The Ingenuity of Code-Mixing and Code-Switching
This blog is part of the TESOL Research Professional Council (RPC) Blog series.
My journey as a teacher of English in Nigeria began with teaching Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), Graduate Record Examinations (GRE), and Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) preparatory classes to well-prepared students. Most of these students attended private schools and had strong communication skills in English. Although English is the official language in Nigeria, for many in this multilingual society, English is an additional language.
When I changed jobs, I had the opportunity to teach English communication skills in a public tertiary institution in a rural setting. There, the students were seeking a technical certification. In this less privileged setting, I learned about the value of code-mixing and code-switching to facilitate understanding.
What Are Code-Switching and Code-Mixing?
Wei (2018) explained that code-switching refers to an “alternation between languages in a specific communicative episode, like a conversation or an email exchange.” Wei noted that while there are many perspectives on this topic, analysis of the practice begins with naming the languages involved (for more, see Wei’s blog).
For Ansar (2017), code-switching is also a feature of discourse in additional language teaching, with “the students’ and teachers’ naturally occurring language use in the classroom” (p. 30), and it is closely related to, but separate from, code-mixing. For Anyadiegwu (2015), code-mixing and code-switching are understood as language interlacing that occurs along with bi/multilingualism.
Language Policy in Nigerian Education
English is the medium of instruction in Nigerian education. However, the National Policy on Education explicitly allows for Indigenous languages, or the “language of the immediate community” to be used side by side with English in the first 3 years of primary school (lower primary education in Nigeria). During these 3 years, English is taught as a subject. There is no explicit direction for the medium of instruction after that, but neither is there any rule barring the use of community languages. Teachers often engage in code-switching and -mixing from the upper primary years onward because the transition from community languages to English medium instruction is abrupt (Anyadiegwu, 2015).
Is “Everybody” Singular or Plural?
In my Communication Skills class, code-switching and -mixing are topics in the curriculum—these are skills for communicating in a bi/multilingual environment. I also came to employ these strategies to teach a concept. For example, in Yoruba, “everybody” is conceptualized as plural, though in English, it is conceptualized as singular. Students will say, “Gbogbo wa ti wa ni ibiyi,” with gbogbo meaning entire, or all. The Yoruba-speaking student will translate this literally as “everybody are here.” With the help of code-switching and code-mixing, I was able to successfully explain the concepts and structures of both languages.
In conclusion, teaching English to speakers of other languages involves considering psychological and sociological variables, such as students’ context, social class, and gender, as well as the content. Using students’ primary languages has greatly helped me in my journey so far. I invite you to investigate how language(s) arise in your classrooms as well.
TESOL International Association’s research agenda supports teacher agency to observe and locate opportunities to have a positive impact on students’ learning. In addition, the Research Professional Council Blog Series supports TESOL professionals accessing research to inform practice.
Ansar, F. A. (2017). Code switching and code mixing in teaching-learning process. English Education: Journal Tadris Bahasa Inggris, 10(1), 29–45. https://dx.doi.org/10.24042/ee-jtbi.v10i1.873
Anyadiegwu, J. C. (2015). Code-switching and code-mixing the medium of instruction in lower basic education in Nigerian schools. Journal of Resourcefulness and Distinction, (11)1, 1–8. https://globalacademicgroup.com/journals/resourcefulness/JUSTINA%20C.%204.pdf
Wei, L. (2018). Translanguaging and code-switching: What’s the difference? Oxford University Press. https://blog.oup.com/2018/05/translanguaging-code-switching-difference/