Code Switching: Definition, Types and Examples

Updated on April 16, 2018
Seckin Esen profile image

Seçkin Esen is working as an English language teacher in Turkey. He obtained his Bachelor's degree in ELT from Hacettepe University in 2010.

The ability to communicate our thoughts, emotions, and opinions to others is truly a remarkable ability. Our use of language can influence our self-concept and identity. Cultural influences are also reflected in our language and similarly influence how we conceptualize who we are and where we come from. Language has a social feature, which means that it is used by the members of society. The social aspect of language is studied by sociolinguistics, a subdivision of linguistics which studies social factors.

Bilingual communities use certain phenomena to make communication more effective and meaningful. One of these phenomena is "code switching" which we can observe mostly in second or foreign language classrooms. It refers to the use of two languages within a sentence or discourse. It is a natural process that often occurs between multilingual speakers who share two or more languages in common.

This article mainly focuses on the definition of code switching, the reasons for using code switching, the types of code switching and their definitions, and examples and suggestions for teachers using code switching to teach a foreign or second language.

The Definition Of Code Switching

Code switching can be defined as the use of more than one language, variety, or style by a speaker within an utterance or discourse, or between different interlocutors or situations (Romaine, 1992:110).

This phenomenon can be observed in the following example which mixes two languages:

If you have an exam next week, şimdiden çalışmaya başlamalısın.

Code switching occurs mostly in bilingual communities. Speakers of more than one language are known for their ability to code switch or mix their language during their communication. As Aranoff and Miller (2003:523) indicate, many linguists have stressed the point that switching between languages is a communicative option available to a bilingual member of a speech community, on much the same basis as switching between styles or dialects is an option for the monolingual speaker.

Reasons for Code Switching
Reasons for Code Switching

Reasons Speakers Use Code Switching

There are a number of possible reasons for switching from one language to another, and these will now be considered, as presented by Crystal (1987).

The first of these is the notion that a speaker who may not be able to express him/herself in one language switches to the other to compensate for the deficiency. As a result, the speaker may be triggered into speaking in the other language for a while. This type of code switching tends to occur when the speaker is upset, tired or distracted in some manner.

Secondly, switching commonly occurs when an individual wishes to express solidarity with a particular social group. Rapport is established between the speaker and the listener when the listener responds with a similar switch. This type of switching may also be used to exclude others from a conversation who do not speak the second language. An example of such a situation may be two people in an elevator in a language other than English. Others in the elevator who do not speak the same language would be excluded from the conversation and a degree of comfort would exist amongst the speakers in the knowledge that not all those present in the elevator are listening to their conversation.

As Skiba (1997) comments, code switching is not a language interference, on the basis that it supplements speech. Where it is used due to an inability of expression, code switching provides continuity in speech rather than presenting an interference in language. The socio-linguistic benefits have also been identified as a means of communicating solidarity, or affiliation to a particular social group, whereby code switching should be viewed from the perspective of providing a linguistic advantage rather than an obstruction to communication. Further, code switching allows a speaker to convey attitude and other emotives using a method available to those who are bilingual and again serves to advantage the speaker, much like bolding or underlining in a text document to emphasize points. Utilizing the second language, then, allows speakers to increase the impact of their speech and use it in an effective manner.

In some situations, code switching is done deliberately to exclude a person from a conversation. It is seen as a sign of solidarity within a group, and it is also assumed that all speakers in a conversation must be bilingual in order for code switching to occur. Bilinguals do not usually translate from the weaker language to the stronger one. Code switching is used most often when a word doesn't "come".

Code switching can be used in a variety of degrees, whether it is used at home with family and friends, or used with superiors at the workplace.

Code Switching As A Language Interference

In the classroom, code switching can be seen as language interference. Students may see code switching as an acceptable form of communication in society, and may feel comfortable switching languages in everyday normal conversation. This would put those who are not bilingual at a disadvantage, because they would not be able to communicate effectively. Therefore, code switching can be both beneficial and a possible language interference, depending on the situation and the context in which it occurs.

Types Of Code Switching

Code switching can be classified as follows:

1. Inter-Sentential

In inter-sentential code switching, the language switch is done at sentence boundaries. This is seen most often between fluent bilingual speakers. For example: If you are late for the job interview, işe alınmazsın.

2. Intra-Sentential

In intra-sentential code switching, the shift is done in the middle of a sentence, with no interruptions, hesitations or pauses indicating a shift. The speaker is usually unaware of the shift. Different types of switch occur within the clause level including within the word level. Some researchers call it also code mixing. For example: You are sleepy coğu zaman, because you spend a lot of saat in your bed.

3. Extra-Sentential

There is an insertion of a tag from one language into an utterance that is in another language. For example: Turkish students use some boundary words like ama (but) or yani (I mean) while speaking English.

Suggestions For Teachers

The teacher can use code switching especially while teaching new vocabulary. Here are some suggestions for teachers of intermediate level students.

Activity 1:

The teacher gives a dialogue to the students, which includes a Turkish statement which the students don’t know the English meaning. And he gives the English form of the sentence in parenthesis to show the meaning of the new word.

Joselyn: Babs, Babs, Oh there you are!

Babs: Calm down. What’s the rush?

Joselyn: Sana söylemek için can atıyorum. (I’ve been bursting to tell you)

Babs: Tell me what? It’s obviously got you excited.

Jocelyn: Well, Heather just told me that Mandy has dumped Gordon and got a new boyfriend.

Babs: Oohh, fancy that. Who is he?

The teacher wants his students to learn the meaning of the new word burst.

Activity 2:

The teacher gives another dialogue to the students and wants them to guess the meaning of the words in their native language which are written in bold.

