Do You Code-switch?

Multiculturals, code-switching, hand shake, code switching, multicultural idenity, multicultural families, multiracials, changing codes, switching codes

Multiculturals & Code-Switching

Have you ever noticed that you have one set of verbal and non-verbal attributes in one conversation and then participate differently in the next?  Our accents may change, our expressions, body language and even our whole attitudes can fluctuate between communities.  Is this wrong?  Does it mean we’re being “fake”?  Or is it a sign of the growing diversity here in the U.S.?

Code-switching gets a bad rap most times, but really, doesn’t it demonstrate our growing multicultural identity?  Code-switching implies a broader world view and the accommodation of a variety of communication styles.  A speaker might present themselves differently in each relationship or community in order to more fully engage their audience.  Often it’s not a matter of conscious choice, but more an attempt to create bonds and build comfortable relationships.  Many times, without realizing it, we often adjust our actions and words to fit the acceptable standards of the community we’re interacting with or to meet their expectations of us.

For me personally, I’ve noticed that when I’m among Latino friends we are often more friendly, cracking jokes, dishing chismes and throwing out descriptive gestures to exaggerate the dramatic points.  With many of my friends from west Michigan we’re loud and use a ton of obnoxious slang, but when I chat with university pals or higher ups I take a more scholarly tone…and of course, I dress differently and have more reserved gestures.  Lawyers use one language, school teachers another and it seems that we all have different “codes” established within each community.  Our codes are divided by race, socio-economic status, level of education, ethnic background, geography, language and so many more elements.  Even a city dweller visiting the south might be hard pressed to understand the manner of speaking, gestures and common courtesies of country folk.

Multicultural families seem to be the masters of code-switching, which makes sense.  The more codes you juggle, the more smoothly you learn to transition from community to community.  Anywhere that you find a multitude of cultures or languages, you’ll be sure to find a plethora of code-switching going on.

Being mono-lingual or mono-cultural we can sometimes tend to be prejudiced on this topic because the changing back and forth can seem like “fronting” or “posing”, but in reality it’s a skill that helps individuals to compete in a global market and understand the mindset of others who might be different from them.  It’s an act of consideration and humility that demonstrates your connection to each group or individual that you interact with.



  1. says

    Thought-provoking post. You made me stop and think about how I communicate. I know I have multiple voices: the hairstylist-nail technician, Executive Assistant, writer, reader, Mexicana-Americana, Southern Californian, friend — all sifted/filtered to adapt to different situations and environments. How much I want to share of my total identity is completely dependent on my comfort-level with the person I'm talking to. Does that make sense?

    • says

      Yes! That's exactly what I'm talking about amiga! You nailed it! :) Each social environment dictates a different set of "rules" and we switch our mannerism, language and so much more in order to participate in a way that makes us part of the group. :)

      • says

        Absolutely. I think the "fake-factor" comes into play when language is changed in a contrived manner, in order to gain approval, which I think isn't cool at all. Great post, by the way. You ask insightful questions. xxx

        • says

          Great point! Authenticity is important! I know for me, I have been called a fake or sell-out by my own family for taking an interest in Mexican culture. They've told me that "whites shouldn't speak Spanish" and other ignorant comments. We often tend to look at someone and put them into a single category and those stereotypes extend to the way we communicate. My hubby shouldn't have to know Spanish just because he's Mexican and I should be expected not to speak it or interact with Latinas as I do just because I'm not. Obviously, I could write a few more posts on this topic…lol! Thanks for the comment! =)

  2. says

    Great post. I just found your blog through "Yes, We're Together". As an Asian woman married to a Caucasian husband, and living in primarily a white and Hispanic neighborhood… I know what you're talking about, although I hadn't heard the term code-switching before. I also blog about raising a multicultural family, and look forward to reading more of your articles.

  3. says

    great post! very thought provoking. i had never heard the term code-switching but i definitely see it in my multicultural family. i think it is a good thing…i want my children to be fluid and able to communicate (and feel comfortable) with a wide range of people.

    • says

      Rae, thank you! I've heard so many people attack those of certain backgrounds for their style of speaking, hand gestures, accents, etc. and I think it's such a shame that people miss out on knowing some really interesting individuals because we're uncomfortable about the differences between us. I think it's great when we can communicate with others in a way that makes them comfortable and definitely an amazing gift to give our children. ♥

  4. baovom says

    Absolutely it is an advantage to be able to call clients or vendors and say to one "Good morning, my Dear!" to another, "Hey Girrrrl!" and to another, "Hola Chula!" 
    I would propose that any teenager does a certain type of code-switching when they are talking with their friends in ways their parents or teachers barely understand. 
    A person can change the way they speak to suit the person who is listening, to bond with them or demonstrate they have something in common. It's a bit more obvious when it involves a whole other language. 
    My son is 3 and has already figured out to whom he should say "hola" and to whom he should say "hi". 
    Maybe multilingual people have an enhanced ability to pick up on how what they say is perceived by another person. 

  5. says

     @baovom Lol…Exactly!!  My daughter is also three and it's fun to watch her switch between languages and mannerisms for each unique situation.  Kids are so awesome to watch and learn from.  :)  I definitely believe that interacting in multicultural and multilingual spaces makes us experts at mixing styles and bonding with diverse people of the world.  The skills learned definitely add up to something amazing for multicultural individuals!  ;)  Thank you for sharing your thoughts!


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