CODE-SWITCHING: STUDENTS' L1 USE IN THE CLASSROOM
- We saw in chapter 2 that EFL classrooms such as we find in Japan are often characterized
by the conditions said to be least conducive to maintaining L2 interactions:
learners with identical L1s, approximately similar proficiency levels and very similar
sociocultural backgrounds. What, then, actually occurs in these classrooms? When
do learners use L1, and, more importantly, when they use L2, why do they do so? In
this chapter, I focus on code switches in learner/learner interactions.
- 3.1 Factors Governing Language Choice
- Kramsch (1993) notes that in monolingual classes, learners' L1 use varies with
the parameters of the context, including:
- time constraints
- perceived purpose of the activity
- the "interactional pull"
- group size.
- She suggests that students will find it easier to "emerse" themselves
in L2 in proportion to how strict time limits are and how negotiative the nature
of the task is (Kramsch, 1993, p. 75).
- Hancock found that his Spanish EFL learners use both L1 and L2 in the classroom
when performing role plays using cue cards (Hancock, 1997). Learners used L1 for
organizational features (e.g., prompting partners to speak, appealing for help with
meaning or procedure, and so on) and to mark the boundaries of the task (e.g., final
L2 contributions followed by "si pues ya esta [yes, well that's it]",
p. 227), while reserving L2 for the role play itself. Hancock explains this division
by suggesting that learners' classroom interaction consists of two discourse frames,
the literal frame and the non literal frame (acknowledged as outlined in Goffman,
1974). Learners in role play situations collaborate to perform; Hancock posits that
the collaboration itself is the literal frame, and the performance is the non-literal
frame. In the literal frame, learners are themselves, and the language produced is
"off-record", not considered part of the performance. In the non-literal
frame, learners operate within a kind of L2 performance, and the language produced
is "on-record". Thus, in the literal frame, L1 is the unmarked option,
but in the non-literal frame, L2 is the unmarked option.
- Every performance implies an audience, which can be a teacher who is listening
in, or even a researcher's microphone. The audience does not have to be physically
present; Hancock suggests that
- even when two learners are speaking to one another in private, a third participant
is implied when the two select the L2 -- an idealized native speaker of the L2 or
the teacher perhaps. Following Bell (1990), I call this absent but salient audience
a referee, and I call those aspects of a performance targeted at the referee
referee design. One could say that referee design makes group work viable
in the monolingual language class because the teacher cannot monitor everyone all
(Hancock, 1997, p. 220).
- Thus, Hancock argues, in monolingual classrooms in which a common L1 is always
available should the need for negotiation arise (and given that learners could complete
the tasks entirely in L1), this "referee design" (of the implied third
listener) is what enables pairwork to be a sound pedagogical procedure when the teacher
is not present to police language use.
- One rightly questions, though, whether the nature of the role plays (e.g., a
waiter/customer interaction) exaggerated the performance aspects of the interactions
while emphasizing distinctions between the on-record, non-literal frame and the off
record, literal frame. Using L1 for managing role plays may be a product of the tasks
themselves (to produce a coherent role play in L2). When a learner is expected to
be a waiter in English, any L2 used for task management is subject to misinterpretation
by the partner as a "waiter" contribution. So, from learners' perspectives,
L1 is dually economical; not only is it faster, it also preempts possible confusion
as to "who" is speaking, thus the division between the role and the self
is economically compatible with the division between L2 and L1. In other types of
learner interaction, however, where learners engage in tasks requiring personal opinions
on topics, the interaction is not so apparently prone to separation between the learner's
own self and a fictitious, imposed role (e.g., a waiter). Does the argument that
they are performers playing a role then lose some of its currency?
- Apparently not. Eldridge (1996) describes the learners' roles as inherent to
their being in a language class; learners with a common L1 who are speaking L2 together
are playing the role of "language learners practicing English in the language
classroom" (p. 308) regardless of topic or type of interaction. Eldridge analyzed
code-switching by Turkish EFL learners in a wide variety of classroom activities
and, like Hancock, found L1 to be the unmarked option for organizational features
of classroom task talk, noting that "there seems to be a natural perception
amongst learners that while tasks themselves should be performed in the target code,
comment, evaluation, and talk about the task may legitimately take place in the mother
tongue" (p. 306), as in:
- S1:Where did Gary go?
- S2:Ben sorucagáim [I will ask]. Where did Gary go?
- (Eldridge, 1996, p. 306)
- Eldridge found no relationship between elementary and lower intermediate learners'
frequency of code switching during normal classroom interaction, but noted that during
oral exams, the weaker learners floundered. In addition, he found no L1 used off-task
about other subjects entirely. From the total number of switches, 77% were between
students, and were oriented to classroom tasks, while 16% were directed at the teacher,
concerning procedural matters or questions about English.
