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The Impact of Code-Switching on Speaking English in EFL Classrooms(Chapter Two)

Chapter Two :

  • Code-Switching and its Implication on Speaking

Language as a means of interaction and communication between people allows its users
to report not only facts ,but to interpret feelings, emotions, and thoughts. Recently, great
attention has been oriented towards the communicative properties of language. At this level, all of the four important skills: listening, reading, writing, and mainly speaking are to be involved within the teaching/ learning process without the exclusion of any one of them.Particularly, though teaching speaking skills in an EFL context is consensually regarded as a crucial issue; is still an insufficiently covered aspect of language teaching. In fact, secondary school learners encounter difficulties in oral performance which can be directly attributed to deficiencies in the teaching and learning environment itself. Therefore, achieving a good mastery in the productive and receptive skills. As far as speaking is concerned, it is regarded as the major skill to be developed because it is necessary for displaying the language proficiency, Learners are going to be put in situations where communication in English is needed, that is why the emphasis is mainly on speaking. Speaking is the process of building and sharing meaning through the use of verbal and nonverbal symbols. Moreover, it is a crucial part of second language learning and teaching. Today’s world requires that the goal of teaching speaking should improve students ‘communicative skill .However, learning a language is not only to learn how to speak it but also to learn about its people’s cultural, political and social understanding of that community. Thus, the learners may use their own culture content in English classroom for example, because they are more familiar with it than any other unfamiliar culture content. The current sociolinguistic situation of the Algerian society may in one side help the learners acquire other languages as English but at the same time this may create an obstacle to them as they are used to mix between these languages during communication. Thus, this may encourages them to switch to them during the English lessons.
1. Definition of Speaking
According to the Oxford Dictionary of current English (2009), speaking means; “the
action of conveying information or expressing one’s thoughts and feelings in spoken
language”. Indeed, speaking is the most commonly used form of communication, both in
everyday life and in the classroom settings.As maintained by Chaney et al. (1998) “The
process of building and sharing meaning through the use of verbal and non-verbal symbols, in a variety of contexts.” (p.13).In addition, speaking requires that learners not only know how to produce specific points of language such as grammar, pronunciation, or vocabulary (linguistic competence), but also they understand when, why and in what ways to produce language (sociolinguistic competence). That is to say speaking is an important skill which deserves more attention in both first and second language because it reflects people’s thoughts and personalities. It is regarded as the major skill to be developed because it is necessary for displaying the language proficiency; Learners are going to be put in a situation where communication in English is needed, that is why the emphasis is mainly on speaking.

2. Characteristics of Speaking Performance
Speaking is the primary tool for communicating, thinking, and learning in general, and
learning a language in particular. It is through speaking and listening, students learn concepts, develop vocabulary, and perceive the structure of the English language as essential components of learning. Furthermore, speech is a vehicle to link individuals to society, and a medium through which human beings communicate with each other.
Ur (2000) declares that “of all the four skills [listening, speaking, reading and writing], speaking seems intuitively the most important: people who know a language are referred to as „speakers language, as if speaking included all other kinds of knowing.” (p.12). Today, many second language learners give the speaking skill priority in their learning because if they master this skill then they will be considered as if they have mastered all of the other skills. Furthermore, the main question often given to foreign language learners is “do you speak English?” or “do you speak French?”, but not “do you write English?” We understand that most of people take speaking and knowing a language as synonyms.

3. Teaching the Speaking Skill
In recent teaching context, a lot of attention has been paid to design activities which
focus more on tasks that are balanced between the need to achieve fluency and accuracy .The main goal teachers wish to achieve in teaching the productive skill of speaking is oral fluency; it is the main characteristics of the speaker performance. In addition most second language teachers nowadays emphasized the term of accuracy in their teaching because learners seek more to be fluent and they forget about being accurate. Without structuring accurate speech, speakers will not be understood and their interlocutors will lose interest if they perform incorrect utterances each time. Therefore, paying attention to correctness and completeness of language form is of more importance for oral proficiency. As a productive skill, speaking is a very important process that helps to evaluate learners’ proficiency in the target language. It should be one of the basic curriculum designs of second or foreign language teaching, in addition to other skills. Learning to speak entails learner’s engagement in communicative situations so that they will activate their speaking capacity. So, the development of oral skill requires students to make active use of the language that is correct in its grammar and pronunciation. That is to say fluency and accuracy are two essential aspects to be developed in classroom interaction.

