Code-Switching by English as a Foreign Language Teachers


Taiwan is comprised of a vibrant and highly integrated English language program throughout its secondary and post-secondary education programs. Although there are a significant number of native English language speakers who teach within both systems, the vast majority of the nation’s English as a Foreign Language or EFL instructors are non-native speakers whose second language or L2 is English. Within these programs in which non-native instructors teach EFL, there is a great deal of code-switching that takes place. The objective of this proposed research project is to examine the effect that such code-switching has on student writing fluency and accuracy within the context of an EFL writing class at the secondary school level.

One of the outcomes of this code-switching behaviour in the Taiwanese education system and especially at the secondary level is that such code-mixing has evolved into an accepted practice. In order to better understand and identify the effect that this integrated code-switching practice has on L2 learners in the Taiwan secondary environment, it is first important to identify what is meant by code-switching. Code switching has been defined in a number of ways by various researchers. According to Xu (2010), code-switching is the alternate use of two or more languages in the same utterance or conversation. It entails use of phrases, entire sentences and words taken from a different language. Based on this definition, code-switching practically occurs in Taiwanese secondary EFL classrooms when non-native EFL instructors substitute either Mandarin words in the place of English words or concepts within the context of speaking or writing.

Additionally, code-switching in the Taiwanese secondary environment may also involve the substitution of Taiwanese (Tai-wu) as well since Taiwanese is widely spoken throughout the island although this would be much less prevalent. In this regard, code-switching may also make reference to the active substitution of a variety of phonological or vocal elements; various spoken lexical particles such as phonemes and may also include a variety of syntactic elements which would be most relevant with respect to an EFL writing course (Du, 2010, pp.133-134). Although such code-switching is common and is practised by both EFL instructors as well as EFL learners, the effect that it has on the writing fluency or competency levels of EFL writing students is little understood.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study relates to the knowledge gap that exists in relation to code-switching behaviour in the Taiwanese post-secondary EFL learning environment. There is a gap in the knowledge related to how active code-switching by non-native EFL instructors affects the learning competency levels of EFL writing students in the secondary environment. This study is intended to fill this knowledge gap by examining how such code-switching affects, either positively or negatively or perhaps not at all, the English writing competency of L2 learners in a Taiwanese secondary EFL writing course. The study is important since learning English as a second language in Taiwan is important for learners because English is an international language. As a result, it is important to find out the effects of code-switching, which is prevalent among non-native English instructors on the ability of EFL learners to acquire competency in English.

Scope of the Study

There are a number of well-defined directions that this study could take with respect to code-switching. Firstly, code-switching occurs at virtually all levels of the Taiwanese education system in which EFL forms a part of the curriculum. Additionally, both EFL instructors and learners are known to code-switch or, alternatively, to code-mix and this can have a significant impact on the learning process. However, it is important for this project to focus on a single aspect of this issue in order to better understand code-switching implications on EFL writing competency. Thus, this study is confined to code-switching that is common among EFL instructors in the post-secondary environment and specifically, those EFL instructors that are non-native English instructors who teach an EFL writing course for academic purposes.

Rationale of the Study

The underlying rationale of this particular project relates to the importance of achieving not just spoken fluency and accuracy in an L2 target language, but also in writing. In Taiwan, good knowledge with regard to writing of EFL is very crucial. This is because it forms the basis of good performance in high school/ college entrance exams. Unless learners perfect both spoken and written competency, then they would perform poorly in the entrance exams which are very critical. English for academic purposes is an important aspect of the EFL process within the secondary environment. Therefore, identifying the effect that code-switching has on EFL instructors can work to improve not just learner fluency in the target language but even their overall academic performance in the program.

Literature Review

The terminological issue that touches on code-switching, code- mixing or borrowing has always been debated. With regard to the relationship between code-mixing and code-switching, Romaine (1989) argues that some researchers see similarities between the definitions of the two while others consider them to be different. The difference is that code-switching refers to an inter-sentential switch, in which a sentence is followed by another sentence in a different language. On the other hand, code-mixing refers to intra-sentential switches, implying switches within the same sentence.

Code-switching can be looked at from socio-pragmatic and socio-political perspectives. A socio-pragmatic approach to code-switching tries to find out the functions fulfilled by language change. As more scholars gain more interest in code-switching, majority continue to assume a positive attitude towards the concept and suggest that switching codes might be unintentional, a conventional effort to introduce a topic change, setting or participant. It may also be regarded as an indirect language strategy that shows symbolic connotations such as ethnic identity or solidarity or authority. Analysis on the functions of code-switching can be carried out on the basis of the following two types of code-switching.

According to Blom & Gumperz (1972), there are two types of code-switching. The first one is referred to as situational code-switching and is occasioned by a change in the situation or social setting such as the topic and relationship between the speakers, society norms and values. In particular circumstances, a single language is appropriate, and it is important for people to adjust their language choice to match variations in situational factors for appropriateness to be maintained. The other type of code-switching is metaphorical code-switching which involves speakers changing language when the situation does not change. Some situations compel speakers to switch from one language to another with the intention of achieving particular communicative outcomes without changing the situation. In addition, there are other stylistic and rhetorical functions of code-switching. They include announcing a difference between reported and direct speech, marking interjections and sentence fillers, and clarifying and emphasizing messages.

