In the third article of the series, Kay Bentley covers code-switching and explores the benefits for students in the CLIL classroom.

In CLIL, many classrooms are places where interaction happens both in the target language and also in the first language. Not only is it acceptable for learners to use some L1 when communicating their ideas and thoughts, but words and phrases from other home languages can be heard too. Learners want to use language they know so they often switch between the target language and their L1 as they try to make sense of curricular concepts. This dynamic integration of two or more languages is called code switching.

Code switching has been described as a ‘bilingual strategy’ (Gajo, 2007) because it is considered to be more than translating. It is used to develop ideas, to organise thinking, to negotiate, to reassure classmates. In my experience, when learners are allowed to use all their language skills, learning progresses. For example, learners might use the target language to identify the Earth’s layers and to define them. However, they might not then be able to fully describe each layer in the target language. As a result, they use their most readily available vocabulary to explain what happens inside the crust, mantle and core.

Examples of Code Switching

Examples of oral code switching are increasingly being documented. For example from a primary science class with Spanish speakers:

Pupil A: This tree is bigger

Pupil B: Yes, this tree is ‘grander’.  (checking concept in L1)

And from a primary maths class:

Pupil X: I have veinticinco  y …. I need dos mas. (it is particularly challenging for primary learners to communicate numbers in a non-native language)

(extract from Garcia, O. 2007)

There is also evidence of code switching in written work from the classroom and from answers in assessment tasks. Learners might be aware of selecting language from their L1 or they might be completely unaware that they are doing this.

In some contexts, and often despite teachers’ reluctance to accept they code switch, teachers can help learners understand curricular content by using some L1. Teachers should be aware of when and why they code switch. For example, is it to activate prior knowledge, to compare and contrast new vocabulary, to notice differences in pronunciation, to clarify or to empathise? In addition, teachers should try to notice when and why learners code switch and then inform them that it can be valid in a CLIL approach.

Code switching in TKT: CLIL

TKT: CLIL tests teachers’ awareness of code switching in both parts of the test. It may be tested as a communicative technique in Part 1 or as a scaffolding strategy in Part 2. This reflects a change in pedagogy for many ELT teachers.

Gajo, L. (2007) ‘Linguistic Knowledge and Subject Knowledge: How does Bilingualism Contribute to Subject Development?  In The International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism vol.10, no. 5       
Garcia, O (2009) NALDIC conference presentation. ‘Reimagining bilingualism in education for the 21st century.’

For more information about the TKT: CLIL visit the Cambridge ESOL TKT: CLIL website.