Roger Barnard on Codeswitching in University English-Medium Classes

In December we published Codeswitching in University English-Medium Classes edited by Roger Barnard and James McLellan. Here, Roger explains the main themes of the book and how the research was undertaken.

Codeswitching in University English-Medium ClassesThe central theme of this book is to consider the use of the students’ first language as well as the target language (i.e. codeswitching) in English language classrooms.

Educational methodologists and policy-makers in many countries often insist on the exclusive use of the target language, believing that this presents the best (sometimes the only) way that students will experience the language being used. On the other hand, a number of influential scholars (among them, Guy Cook, Vivian Cook, Glenn Levine, and Ernesto Macaro) have argued that denying the use of a common first language is detrimental to students’ educational, as well as linguistic, development.

The research undertaken for this book sought to uncover the codeswitching practices and beliefs of university teachers of English-medium classes in about twenty contexts across Asia. The authors of the case studies recorded and transcribed language lessons in their particular context, and calculated the amount of time spent on the students’ first language and the pedagogical functions served by this switching from English. Subsequently, they interviewed the teachers concerned to elicit their reasons for codeswitching. Each case study was commented on by a researcher in another context, often adding further examples from their own research.

It was found that the use of students’ first language was an entirely normal practice everywhere, usually for between 6 and 15% of the talking time, and that teachers provided very cogent reasons for their codeswitching practices, primarily with the needs and interests of their students at heart. These findings may well resonate with teachers in other geographical contexts and in different institutions, such as elementary and high schools.

The main implication that can be drawn from these case studies – and the valuable introductory and concluding chapters – is that it is unwise to impose a monolingual policy in language classrooms; rather, teachers should be entitled to use all the linguistic resources available to them and their students in order to negotiate for meaning and to promote language learning.

Code Choice in the Language ClassroomFor more information on this book you can take a look at our website. You might also be interested in Code Choice in the Language Classroom by Glenn Levine.

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