint sample, where the colours are very subtly graded, and I'm not really sure if it's an unconscious adaptation or a couple of other things. Cockney, like strong Brissol (Bristol to you, Captain x-mode) might be so strong as to dominate an R.P. accent. (Always supposing one could call R.P. an accent.....but that will be for another time). So how and why does this domination occur --and I add a fraffly fraffly accent to the dominant ones also. They have heavy leanings on the consonants and vowels. You can almost see the vocal cords of a Cockney or a Zummerset man being like cords of rope, twice as thick as those of the R.P. er. More manly , somehow, and very earthy, although of course it depends on the speaker.I know lots of manly (and womanly R.P.ers). But just imagine the effect! It also seems to me that with your non R.P.er the volume is turned up. Let's compare :
"Excuse me, could you tell me how to get to Horfield?" (R.P. er)
"Wot? 'Oarrfield? Oi dunno, me loverrrrrrr! 'ave ta arrsk summin else, won't ya! Cheerrrs."
And then there's poor "Frightfully, frightfully," whose facial muscles twist and turn in the spitting out of his words, accompanied by rictuses (ricti?) horrible to behold, tempting me to say, "Watch it, if the wind changes, your face might stay like that."
(All scrunched up).
So, a little like chameleons, and also to join with our friend, we take just a smidge of another's accent/register, whatever you want to call it, and then revert back to our "own" when we go and have tea at Mummy's.
Then there's :to be or not be a pariah? When all your friends are "Yo-ing," and using words you have never heard before, they're cutting you out.
You are rejected, and wander off home, a saddened, soggy (it's raining) linguistic outcast.

And code-switching as an opportunity, or to be a mysterious femme fatale : Opportunity : A very attractive man gets on the bus, by his face and demeanor he is British. You tread on his feet, or he treads on yours, but you both exclaim, "Oh!! I'm terribly sorry!", thus betraying your common origins.
A polite pause, while eye contact is broken, and then the conversation begins. Hanging on to the bus straps, buffeted by little old ladies, by the time you've reached the terminus, you now have a solid contact in Manchester, in the garment industry, with whom you can stay, and who has ordered three thousand saris from your factory in Karachi.

The mysterious femme fatale : you'll see her looking disdainfully at you at the cosmetics counter not really "selling " Lancome or Vichy, she just happens to be there, with a totally indecipherable but attractive accent. "Are you Greek?" you boldly ask. Not a muscle moves, "No. I am not." She doesn't offer anything more, .........and so it goes. You're hooked after an hour, and it turns out she comes from Southampton.

Now I must go and because I've just been to the desntist and it's raining, am taking a cab home, and will order it in regal tones (not to be confused with "frightfully frightfully" ones--------frafflies must use a lot of Botox-------"Yes. Diamond taxi? This is Doctor------, and I'd like a smoking taxi please."
They zoom in at a fraction of the time if you had announced you were Edna Bloggs. Are we not all chameleons to an extent? And it's not adaptation.
More on what I mean by that, next time.:-))))

And now it's good night from him and goodnight from me!

Code-switching : Visually I can see the linesman on the railway track, switching the tracks so that two trains split as they run parallel to each other and then clatter off into the night , the communication and the collision(!) averted.Dialect is sometimes very difficult to understand unless you have had sufficient exposure to it, or, you learned it at your mother's knee. An Andean Indian will speak his own language,a proud tradition from his Mayan or Incan ancestors. Is this dialect or a separate language? In order to "get on" in life, he must, if he is lucky, learn Spanish.Just as a Haitian speaking creole in a dominantly French speaking country will speak impeccable French when he has to. And a heavy Joual speaker in Quebec will have great difficulties if his joual is so entrenched that he cannot code switch. I knew a couple of Joual speakers who were so frustrated that other Quebecquois could not understand them that they gave up dispiritedly and went back up North or to another rural area.
So the ability to "hear" another dialect or language, when it is close to your own, is important, for to able to "code-switch" means you find a common ground with others and your fields of communication are broadened. Why, in this instance, may one person have this ability and another, not? Is code-switching dependent on innate linguistic skills, like having a "good ear" for languages? If you are tone deaf, is it then harder to jump onto the other train before the linesman changes tracks?
I am taking this to a broader domain than perhaps X-mode intended : if you are from Taiwan and want to learn English, if you study English in depth using language labs. and all the tools and techniques at your disposal so that you become proficient, can this be called code-switching also, or am I carrying it too far? If you are fluent in Spanish, French and English, in the company of native speakers of all three, it is also on auto-pilot, sometimes without even noticing you are switching "codes" that you all communicate together.
But I think I may be broadening and so confusing X-mode's thoughts into an area where even angels fear to tread;-))