4. The Function of Teachers’ Code-Switching
The teachers’ use of code-switching is not always performed consciously; which means
that the teacher is not always aware of the functions and outcomes of the code-switching
process. Therefore, in some cases it may be regarded as an automatic and unconscious
behavior. Nevertheless, either conscious or not, it necessarily serves some basic functions which may be beneficial in language learning environments. These functions are listed as topic switch, affective functions, and repetitive functions by Mattson and Burenhult (1999, p. 61). In order to have a general idea about these, it will be appropriate to give a brief explanation about each function. In topic switch cases, the teacher alters his/her language according to the topic that is under discussion. This is mostly observed in grammar instruction, that the teacher shifts his language to the mother tongue of his students in dealing with particular grammar points, which are taught at that moment. In these cases, the students’ attention is directed to the new knowledge by making use of code-switching and accordingly making use of native tongue. At this point it may be suggested that a bridge from known (native language) to unknown (new foreign language content) is constructed in order to transfer the new content and meaning is made clear in this way as it is also suggested by Cole (1998): “a teacher can exploit students’ previous L1 learning experience to increase their understanding of L2”.(p.11) . In addition to the function of code-switching named as topic switch, the phenomenon also carries affective functions that serve for expression of emotions. In this respect, code- switching is used by the teacher in order to build solidarity and intimate
relations with the students. In this sense, one may speak off the contribution of code-switching for creating a supportive language environment in the classroom. As mentioned before, this is not always a conscious process on the part of the teacher. However, one may also infer the same thing for the natural occurrence of code-switching as one cannot take into guarantee its conscious application if the example given in section II is considered. The teacher may also use code- switching in order to transfer the knowledge of the target language to his learners for more clarity by repetition. In this case, the teacher gives instructions in English than repeats them using the native language or other languages that learners master. Thus, the teacher stresses the importance of the English language content for efficient comprehension.

5. The Functions of Learners’ Code-Switching
As it is the case for teachers’ code switching, the students also are not always aware of
the reasons for code-switching as well as its functions and outcomes. Although they may
unconsciously perform code-switching, it clearly serves some functions either beneficial or not. Liebscher and Dailey-O’Cain (2005) suggest that foreign language learners switch back to their native language when they feel they meet obstacles in the target language
conversation. (p. 234). Sert came up with some categories of code-switching in a foreign language classroom. The first category is called Equivalence, which occurs when the student lacks competence in the target language, such as when s/he feels that s/he is not competent enough to explain something in the target language. The student therefore instead uses lexical items from the native language. This process may be correlated with the deficiency in linguistic competence of target language, which makes the student use the native lexical item when he/she has not the competence for using the target language explanation for a particular lexical item and it is according to Sert (2005) a sort of defensive mechanism for students as it gives the student the opportunity to continue communication by bridging the gaps resulting from foreign language incompetence.
The second category is called Floor-holding. Here the students use native language
words to fill gaps in the conversation in order to avoid breaks or open spaces in the
conversation. It may be suggested that this is a mechanism used by the students in order to avoid gaps in communication, which may result from the lack of fluency in target language. The learners performing code switching for floor holding generally have the same problem: they cannot recall the appropriate target language structure or lexicon Sert (2005) claims that this process may have a negative outcome on language learning if students continue with this type of code-switching for a long period of time. They may lose the competence of fluency in a conversation.The third category is called Reiteration. Pupils use this function in order to reinforce and clarify a message. Sert (2005) claims that students may repeat words and phrases in their native language because they feel they did not clarify a message in the target language, but also to show the teacher that s/he has understood the task or content in the situation. The reason for this specific language alternation case may be two-folds: first, he/she may not have transferred the meaning exactly in target language. Second, the student may think that it is
more appropriate to code-switch in order to indicate the teacher that the content is clearly understood by him/her. The last function of students’ code switching to be introduced here is conflict control. For the potentially conflictive language use of a student (meaning that the student tends to avoid a misunderstanding or tends to utter words indirectly for specific purposes), the codeswitching is a strategy to transfer the intended meaning. The underlying reasons for the tendency to use this type of code-switching may vary according to students’ needs, intentions or purposes. Additionally, the lack of some culturally equivalent lexis among the native language and target language which may lead to violation of the transference of intended meaning may result in code switching for conflict control; therefore possible misunderstandings are avoided. All these functions show that the use of code switching in a foreign language
classroom either by the teachers or the learners is really an efficient strategy for teaching and learning. But is it really a so efficient strategy?

