Being multilingual

Don’t worry if your child does code-switching

When monolingual parents hear their children mix their languages, they often get irritated and start worrying. Will their children ever really be consistent in one of the languages? Is code switching the same as lack of fluency?

Voxy pointed out this last assumption in a post.To sum it up: those who do code-switching are often very fluent in both languages. It’s even a verbal skill that „requires a high degree of linguistic competence rather than a defect of having insufficient knowledge of the one or the other language“. So, if your child switches between languages, give him or her a pat on the back.

But is it going to last? Parents often tend to assume that if something like code-switching happens more or less regularly, it will last forever.

In „Intermingling languages in children“, Grosjean lists up the different factors that can lead to code-switching: Maybe the children are simply in the process of becoming bilingual. Often children (and adults!) are dominant in one of their languages, and the more dominant one influences the weaker one. The language mode a person is in while communicating is also a relevant factor: it’s about choosing the right language to communicate with. Is the interlocutor monolingual, bilingual? Does he/she understand the same languages? (more about it here)

If the interlocutors understand the languages you know, it’s a very pragmatic choice to intermingle. In the end, what matters the most is that the message gets across.

It seems also very reassuring to me, that talking with speakers of just one language, the intermingling is reduced, in certain situations even avoided.

I did switch languages when I was a child and I still do it sometimes. But I am also perfectly able to discuss at higher level in german, italian, french, english and dutch.

So, one little tip: if your child is still acquiring the languages, don’t make it feel guilty about intermingling. If it is already proficient in its languages and does code-switching and this really bothers you, don’t correct but model the speech (by simply repeating the sentence in one language). And for the rest: be proud that your child has such a great linguistic competence.


Topic related articles:

About code-switching being “much more than careless mixing”and François Grosjeans articles about this topic.

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