I'll be teaching a unit on code-switching in a Linguistics Seminar for future English teachers. Can anyone suggest interesting projects, ways of getting corpora for analysis, reference books and articles. Thank you.

I'm to write a dissertation on code-switching,types and functions and i would like to have more information on the subject. Thank u.

i am not too clear with this topic code switching, i will like to have more explanation.

Basically it's when people can change their language according to the place, situation, etc. If someone can speak both Standard English and Cockney English, say, and uses the Standard variety at work, in a more formal context, and the Cckney variety when socialising then this is code-switching. People with speaking regional varieties of a language often change according to whom they are speaking.

Fleur-de-lyss mentions " frafflies "

Does anyone remember a book written in the sixties titled " How To Speak Fraffly " and the author's name?

it can't be denied code swithching occurs in our everyday life... i think it is natural amongst us and even professionals code swithches from time to time...

I definitely code-switch whenever I have lived in England, which has been a few times. I have normally lived in Canada, where most of the vocabulary can be matched with British southern standard as well as colloquial sayings. But, where it is not similar one really does need to change when they move to Britain. Most importantly the reason I find the need to code-switch is so I can communicate properly with whomever I'm talking to and secondly is to just fit in without people taking 'the piss' out of you. As the ol' saying goes, 'When in Rome....'.

Interestingly though one coming from the UK to Canada doesn't necessarily need to code-switch as much as the other way around. This could possibly be due to obvious reasons that Canada was created by Britain, settled by Britain and has a large portion of it's inhabitants being of British stock. It's certainly not uncommon for any student in any school having at least one of their teachers being from Britain. Canadians are used to this and comfortable with this. As well, some of the most popular tv shows in Canada have been and are British.

Canadians alot of the time try to do anything to differentiate themselves from being perceived as Americans but this is a whole other story.

I'm teaching about code-switching. In that connection I'm looking for examples on code-switching by teenagers (a small dialogue, a sentence,...). Can anyone help me?

Code-switching is not just from one variety of a language to another. If it was, it would be hard to distinguish from register-switching. The term is often used when speakers of two or more languages alternate. For example:

I'm just off to the supermercado to get some frutos secos cos we've run out, mi amor.

Well, I met Juan on the puente aereo last week and he was going on about the mercado continuo and so forth...

Of course, there are times when laisser faire can turn into laisser aller, n'est ce pas?

A mi no me va todo eso del happy hour sabes, yo prefiero beber sensibly como diria mi amigo James.

Would somebody please dun an doras, its freezing in here, an-fuar ar fad.

Nao gosto de caminar, ficou tired, cansada. We sit down a little ok, and later we go home. Quero voltar a casa. Voce nao quer?

Can anyone tell me if Spanglish is an offficial language or a dialect...please...

We don't have an official body for the English language, so it's hard to say a term is official or not, but Spanglish, Singlish, Chinglish, etc, are commonly used terms for these varieties of English. I'd say they were dialects and not languages.

I am studing English Language with the OU at the moment and the conclusion I have come to is that Code Changing is all to do about the use of a second language within a matrix (main) language either knowingly or unknown. Style shifting is a spefic study of how one changes a matrix language through dialect to achieve a common ground and acceptance or achieve a status within a group. As in how you would speak to a friend in contrast to how you would speak in an interview.
Any thoughts?


An official language is commonly one that has been codified: there are dictionaries, grammar books etc available to study.
Hence, American English, British English, Australian English, Indian English etc. However, most language varieties, especially the dialectal language varieties such as Spanglish, Singlish etc are not codified so cannot be refered to as official in anyway.

