Frequently Asked Questions about Dual-Language Learning
loving way. The exchange also includes an instructional component:
The mother is ready to teach. She makes the new word blue meaning-
ful by pointing out the child’s shirt. She repeats the word, emphasizing
the pronunciation, so the child can hear the sounds clearly. She gently
but directly asks the child to repeat the word. Finally, the interaction
includes a learning component: The child points to what he already
knows, the car. He gets confirmation of his knowledge plus new informa-
tion about the color blue. He incorporates this information by looking at
his blue shirt. When he says “blue” incorrectly, his mother models the
correct pronunciation and asks him to try again. He practices. His mom’s
encouragement ignites his inborn desire to learn. Then he says “blue”
correctly and shows that he understands the word’s meaning by pointing
to the blanket.
You might note that this dialogue is the common way we all learn our
first language at home. That’s why it makes sense to use the same basic
strategies, with the same positive affect, when you teach English to the
young dual-language learners in your classrooms and family child care
homes (Gillanders 2007).
What Is Code Switching?
Code switching, or language mixing, is using two languages at the same
time. Bilingual people may code-switch as a method of common com-
munication (Genesee 2007). For example, a bilingual Hispanic preschool
teacher might say to her class of dual-language learners, “Let’s go, niños
[children]! We’re going to the park a jugar [to play] with las [the] balls.”
She is speaking Spanglish, a mixture of Spanish and English. She is
trying to meet the children halfway linguistically. She says some words
in their home language to show support and to bridge comprehension.
Code switching shows creativity and depth of ideas. Many bilingual
people code-switch in informal conversations with others who are bilin-
gual in the same languages (Pearson Zurer 2008). We do it a lot in our
family—any conversation among us might include English, French, and
Spanish. Some concepts just have better words in one language than in
another. If we know the listener will understand, we code-switch. It’s
useful and fun.
Code switching is appropriate in family and community conversa-
tions. But it’s risky in the classroom. Students may get in the habit of