Code Switching In Language Analysis

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The situation I am worried about the language development of my only child—again. He very recently outgrew a silent period only to start mixing two, sometimes three, languages. And now, his teacher at an English preschool recommends we completely give up one of his two mother tongues to help his communication.

For some context, we are expatriates living in the United States. I am Indonesian and my partner is French, but we communicate in our only common language English, which he is not fluent in having started learning it after we met. Since infancy, his father has been speaking to him in only French, while I have been doing the same in Indonesian.

We have been thinking about his teacher’s comments but are not ready to give up, although
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K. Ruuskanen from The Linguistics List of Eastern Michigan University assures that your child is, in fact, beginning to traverse down a slightly more advanced path in terms of his language development in spite of the slight delay at the start. This is based on the well-researched premise that code-switchers correctly mix grammar and syntax rules of languages without ever being taught to do so.

Code-switching, which is a natural process, in addition not easy to do without fluency in both languages, are two of the main reasons for you to continue to foster a bilingual household environment. Your child’s multicultural makeup is another, especially as they age.

The pursuit of bilingualism in a child can be affected by phases that the child undergoes en route to discovering their unique cultural identity (which can be a unification of different cultures). This discovery is something parents should not interfere with or impose on, but left up to the child. The most parents can do for their children is to—at the first opportunity—teach their native languages and the culture it represents, at equal
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Similarly with identity, bilingualism cannot be isolated from socialisation. In some cases, socialisation may be even more important than formal study for furthering your child’s language development. In such situations, code-switching also plays as an important factor for social relationships as it can become integral to your child’s self-expression. For instance, your child will quickly learn to recognise social situations and people with whom they can code switch with, and those they cannot. Your child will be more likely to code-switch with other bilinguals, using the language that their listener knows best—kind of like shorthand.

And although your child may end up having a primary language, there is still room to mix verbiage into dialogue as a means to express themselves using words from the language most suited and comfortable for the certain situation.

Moving forward, do not discourage your child from code-switching. Neither should you correct him. Rather, listen to his message and proceed to ask follow-up questions that encourage a response in your language, to which he
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