These findings have contributed towards the emergence of a myriad of scholarly works alongside generating many similar pieces of works in Taiwan. For instance, Kubler (1988) conducted a study focusing on the exchanges between Taiwanese and Mandarin using the functional approach. He concluded that code-switching is prevalent among young people living in cities. Some of the reasons behind it include ensuring that the listener comprehends fully what is being said, make communication smooth, the need for variety of style, and lack of proficiency in specific codes (Armstrong & Moore, 2004).The study influenced many people to gain interest in code-switching between Taiwanese and Mandarin in Taiwan.

One of the areas of interest with regard to code-switching has been its effect on EFL writing and speaking competency among students in post secondary institutions. This is because there are non-native English instructors who practice code-switching while teaching in these institutions. In this environment, code-switching basically involves a native linguistic system which comprises of Mandarin and Taiwanese. These two languages exhibit considerable differences from the target language which is English. The inherent differences between Mandarin/Taiwanese and English cause the non-native instructors to habitually omit some of the components that are critical in the English language. Studies are still underway to determine the effect of such inconsistencies on the ability of EFL learners to achieve competency in written and spoken English.

However, it has been noted that code-switching can indeed be used effectively to teach English in Taiwanese context especially in secondary schools. Research has indicated that the ability of non-native L2 instructors to establish a meaningful connection with their students is an advantage that is recognized in the L2 learning process. As a result, it has been argued that code-switching is in some ways beneficial to Taiwanese EFL learners and should be supported. However, it is important to first establish the effect of code-switching on the ability of EFL learners to develop fluency and writing ability in English.

Methodological Approach

The methodology to use in carrying out any research is one of the most important things to consider and identify. Different researches require different methodologies due to their nature. A particular methodology may be suitable for a specific research but unsuitable for another type of research. The success of a research is highly determined by the choice of the research methodology used.

The methodology that will be used in carrying out the research is longitudinal research method. This is a type of research that is used to find out the relationship between variables that have nothing in common with other variables. This is an observational type of research that involves conducting a study on a group of individuals for a certain period of time. The researcher may collect data at the beginning of the study then continue collecting more data on a regular basis. In some situations where the studies are complicated, the research may take a very long period of time in order to get the required information (Hackley, 2003). One of he benefits of this research method is that a researcher is able to observe and monitor changes that occur over time. The benefit of the method not withstanding, it also has a shortcoming in that it is expensive and requires a lot of time. However, owing to the importance of the research the time factor and cost will not be impediments towards conducting the research.

The method will involve observing two EFL writing classes in Taiwan for a period of more than one year. The idea behind observing the two classes is to have one class taught by a Native English speaker with the other one being taught by a Taiwanese teacher. The Native English teacher will not be using code-switching while the Taiwanese teacher will employ code-switching at some instances when teaching. After making the observations, a comparison between the essays produced by students from both classes will be made to note any differences. This will determine whether code-switching actually affects the EFL learners’ competency in both spoken and written English.

Data Collection

In order to provide this proposed research project with empirical evidence, the study will gather and collect a series of primary data forms. Firstly, this research project will incorporate researcher observation of two EFL classrooms in Taiwan in a secondary environment in which an EFL writing program is taught. This method is a credible data collection method that will provide the researcher with first hand information. By observing the learners during teaching sessions, the researcher will be able to identify some of the most important aspects that constitute the bulk of the study. Secondly, this research project will incorporate a longitudinal writing assessment test delivered at the start of the project and then again at the close of the research project.

Validity of the Data

Data validity is one of the most important aspects of any study. This is because if the data is invalid in any way, then the rationale of carrying out the research is destroyed (White, 200). The data that will be collected must accurately reflect the information that it is supposed to be measuring. Since the researcher undertakes the researcher observation, there is a clear path of evidence between what the researcher intends to observe and record and what he actually observes and records. In terms of the assessment test, the researcher must rely on the adequate proctoring of the assessment test by the EFL instructor that is participating in the research study, in order to ensure that the results accurately reflect the students’ English writing competency levels. In order to ensure this ability to proctor the assessment tests, the instructor will be briefed by the researcher on how to deliver, collect and prepare the EFL students for the assessment process.

Reliability of the Data

Reliability is an important part of the research process when talking about primary data. That is, reliability is the quality of primary data that describes its consistency over time wherein the research method should consistently produce similar outcomes (Creswell, 2006). A reliable data source has the capacity to yield the same results in successive data collection instances. However, if data sources exhibit considerable disparities over time then their reliability is not satisfactory. Although there is the expectation of iterative outcomes that change over time within the action research process, the data produced from writing assessment tests should result in consistently similar data although the scores themselves are expected to shift according to the action research process.

Reference List

Armstrong F. & Moore M. (2004). Action Research for Inclusive Education: Changing Places, Changing Practice, Changing Minds. New York: Routledge Falmer.

Blom, J. & Gumperz, J. (1972). Social Meaning in Linguistic Structure: Code-Switching in Norway. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Creswell, J. (2007). Qualitative inquiry & research design: Choosing among five approaches. New York: Sage Publications.

Du, L. (2010). Initial Bilingual Development: One Language or Two? Asian Social Science, 06(5), pp.132-139.

Hackley, C. (2003). Doing Research Organizational in Marketing, Management and Consumer Research. New York: Routledge.

Kubler, C. (1988). Code switching between Taiwanese and Mandarin in Taiwan. Taipei: Crane Publishing, Ltd.

Romaine, S. (1989). Bilingualism. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

White, L. (2003). Second Language Acquisition and Universal Grammar. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Xu, Q. (2010). To Switch or not to Switch: Examine the Code-Switching Practices of Teachers of Non-English Majors. Canadian Social Science, 06(4), pp.109-113.