September 17

From English to Spanish: Code-Switching and Language Acquisition


I recently read a blog post about motherhood in Chile. It talked about a one-year-old girl being bilingual in English and Spanish and sometimes switching between the languages. I like this blog because it touches on a variety of subjects, including a series on motherhood around the world. Obviously, language would be an important part of raising children in a different country if the language spoken there was not your native tongue. This mom has seen this firsthand. While you may think that a child mixing up the two languages they are learning is a bad thing or will negatively affect them, research has shown that’s simply not true. Bilingualism and multilingualism are good for you, whether you are a child or an adult, and switching back and forth (known as “code-switching”) is a natural part of the process.

Reading about this child code-switching made me curious to brush up on the idea. In the process I found this video that brilliantly depicts how we code-switch in our everyday lives, even within our native language.

We all make assumptions based on our environment and act accordingly, but we might not always be as good at interpreting things as we think we are.

As you acquire Spanish, you will find that you have to transition from English to Spanish pronunciation and other objective things like that. You may also find that you transition in more subjective ways as well, such as how you think about the world while speaking or hearing Spanish, or even how you think about yourself. This is a natural response to the variety of contexts we experience, and we code-switch for a variety of reasons.

You may think that talking to different people in different ways is inauthentic, but I think it’s more a matter of the different relationships we have with different people. You are more friendly and familiar with your family than the cashier at the grocery store. It makes sense that your linguistic patterns adjust accordingly. Language is the tool we use to communicate with each other, and this is not limited to the words we choose. It also encompasses our tone, accent, and, if you have more than one language at your disposal, which language you choose to use.

As an aspiring Spanish speaker, it might sometimes feel like you won’t ever have Spanish at your disposal and ready as a means of communication. While it is a process that takes dedication and sustained effort, it is more than worth it, and your work will pay off. In order to improve your fluency, you can establish certain times where you purposefully code-switch, in other words only operate in Spanish. This could be time with a coworker, friend, or family member who is a native speaker or who is also learning the language.

You could even do it on your own on your commute to and/or from work by listening to Spanish radio or podcasts and even responding out loud. (That is if you’re in your car. It may not be the best practice if you’re on the bus with other people. On second thought, you might stumble upon a fellow Spanish learner or a native speaker who wants to talk with you! Your call.) Extended, continuous time operating in Spanish will help your brain develop the ability to actually think in Spanish, versus thinking in English and then translating, which will greatly improve your fluency.

So much of acquiring a language is making the choice and the effort to immerse your mind in it. You might discover a whole new you in your Spanish speaking persona, an as yet untapped facet of yourself. For a great way to immerse yourself in native spoken Spanish, download Pars Omni Spanish Voices for free today.


bilingualism, language acquisition, language acquisition tips, language learning, language practice, language tools, learning Spanish, multilingualism, practicing Spanish

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