A Tentative Analysis of Code-Switching in College Bilingual Education

Article excerpt


The study sets out to investigate the issue of teacher code-switching and its implications for college bilingual education. This paper examines the purposes and reasons of code-switching and how code-switching is used as a communicative strategy in a bilingual teaching classroom.

Key Words: Code-switching; Bilingual teaching; Case study


Code-switching is, as Bokamba (1989, p. 278) defines, the mixing of words, phrases and sentences from two distinct languages or varieties of the same language within the same speech event. Cook (1991, p. 63) defines the term code-switching as "Going from one language to the other in mid speech when both speakers know the same two languages". As a language phenomenon and activity, code-switching is referred to two different languages alternatively used by bilinguals in the same or different speech settings, code- switching is an unavoidable result of language contact and interaction.

Code-switching is an important issue both in bilingual education and in mother tongue use. So, in the classroom environment, the classroom itself is also a codeswitching situation if the teacher knows the language of the students. Studies reveal that teacher code- switching, both in teacher-led classroom discourse and in teacherstudent interaction, is a complicated language use serving a variety of pedagogical purposes.

Code-switching in bilingual teaching may include the following methods: creating desirable atmosphere, translating literature, explaining instrument introduction, writing simple science paper, having seminar reports, setting up network blackboard etc. With its wide coverage and high flexibility, the new bilingual teaching model appeals to students at very different levels in university. Character of undergraduates can be exhibited through this model and students can be encouraged to work with confidence.


In the past few decades, researchers had covered different perspectives on the study of code choice and codeswitching. The studies on code-switching have generally been analyzed in terms of (a) the linguistic constraints that determine the form taken by code-switching (Romaine, 1995; Sánchez, 1983) and code-switching's structural patterns (Muysken, 2000), and (b) the sociolinguistic functions, which determine when, with whom, and why code- switching takes place (Adendorff, 1996; Grosjean, 1982; Myers-Scotton, 1995; Tay, 1989).

The researchers examined the various strategies used by switchers as well as the impact of the switching behavior on people's speech. Code-switching is viewed as a linguistic advantage of communicating solidarity or affiliation with a particular social group. The history of code-switching research in socio-cultural linguistics is often dated from Blom and Gumperz's (1972) "Social meaning in linguistic structures" (e.g., Myers-Scotton, 1993; Rampton, 1995; Benson, 2001). These studies address not only grammaticality of sentences but also their usage, or acceptability, with reference to the functions of language; thus, the contexts in which either language is employed provide explanations of code-switching.

In recent years, code-switching in language classroom has come into focus as an area of specific interest and investigation (Jacobson, 2001). Foreign language classroom has become one of the specific codeswitching contexts. Researchers have carried out studies on classroom code-switching in a broader variety of language environment. Some researchers (for instance, Guthrie, 1984; Merritt et al, 1992) have investigated both classroom talk and the role of code-switching. They have conducted extensive observations of classroom interaction and carried out close analysis of classroom language. This paper presents the results of a tentative analysis of codeswitching in college international trade classrooms of an experimental bilingual education project.

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