13 Jun 2024

Code-switching in the classroom

Code-switching in the classroom


Outside of writing, Zarina loves art. Mastering in fine art, Zarina has always dreamed to create her own comic. She’s keen on contributing to the pool of representation for south Asians and hopes to create her own Pakistani female superhero one day.

Code-switching in the classroom

With 25% of the world’s population using it, English is the most common language. It is dynamic and always changing, just like all other languages. There are numerous different dialects of English, and it is currently spoken by four times as many people as it is as a mother tongue.

Alia Amir, a senior lecturer in English linguistics at Mid Sweden University in Stockholm, analyses the patterns of spoken and written language in society as a linguist and social interaction researcher.

Her research focuses on how code-switching and language policy are applied by students and teachers. Her research took place in English classrooms in an international school in Sweden.

Dr Alia says that English has been her primary academic interest. “Colonialism, American imperialism, and so many other causes have made it such a powerful language at this time; it has expanded so extensively and the language has actually been embraced and changed by the many populations in other countries.”

In her research on language policing, Alia concentrates on a particular type of code-switching and discovered that implicit, nuanced methods are more frequently employed in classrooms than explicit verbal commands to speak English.

This demonstrates that the majority of social behaviours are carried out by people without them being expressly discussed; they go unnoticed until an interactional issue emerges.

The conclusion of the study was as follows:

Using ethnomethodological conversation analysis, we have identified a regular three-step sequence for language policing: (1) a (perceived) breach of the target-language-only rule, (2) an act of language policing and (3) an orientation to the target-language-only rule, usually in the guise of medium switching to the target language.

Focusing primarily on teacher-to-pupil policing, where the teacher polices pupils’ (perceived) use of their L1 (Swedish), we identify three different categories of teacher-policing. These categories are based on particular configurations of features deployed in the three steps, such as initiator techniques (e.g. reminders, prompts, warnings and sanctions) and pupils’ responses to being policed (e.g. compliance or contestation).’

Her doctoral work examined the enforcement of an English-only policy in a Swedish English classroom when the teacher and students were present. Alia learned that it wasn’t always a good idea for teachers to put too much emphasis on encouraging their children to speak just English to one another.

Let’s imagine an instructor reminds a student to speak in English rather than Swedish in the middle of a session on grammar. For the teacher and the students to resume their previous course of study, she says, it frequently takes some time. Therefore, language policing was discovered to be ineffective in some situations.

Instead of openly policing students vocally in the classroom, you can provide them more implicit and subtle opportunities to practise speaking English by, for instance, reminding them to do so at the start of the course.

Since obtaining her Ph.D. in 2014, Alia has broadened the scope of her sociolinguistics studies. She presented an examination of Swedish English textbook content in 2020, highlighting the absence of cultural diversity and the inclusion of many English dialects.

“Textbooks are an important part of education and a part of sending the message to the future generation how we can create an inclusive world. So textbooks should be created by incorporating the latest cutting-edge research findings about inclusion and diversity, which will help us envision a better future in the world,” she says.

“Currently, many English textbooks don’t include enough representations of English speakers and culture beyond the United States and UK“, she found. “There was a general trend of more exposure to, for instance, American popular culture. And that was very visible across different textbooks.”

Dr Alia Amir is a Linguist & Social Interaction Researcher. She was born in Pakistan and grew up in Saudi Arabia. She moved to Sweden in 2008, where she wrote her master’s thesis — a comparison of English language policies during British India and the present day — at Linköping University.

In January 2021, Alia took a full-time role as a senior lecturer in English linguistics at Mid Sweden University, a primarily teaching position with 20% of her time dedicated to research. 

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