There's some information on bilingualism code switching. But there's nothing on code switching in one language...Could someone add something about switch code phenomenon only in one language?

my name is ngozi from a nigeria am working on the use of code switching in a project work can u pls send research works on it thank u

I'm doing a presentation on how teenagers, adolescents, and adults, use code-switching. How they communicate, can you help me please, on giving me some information (facts). Thank-you.


please i'm writing a thesis on code switching can you pls give me some informations on how it works. thank you.
chioma kaduru

I am working in the use of code switching when ordering on a project work the problem is that i didn't find any research about this subject plse i need help thank you

2 educators offer alternative approach to teach grammar
By PHILIP WALZER, The Virginian-Pilot
© June 4, 2006
NEWPORT NEWS - A student says, "Janae need a marker."
How does a teacher respond?
Usually this way: "We don't say, 'Janae need a marker.' We say, 'Janae needs a marker.'"
What the teacher needs is a new approach, according to two local educators promoting an alternative way of teaching grammar .
"I would say, 'We're in school right now. We're speaking formal English. How would you say that formally?' " said Rachel Swords, a third -grade teacher at Newsome Park Elementary School in Newport News.
Swords and Rebecca Wheeler, an associate professor of English at Christopher Newport University, have co-written a new book, "Code-Switching." They advocate a shift in teaching standard English to speakers of what is known as African American vernacular English - or what they prefer to call "informal English."
The old approach "demoralizes the child, and it's not effective," said Wheeler, who is on leave from CNU to work as a research scientist for Old Dominion University's Darden College of Education .
Instead, they said, teachers should recognize that those students speak a valid language at home and must learn how to translate "informal English" into "formal English."
"We don't correct," Wheeler said.
"There's no reason to correct," Swords said.
"We move from correcting to contrasting," Wheeler said.
The book includes several charts, many created by Swords, that illustrate the difference between informal and formal English in areas such as subject-verb agreement and past tense. One chart hanging in the back of Swords' classroom last week covered "possessive patterns," such as "The dog name is Jack" versus "The dog's name is Jack."
"I'm still teaching standard English," Swords said, "but I'm going about it in a way that respects the language of every child in the classroom."
The traditional techniques damage self-esteem, she said, and "put the child in a horrible situation where he has to choose between 'the teacher is right' or ' the parent is right.' "
Even more important, the educators said, the "code-switching" approach works better. Since she adopted it, Swords said, the racial gap in her students' test scores has disappeared.
However, the educators acknowledge that their technique is slow to catch on, both locally and nationally. "People are very resistant to going against the traditional way" of teaching English, Swords said.
Karen Aita , an eighth-grade teacher at Northampton Middle School on the Eastern Shore, has used the new technique for nearly two years. Early indications show that 97 percent of her students passed the state Standards of Learning writing exam this year, the highest ever at her school, she said.
"The thing I like about it is, it gets us away from the textbook," Aita said. "Instead of just hearing rules they don't retain, they can visually learn to recognize patterns in their writing. ... They're much more engaged in learning."
Althea Joyner , the senior coordinator of English for Norfolk Public Schools, has met with Wheeler and observed Swords' class. She said she came away impressed and wants to introduce their philosophy in the city's classrooms.
"This is starting in the earlier grades," Joyner said, "and is giving students confidence and an understanding of why they speak certain ways at certain times."
Two Virginia Beach school officials said Friday that they could not comment on Wheeler's and Swords' strategies until they read the book.
Rhonda "Nikki" Barnes , a former English teacher in Chesapeake who now serves as a senior liaison to minority communities for the National Education Association, expressed a mixture of praise and hesitancy.
"It shows that they are culturally sensitive to the students," Barnes said. "... But I think an English teacher should be able to say, 'This is wrong in terms of grammar.' " Colloquial terms such as "cat" and "big man" are not incorrect, Barnes said, but phrases such as "We be" or "I is" are ungrammatical.
Wheeler's response: "Yes, it's not standard English. It's something else."
She and Swords emphasized that they are not teaching students African American vernacular English and that they ask them to translate only from informal to formal English - not the other way around.
The approach, Wheeler said, also benefits students already fluent in standard English . They sharpen their critical thinking skills, she said, and erase misconceptions that their black classmates are uneducated.
Their book was recently published by the National Council of Teachers of English . The subtitle is "Teaching Standard English in Urban Classrooms," but Wheeler said the strategy could just as well apply to "Appalachian-speak or Brooklyn-speak or Pennsylvania Dutch."
And it doesn't take longer to teach. "I would say it takes much less time," Swords said, "because now my kids get it."
• Reach Philip Walzer at(757) 222-5105 or phil.walzer (at) pilotonline.com.