6. Classroom Code-Switching
In bilingual classrooms worldwide, using code-switching is a frequent practice.
Although code-switching research is mostly associated with the field of bilingual
environments and communities, code-switching in the foreign language classroom is,
according to Sert (2005) an extensively observed phenomenon. Therefore, extensive research has been carried out on using code-switching in the classroom as a contextualization cue, as Martin-Jones (2000) pointed out that such contextualization cue range from phonological, lexical and syntactic choices to different types of code-switching and style shifting. Code-switching functions can be observed in classroom environment and seen in teachers and learners’ interactions since it is composed of a group of members who share the same culture and where there is a social interaction and language learning. Thus code-switching in the L2 classroom is something that is socially integrated. Research has pointed out that the teachers’ poor English proficiency adversely affects learning by teaching through the English medium. There is indeed a difference between code-switching in educational settings and in
social settings. According to Wei and Martin (2009) code-switching in educational settings is often seen as unsuitable and wrong, while code-switching in social contexts is seen as
something natural and a part of bilingual speech. (p. 117).

7. Attitudes towards Code-Switching

7.1. Learners’ Attitude
Within the world of languages use, code-switching has often been perceived as being of
lower status, a strategy used by weak language performers to compensate for language
deficiency. This view of code-switching and bilingual talk in general is more normatively
based than research-based as pointed by Lin( 1996) who added that such a view conveys little more than the speaker or writer’s normative claims about what counts as standard or legitimate language. An extensive body of literature studies reported that code-switching in classrooms not only just normal but useful tool of learning. Cook (2001) referred to code switching in the classroom as a natural response in a bilingual situation. Furthermore, in the same study, Cook considered the ability to go from one language to another is highly desirable among learners. According to Cook (2002) when code-switching is used in multilingual classrooms it may have a negative effect on the learning process.(p. 333). The learners of a multilingual classroom do not share the same native language. Thus, this may create problems as a group of learners are going to be neglected. The use of code switching serves generally to fill in the gaps during communication in the classroom. This will not be the case once confronted to communicate with the target native speakers. Therefore, the use of code switching is considered as a blockage and deficiency. Additionally, code-switching
makes a mess out of the conversation and cannot speak the language properly.

7.2. Teachers ‘Attitudes
There were both advantages and disadvantages with the use of code-switching in the L2
classroom, according to teachers at the secondary school. The group of teachers (A) believed that an advantage was when they needed to put emphasis on a certain feeling they switch to the mother tongue because their message seemed to have a greater impact than when they used English. They also acknowledged that the teacher’s voice changed in a way that the students immediately seemed to pick up as a sign of warning to not “cross the line”. Another advantage was when teaching grammar. A disadvantage, according to group (A) , was that the use of code-switching prevented the students’ vocabulary from growing when the use of the mother tongue becomes more of a norm in the classroom than English. Teachers mentioned that not only did the students accommodate quickly to use the mother tongue more in the classroom than they should; they also seemed to get lazy when it comes to using the English language for interactional purpose. They believed that the negative aspects also interfere with
the teacher’s ability to raise his own knowledge of the English language so that the quality of all that he had learned decreases over time. According to another group of teachers ( B) an advantage was that the students at the school needed to hear the teacher explaining certain grammatical features and other instructions in order to fully understand what they were supposed to do. Teachers (B) believed that solely using English in class was a hopeful but naive thought since many students had a weak of the English language. Teachers ( B) do not see any disadvantages with code-switching in the classroom since he felt that the use of code-switching was a necessary instrument when teaching English to his students. Teachers (C) believed that the advantages were few but necessary because they functioned as an inevitable help for the students. they argued that without the use of the mother tongue the students did not fully understand the teacher’s instructions which could lead them to act out in a negative way. Teachers (C) believed that uncontrollable students were often the result of them not
understanding instructions and therefore led them to disturb in the classroom. Lastly, teachers (C) said that there were many disadvantages with using code-switching in the classroom. They argued that it may prevent the students from expanding their vocabulary and learning how to communicate more fluently in English. They also believed that the use of code-switching could take away the trust worthiness of being a professional teacher in English since the students expected the teacher to use English at all times even though they complained about not understanding.
Sert (2005) argues that the teachers’ use of code-switching is not always a conscious
choice, and the teachers are therefore not always aware of the functions and outcomes of the code-switching process.

Code- switching is a common practice among bilingual and multilingual communities.
Speakers code- switch in order to serve some functions whether linguistic or social.
Moreover, earlier studies have highlighted positive and negative attitudes towards code-switching in teaching/ learning speaking skill. To sum up, students’ use of the first language often presents a difficult obstacle for many teachers as well as learners. However, this ‘problem’ has not always to be perceived as a drawback. Accordingly, recent theories suggest that in certain phases, such as giving instructions or providing explanations, the use of the mother tongue may play an important role in providing a better teacher learner communication; on the other hand, where the language is the target point of learning, the mother tongue use should be avoided.

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