- Eldridge summarizes these findings by noting that "this is not to say that
the switches constituted in all cases the most desirable way of attaining those (learning)
objectives, but it does show that the presence of code-switching in the language
classroom does not in itself indicate any kind of breakdown in pedagogical purpose"
(p. 305). He also cautions that developmental code-switching may become an avoidance
strategy if not attended to.
- 3.2 Promoting L2 Use
- Can we persuade learners to use L2 more for all aspects of classroom interaction?
In Pellowe (1996), I found that the amount of learner L2 in use was discouragingly
small. For instance, teacher proximity affected the code choice of all aspects of
tasks for some learners, who "lapsed" into English as I walked near, yet
returned to Japanese as I walked further away. In response, I initiated "assessed
tasks" in which learners were graded high for using English to expand beyond
the questions provided, mid-range for simply asking and answering in English without
expansion, and low for using Japanese. The learners spoke to each other over language
lab headphones, allowing me to eavesdrop. I found that providing positive portrayals
of communication strategies in action, coupled with the extrinsic motivation of good
grades, strongly encouraged students to use L2 for both task and meta-task talk.
The rest of this chapter reexamines data from those tasks as well as others within
the framework outlined so far.
- 3.3 Cited/Recited Language: Negotiation of Form?
- Two categories of Hancock (1997; see 3.1.1) which are complimentary are Cited
and Recited language. Cited language is marked in that it is off-record L2. When
learners produce cited language, they are focused on the wording, not the message,
as when one supplies language for the other to use. Recited language is on-record
L2. In recited language, the speaker is not the "author" of the utterance.
These categories are complimentary in that recited language will often follow cited
language, as the following extract from my own data illustrates.
|Do you think you'll like the same kind of music when you're older?
||(cue question read from paper)
|Soo omoiwanai'tte do iu? [How do you say "I don't think so"?]
||translation appeal (off record)
|"I don't think so."
||cited (off record)
|I don't think so.
||recited (on record)
B initiates the side sequence with an appeal for translation. A's suppliance of the
requested phrase is cited language; A is the author, but there is no communicative
intent. When B then uses that modeled language, her utterance is recited language.
As an on record utterance, it shifts the discourse back into Hancock's "performance
frame" in which the learners are performing Eldridge's role of "language
learner practicing English".
- However, as one distinguishing factor between cited and recited language is communicative
intent, it becomes a bit murky when looked at in terms of acquisitional strategies.
While true that A's cited language has no propositional value in terms of meaning,
we cannot deny that she has communicated some (perhaps vital) information regarding
form. If learners are indeed playing a "practicing English" role, then
this can be seen as a negotiation of form.
- In the following extract, we see what happens when a negotiation of form (eg,
an unrequested instance of cited language) is not marked as such by L1 or rising
|What kind of music do you like?
|I like classical music.
|Who's your favorite...[trails off]
|I never heard composer.
|No, you asked me, "composer".
|You said, "Who's your favorite...." I said, "composer". Composer
means [Japanese word] in Japanese. So your question in Japanese is [Japanese
|So that question in English is, "Who's your favorite composer?"
|Who's your favorite composer?
- D's first suppliance of the word "composer" can only be seen as off-record
in light of C's subsequent misinterpretation. When C in the final line moves the
dialog back "on record", her repetition of the initial question highlights
her "speaker as language learner" role.
- Also note that when C's question trailed off, D provided the missing item rather
than answering the question. This perhaps illustrates that her task orientation is
on form (or more accurately, meaningful form). When C misunderstands, D becomes a
- Of interest is that referee design prompts D to mark L1 by explicitly labeling
it as such. When a longer sentence was coming, she gave advance "warning"
that an unavoidable use of Japanese would be forthcoming.
- 3.4 Negotiation of Meaning, Disregarding Form
- It was interesting to see the higher proficiency student above (D, in "composer")
helping a lower proficiency one. The "English only" encouragement, though,
does not always promote such model extracts. In a later activity, when D was paired
with a different learner, the twenty minute task was virtually a monologue punctuated
by "uh-huh"-type feedback from the other learner.
- Also, "composer" was not the norm; learners did not always help their
partners towards higher levels of accuracy.
- E: Do you used to...I don't know grammar.
- F: That's OK.
- E: Did you like Pink Ladies [a Japanese pop duet, 1976-1981]?
- F: Yes.
- E: I don't have that memory. [laughs]
- F: [laughs] I liked them very much. Maybe I was three or four.
- E admits to a gap, and F, rather than helping bridge it, lets it pass.