In Nigeria,there is a predominant use of 'pigeon English'or broken English,as it is most commonly known.Now, in the course of my little observation,I discover that it serves mainly as the lingua-franca for most parts in Nigeria.Also, it was quit interesting to discover that an average child tends to express himself better and also assimilates better and quicker in 'broken',as fondly refered to by most Nigerians.I think I quite agree with Swords& Rebecca in the shift method of teaching Gammar.But beyond that,if you have a knowlege of 'Broken English' in Nigeria,don't you think it should officially become Nigeria's lingua-franca and language of instruction in schools? OR WHAT DO YOU THINK? SHOLA BABADIYA,FUNTUA, NIGERIA.

i am so thankful that i went at this website because this is really my last resort. now, i`m starting on my paper and i will include all your comments here. i will put your comments in the POINT OF VIEW part of my research paper. thank you for everything... i knew you`d help me...

I'm from Benin Republic West Africa. I followed my study in English Linguistics, and after my fourth year study, I am about to write something on Code-Switching.
But what matters is that I wonder if there are illustrating books which could help me or I derectly part from what I could see people practicing? I need refernce books and articles on this subject

im doing a research A Level study into code switching and bilingualism . I am a bilingual myself (English and Punjabi) however i am finding it difficult to explain it all. Im trying to establish how,when and why codeswitching occurs. So please could you give me some information etc, as i need to do my project. Help would be appreciated such as studies theories etc, anything will do even personal experiances.



I´ll give a introduction on code-switching in a small university course in a couple of days. I am quite familiar with the issue but I would like to start out with a nice example of spoken code switching style. If someone has maybe a minute of real material that someone could send me to present. I would be very thankfull. Of course I would mention the source :0) (a CS including spanish would be top). Thanks. redaco


I´ll give a introduction on code-switching in a small university course in a couple of days. I am quite familiar with the issue but I would like to start out with a nice example of spoken code switching style. If someone has maybe a minute of real material that someone could send me to present. I would be very thankfull. Of course I would mention the source :0) (a CS including spanish would be top). Thanks. redaco

when i had read about code switching,i am so interest to study it,because the topic i will take to make a thesis of undergraduated in Flores university.may you are would like to help me plase.i waiting for your comment or some advise to help me.thank you very much.

I'm going to present a thesis on code switching and i'm badly in short of information.i would be very thankfull if you help me and send some related materials.

i want just to say that am working on the use of english in tunisia and code switching is the focus of my research, i'll be gratful if u write something in this vein thank u.

well,i really want to study further about code-switching..it the topic of my research and i don't where to start.I'm quite confused on how to do the conceptual framework on my thesis. anybody could help?

CS is an option one speaker has to express his or her ideas freely in a particular situation and in an especific place as emi bilingual contexts

well, I am preparing my thesis about code switching in songs. anybody could help me? please!!!!!!

Always try and give proper amd full details of any intormation you are trying to give out.

hi every body im a jordanian student, im still studying english, i have a presentation about code-switching reasons
pls can u help me in this mutter

hi everyone its important to note that academic papers on topics such as code switching, dialects etc, especially ones relevant to how language is changing in todays society- are not common at all. In fact, it is up to all of you studying these areas to come up with information and publish papers that others can use.

with ten example for each differenciate between codeswitching and codemixing.

hi I am an Algerian student of English.please help me to find a specific area of study in code switchinng.

I'm looking gor studies on code switching or contrastive analysis to cite in my thesis. Please forward and info.. Peace

hii.i am a english department students, now i am in process of writing my thesis about perception about code switching,. please help me to find any article or journal that related to my topic.thanks..

You'll find loads of articles on code switching in http://scholar.google.com/

hello everyone! I'm from South Korea. My thesis is about CS. And I'm short of recent articles. I need your help if you have any.
Thank you very much..

We delete emails from comments for security purposes as they will be farmed by spammers if we leave them displayed. Please follow the Google Scholar link- it has more than enough material for a thesis on code-switching.

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