John: Would you like to go out to dinner or to a movie?

Karen: Either one, it’s up to you.

John: What would you prefer?

Karen: I really don't care; I just want to get out of the house.

John: Well, then how about dinner and a movie?

Karen: That’s a great idea!

Students try to guess the meaning of it’s up to you from the context. And after finding the its meaning as ‘sana bağlı’ , they are asked to put those words in the dialogue and read it again.


To conclude, code switching is a phenomenon that is inevitable in bilingual communities. It occurs mostly in second/foreign language teaching and it can be used beneficially in classroom activities. Although it is phenomenon that may be considered incompetence in language, it is natural, and can be turned to a purposeful and useful activity in language classes.


Aranoff, M. and Rees – Miller, J. (2003). The Handbook Of Linguistics. Blackwell Publishers: Oxford

Crystal, D. (1987). The Cambridge Encyclopedia Of Language. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge

Romaine, S. (1992). Bilingualism. Blackwell Publishers: Cambridge

Saunders, G. (1988). Bilingual Children: From Birth To Teens. Multilingual Matters Ltd: Clevedon

Skiba, R. (1997). Code Switching As a Countenance of Language Interference. The Internet TESL Journal. Vol. III. No: 10.

© 2014 Seckin Esen


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      Goodluck 4 weeks ago

      Pls what is the deffren between code mixing and code switching

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      mussie hayelom 3 months ago

      good concept

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      Nana 4 months ago

      Thank you.fore explain

    • profile image

      Ramzan Mashwani 5 months ago


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      Student x 5 months ago

      Thanks. It was good and the references are great.

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      Afwun Kamil 5 months ago

      I really appreciate your study, it is really useful and helped me in understanding Code-switching.

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      Papu Moni Hazarika 8 months ago

      Thank you very much. It is really useful and helpful to me. Dhanyabad (thanks) again.

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      Katey M 8 months ago

      Thank you

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      Blezsyn 9 months ago

      TNX your article helped in doing ma assignment

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      adem sari 10 months ago

      Wow thank you it helps me to complete my paper and power point for my presentation.

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      jovan 10 months ago

      short 2 examples.. please post

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      Nkeng Fabrice 10 months ago

      Perfect article. simple and straight to the point. It has helped me a great deal. Thanks man...............

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      annie 10 months ago

      aoa seckin...this article is very authentic and interesting...i got a tremendous information about code switching..i hope u will make more notes on sociolinguistics...thanks

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      annie 10 months ago

      aoa seckin i gained the tremendous information about code mixing from your side..thanks

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      Niko Jacob 10 months ago

      Good job!!(kazi nzuri) "kiswahili"

    • profile image

      Santa Ghally 11 months ago

      oh thanks a lot I learned so much :)

    • profile image

      Shalini vasia 11 months ago


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      Nadia Benghaffor 13 months ago

      It's very interesting .

    • profile image

      Msele 16 months ago

      Just what i needed....asanti sana (thanks alot)

    • Seckin Esen profile image

      Seckin Esen 17 months ago from Ankara, Turkey

      You are very welcome Ilham.

    • profile image

      Ilham 17 months ago

      Wow i really appreciate your research it is really useful and helped me to understand more about my presentation thank you so much!

    • Seckin Esen profile image

      Seckin Esen 18 months ago from Ankara, Turkey

      You are welcome panda. Thanks for the nice comment.

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      panda 18 months ago

      thanks for this usefull information. I hope you can always share the good information and knowlage in this website.

    • Seckin Esen profile image

      Seckin Esen 18 months ago from Ankara, Turkey

      You are very welcome Widad El Firaoui. I'm glad that it is helpful for you. Thanks for the comment.

    • profile image

      Widad El Firaoui 18 months ago

      Thanks a bunch for this beneficial article, i grasped a lot of information concerning code switching in which my monograph will be revolved around.Thanks again

    • Seckin Esen profile image

      Seckin Esen 18 months ago from Ankara, Turkey

      Thank you so much for your nice comments Mswahili, Pabitra chapai, nona, and anaya.

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      anaya 19 months ago

      its extremely helpful to me...cuz I hve a lot of problem in studying this subject

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      nona 24 months ago

      thank you so much for this..interesting help me..thank you again.

    • profile image

      Pabitra chapai 2 years ago

      This article is so much good for us to know about code switching concept clearly , thanks for that

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      Mswahili 2 years ago

      I'm so interested with your article (Nimeipenda) like it.

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      Seckin Esen 3 years ago from Ankara, Turkey

      Thank you so much for your nice comment teaches12345.

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      Dianna Mendez 3 years ago

      How fascinating! I will have to observe this next time I interact with my students.

    • Seckin Esen profile image

      Seckin Esen 3 years ago from Ankara, Turkey

      Hi Anne Harrison, I am very happy that you found my hub interesting. Thank you for the vote and your nice comment.

    • Anne Harrison profile image

      Anne Harrison 3 years ago from Australia

      The title caught me- I had no idea what to expect. A really interesting article on a subject I now nothing about (until now!) thanks, voted up

    • Seckin Esen profile image

      Seckin Esen 4 years ago from Ankara, Turkey

      That's very nice that you do code switching with your mother koconutzzz. Thank you for the comment.

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      koconutzzz 4 years ago from oakland,CA

      very interesting. i never knew me and my mother code switched.

    • Seckin Esen profile image

      Seckin Esen 4 years ago from Ankara, Turkey

      Hi vkwok, thank you so much for your nice comment.

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      Victor W. Kwok 4 years ago from Hawaii

      I can see you know a lot on the subject. Very thoroughly knowledgeable hub!