Code switching is the practice of switching between two or more languages or language varieties in a conversation. It’s a given that many people, especially those who are bi- and multilingual make use of this practice depending on the social setting they are in. The role of code switching in South African classrooms can be beneficial for various reasons.For one, code switching can be used to accommodate students who are speakers of only one of the languages that is being used.
For example, in a class that consists of students who speak and understand isiXhosa and English, the teacher will need to switch from speaking in isiXhosa to English so that native English speakers can understand what has been said in Xhosa, and vice versa for those Xhosa students who may not understand what is being said in English as well as they would if it’s said in their native tongue.
Practicing code switching could also be useful in classrooms when teachers or students want to quote a figurative expression since the original meaning of the expression may be distorted if it is translated from its original language into another; the meaning might lose its value’. Speakers may alternate between languages when listeners haven’t understood how they communicated the idea before. The same can be said for speakers who don’t know or don’t remember the correct words to use in their native language. For example, when I don’t know the English form of a word, I will try to convey what I want to say in Afrikaans and vice versa, until I get’ the English word or until someone hears me struggle and helps me.Code switching can be used to encourage student participation (Arthur, 1996, p. 17-33) and they will feel more comfortable knowing that they don’t have to communicate their thoughts in a language they don’t know as well as their native tongue. This can help bridge both familiar and unfamiliar gaps in vocabulary for the students, and teachers can then give synonyms in the target language which the student could have used instead of alternating between the languages.For students, it can also be a means of learning a second and even third language and can assist in them understanding the complex linguistic elements of those languages.However, the disadvantages would be that in a classroom setting, it would be inappropriate to alternate between languages especially if the medium of language is English and, if the school consists of multiracial students, the use of code switching would make anyone who doesn’t understand that particular language the teacher switched to, feel uneasy or insecure. In a multiracial English class with a white teacher, for example, the teacher may alternate between English and Afrikaans but would speak in mostly Afrikaans to accommodate other Afrikaans students. This would be unfair to those students who don’t understand the language and it would interfere with their academics as they will have been made to feel insecure and vulnerable as a minority. Topics of conversation in Afrikaans may not even be school related e.g. in private schools, white teachers would make jokes aboout the non white students in Afrikaans with horrid racist overtones to the Afrikaans kids and because they were laughing, non Afrikaans kids would laugh as well, being totally unaware of what is being said. This is a result of not understanding the language and because of the lack of understanding of the racial dynamics between white people and people of colour during apartheid which is still pervasive to this day. Code switching in non language classes like maths, affected the students lesson comprehension and confused them. Another example would be alternating between two Englishes. Students often feel the need to speak a more prestigious form of English when speaking to their educators and not the watered down’ English in which they speak to their friends to prove their intelligence. This could result in students feeling ashamed for speaking in the English variety that is the most comfortable for them around their educators. An example from a classmate is that teachers who may switch between Afrikaans and English would ask questions in Afrikaans and then again in English but with a condescending tone and would get frustrated when the student does not understand or didn’t answer the question the right’ way.Code switching can be disruptive in the learning environment as students with a greater linguistic ability may see code switching as a challenge and will have difficulty in becoming fluent in a second language. In a study by Arrifin and Husin, they found that students with a higher degree of competence in English found it challenging to succeed academically in an environment in which code switching was practiced (Arrifin et al, 2011, p. 221).I do think code switching should be used in classrooms provided that whatever is being said in one language is translated or made simpler in the other language being used to accommodate students who only speak or understand one language better than the other. For example, my English tutor alternates between isiZulu and English but interprets what he said in Zulu into English so that those students who just know English will understand what is being discussed at that time. And, since we are a multicultural country, we should be able to share our languages with each other via code switching.
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