The Many Reasons Behind Code-switching

Contributor: Chihiro Mase | Reviewer: Ann Choe | Date: 2021-05-12

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Overview of the Study

Oral proficiency in English has gained attention and value in Korean education. This research focuses on the use of code-switching amongst EFL learners in English conversations. The researcher sought to find the communicative and sociolinguistic functions of code-switching in the conversations by using conversation analysis (CA).

The research questions were:
“1. How do Korean EFL learners use code-switching in the interaction?

2. What functions does CS serve in the conversation?” (p. 303)

Research Methods

There were 6 participants in this study. They all had a decent level in English and they were from different backgrounds. These 6 students met up 4 times a week for a year to discuss topics in English. These topics were primarily based on news articles from The New York Times. The researcher took recordings of their discussion and out of the 13 recordings, 5 of the recordings were used for this research. The transcriptions focused on the parts where code-switching was used instead of the parts that did not contain code-switching. The researcher also interviewed the students later on to clarify the reasons why they code-switched at certain times.


From this research, the researcher found out that there were 5 main reasons for code-switching in this study.

  1. Lack of knowledge: In some of the examples, the students code-switched to Korean when they could not think of the English equivalent. They simply did not know the word in English, so they code-switched to Korean.
  2. Facilitating recipients’ comprehension: For one example, a student was talking about a book and mentioned the title of the book. This student repeated the book title in Korean to make sure that the listeners understood what was being told.
  3. Clarifying the message: Listeners could also clarify messages as well. In this example, the listener code-switched to Korean in order to check if her understanding of what the speaker said was correct or not.
  4. Cultural terms: Some words are hard to translate directly into another language because it could be a unique term only used in that language. Therefore, code-switching was used to address these cultural terms.
  5. Maintaining the flow of the conversation: There were times when an English term could have been used, but the students used Korean instead to keep the flow of the conversation. Trying to figure out the English term may disrupt the flow of the conversation, so they used Korean instead. The length of some of the terms also played a part in code-switching as some Korean terms are much shorter to pronounce than the English term.


The significance of this research is that the use of code-switching does not always signify the lack of proficiency in the target language. It could signify the speakers’ and listeners’ effort to not interrupt the conversation, their effort to convey the right message and their effort to make sure that their message was comprehended.

Original Text: Kim, D. R. (2012).Functions of code-switching in Korean EFL learner’s conversation. Language Research, 48(2), 297—318.

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