The Inhbitant

The Inhbitant

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  • Date Submitted: 05/05/2011 3:28 AM
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Demystifying the notion of teacher code-switching for student comprehension


David Chen-On Then

Universiti Malaysia Sarawak


Dr Su-Hie Ting

Centre for Language Studies

Universiti Malaysia Sarawak


The study investigated English and Science teachers’ representations of different facets of comprehension that are enhanced by code-switching and their concern for the external ramifications of the code-switching. Interview data were collected from 18 teachers (9 English, 9 science) in three secondary schools in an urban part of Kuching City, Malaysia.

The results indicated that the teachers categorised their students’ comprehension problems into inability to understand terms, instructions and concepts, with concepts being the least represented. All the teachers reported use of code-switching to ensure student comprehension despite their concern about deviating from the designated language of instruction and the negative effects on their students’ construction of the knowledge in English and the kind of English language model they were giving their students. The study indicated that code-switching is used for solving comprehension problems rather than averting them, indicative of the teachers’ resolve to use the designated language of instruction, with student comprehension being the yardstick for deciding when code-switching is needed. The findings suggest that in multilingual settings where the status of English as an international language is valued, code-switching in formal instruction is the norm rather than a marked choice.

Keywords: code-switching, student comprehension, English as an international language, multilingual


In speech communities with members from different ethnic and language backgrounds, interethnic communication usually takes place in a language of wider communication. The shared language may be English in countries with a British colonial history if it is retained...