- 3.5 Unintentional Switches
- Poulisse and Bongaerts (1994), in their examination of language switches produced
by Dutch learners performing a number of experimental tasks, found that unintended
language switches decreased with proficiency. They suggest that unintentional switches
occur so frequently with lower level students because "L1 lexical items will
often reach the level of activation required for lexical selection before the corresponding
L2 lexical items do" (p. 46). The chances of this happening decrease as learners
become more proficient and L2 items become more easily retrieved, a process they
call "spreading activation". Eldridge (1996) labels this unintentional
switching "Equivalence"; as most instances of Equivalence performed a floor-holding
function, he suggests that the "speed of retrieval" (p. 306) is slower
for floor-holding phrases in L2, hence the "interlingual repetition" (ibid)
- T: Was this done on your own?
L: Tek basinda (on my own)...on my own.
(Eldridge, 1996, p. 306)
- This interlingual repetition is quite common in my own classes:
G: I can't hear, I can't understand vocals's voice.
H: Do you dislike, uh, tatoiba [for example] for example, do you dislike
G: I've never heard their music.
- In chapter 2, we considered examples of unintentional language switches which
would not prompt negotiation for meaning among other speakers of the same L1. Below,
I examine possible literal translations (3.5.2); L1 used as L2, as with "hotchkiss"
(3.5.3); and culturally-influenced language errors (3.5.4).
- 3.5.2 Examples Of Unnegotiated Errors Perhaps Influenced
- This extract is from the interlingual repetition example above.
- G: Do you dislike, uh, tatoiba [for example] for example, do you dislike
H: I've never heard their music.
G: Oh, that's good! Good! Really!
- H: Really?
- G: Heavy metal, a little pop, quiet...good!
- G's "Oh, that's good!" might be a literal translation of the Japanese
phrase [are wa ii yo], which in this context would mean, "Their
music is very good". Judging from H's response and the ensuing discussion, we
can assume that this was the intended meaning, and that it was understood as such.
This utterance, though, would arguably be misunderstood by a native speaker to mean
"It's a good thing you've never heard it", a strange sentiment which would
surely prompt negotiation to clarify what was meant.
- 3.5.3 Unintended Loanword Misuse
- Below, J is asking for more information about a Japanese band. K has heard something
about one band member named Sawaka.
||Could you tell me about them? I don't know about them very much. I heard Sawaka is
very nice, but I don't know who is Sawaka.
||Sawaka is vocalist.
How many people are
- When J says "nice", she most likely means [naisu gai, or "nice
guy"], meaning an attractive or sexy man. Negotiation from a native English
speaker may not be forthcoming as the use could easily be misunderstood to mean "nice"
in the sense of "good, pleasant", as seen in the following extract.
- (The students are speculating about people shown in photographs.)
L: He's been...swimmer, swimming.
M: Swimming. He looks...nice guy.
Afterwards, these students confirmed that "nice guy" was intended to mean
its Japanese counterpart, naisu gai.
- 3.5.4 L1 Cultural Aspects
- As noted, learners who share similar cultural backgrounds may inadvertently circumvent
the need for negotiation by drawing on a common cultural norm which is not shared
by the L2 culture. The following example shows an influence on lexical choice.
- N: I haven't listened to [unintelligible, music band name] for five years.
O: Five years!
- N: My...not high school, not elementary school...
- O: Junior high school?
- N: Yes, junior high school second.
- O: Second grade?
- N: Yes, one, two, three, four, five, six, oh! six years!
- Second grade, in U.S. English, only refers to the second year of elementary school,
yet in Japan it can refer to the second year of any educational stage. This item
in particular is very widely misused, as even learners' dictionaries provide little
- 3.6 Conclusion
- Providing some activities with restricted access to L1, then, can promote learners
to use L2 for all aspects of the interaction most of the time. There are intrinsic
downsides, such as learners who dominate in order to meet the L2-only requirements,
and shared errors which go unnegotiated, but there are obvious benefits as well.
Furthermore, slips or errors causing unintentional switches are obviously immune
to this task design, and should receive explicit attention, which in my experience
is most effectively done with limited use of L1 techniques as outlined in Chapter
- These "restricted L1" tasks accomplished much more in the long term
in that they prompted the learners to later request more relaxed, open discussion
periods once a week. The learners created their own set of guidelines, which included
being able resort to Japanese only after using English as far as possible. I feel
that the students were encouraged to make these suggestions after gaining confidence
in their ability to sustain communication in L2 through the assessment tasks, yet
finding the stringent nature the tasks too taxing. The open discussion periods were
characterized by quite a lot of animated, sustained L2 interspersed with some L1.
Furthermore, L2 use overall later appeared to be higher in all types of class activities.
In short, providing some task opportunities in which L1 is heavily discouraged
appears to have a positive effect on L2 overall while decreasing the amount of "escape