Why code-switching is an important workplace skill

Author Elmer Fleming

Posted Mar 3, 2023

Reads 3.8K

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In today's global economy, multilingual workplaces and organizations are becoming increasingly common. As a result, employees who can speak depending on the situation at hand have an advantage over those who cannot. This is where code-switching comes in as an important workplace skill.

Code-switching refers to the ability to switch between different languages or dialects depending on the context of the conversation. People code-switch for various reasons, such as to establish rapport with clients, build relationships, or simply communicate more effectively. Bilingual code-switching benefits not only the individual, but also the team and organization as a whole.

In this article, we will explore why linguistic code-switching is a valuable skill in today's corporate world. We will cover end-to-end examples of how code-switching can be used in different workplace scenarios and explain why it is crucial for businesses that operate in multilingual environments. Additionally, we will discuss how corporate language training programs can help employees develop their code-switching skills and become more effective communicators, ultimately contributing to their success in the workplace. So let's dive into why mastering code-switching is essential for any modern workplace!

Discover the Art of Code-Switching: Why and How People Do It

Code-switching is a constant feature of everyday life. People code-switch for various reasons, but broadly informed by the need to communicate effectively with others who may not share their language or culture. Minority groups people often find themselves downplaying accents and dialects when interacting with members of the dominant culture.

Linguistic code-switching worldwide can be traced to long traditions dating back to the Russian aristocracy in the 19th century, remote Norwegian fishing villages where inhabitants switched between different dialects, and modern-day populations in large bilingual provinces such as Quebec and Hong Kong. This constant facet of immigrant communities has been adopted by many people worldwide.

People switch between languages for a greater degree of ease in communication, depending on their audience's linguistic background. For instance, speaking one's native language at home differs from speaking in public or work environments where multilingual linguistic code-switching is required. Understanding how and why people code-switch has benefits that b2b businesses can leverage in creating more inclusive workspaces.

Can Code Switching Affect Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion?

Code switching is the act of changing one's communication behavior to fit a particular setting or audience. While it can be a useful tool for individuals who speak multiple languages or come from different backgrounds, code switching can also be an inclusion issue. Farzana Nayani, a DEI consultant, points out that code switching can reinforce covering, where individuals hide parts of their identity to conform to dominant culture employees.

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Studies show that code switching can lead to individuals being negatively judged and feeling ashamed of their non-dominant language or dialect. For example, a 2014 Latino Studies Journal article talks about how bilingual linguist Ana Celia Zentella cites examples of bilingual English-Spanish speakers being criticized for speaking Spanish in casual conversation. This bias can extend to written forms as well - African American English and other dialects are often seen as "writing wrong" by those who only recognize standard English.

However, not all experts view code switching as a negative factor in diversity equity and inclusion efforts. Steve Graham, an ASU professor, emphasizes that it doesn't matter what language someone speaks or how they communicate - what matters is whether they have the skills and knowledge necessary to make tech more inclusive. That said, inclusive recruiting is a great place to start when it comes to building diverse teams that celebrate all communication styles.

The Fascinating Reason Behind Why Employees Code Switch

The reason why employees code switch, also known as style shifting, is due to the need to adapt their communication style to fit the workplace culture and environment. This may involve switching between a dominant and non-dominant form of communication, such as using formal language with clients but more casual language with colleagues. Code switching allows employees to navigate different social contexts and build rapport with others in the workplace, ultimately leading to better relationships and increased job satisfaction.

How code-switching happens in a multilingual workplace

In today's increasingly globalized world, multinational multilingual businesses are becoming more and more common. It's not uncommon for staff to speak multiple languages fluently, and this can lead to linguistic code-switching in the workplace. This means that employees may switch between different languages or language varieties depending on their audience or the context of the conversation.

Code-switching work is a common practice in multilingual workplaces, and it can serve many purposes. For example, it can be used to include previously discussed members of a conversation, to accommodate minority groups who may feel more comfortable speaking in their native language, or even as a form of emotional labor when dealing with difficult conversations.

One of the main reasons why code-switching is so prevalent in multilingual workplaces is because communication is key. By being able to switch between languages or language varieties, employees are better able to understand and connect with each other. It shows an effort towards inclusion and understanding which ultimately leads to better productivity and job satisfaction for all parties involved.

1. To fit in with the dominant language of the workplace

One of the biggest challenges in today's workplace is fitting in with the dominant language. Researcher Alejandra de Socarraz-Novoa spent time observing colleagues in a Madrid university department and found that workers who switched between languages had many benefits. They were able to navigate work databases and operating systems more easily, as well as communicate effectively with team members who spoke different languages. However, there were also challenges when it came to translating concepts and using tools back and forth between languages.

Despite these challenges, many workers simply have to adapt to fit in with their colleagues. Learning how to code-switch can be a valuable skill for anyone looking to succeed in a b2b environment. By being comfortable using multiple languages and translating concepts seamlessly, you can become an invaluable asset to any team. So don't be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and start practicing your language skills today!

2. To communicate easily and efficiently

When it comes to communicating easily and efficiently in the workplace, code-switching can be an incredibly helpful tool. In professional areas like fashion tech, where English is often the default lingua franca, it's common for workers to adopt multiple languages in order to better communicate with their colleagues. For example, Spanish people may use the English term "marketing" instead of the Spanish word "el marketing," while German speakers may use English terms related to their field rather than their native language.

Examples of linguistic code-switching can be found in multilingual environments all over the world. In a Madrid University workplace study, researcher Farzana Nayani points out that employees feel more connected when they're able to switch between languages during non-work related conversations. The researcher noted that employees switched between languages depending on their personal lives, meaning applied raw emotion and code-switching expression as well. This can be comforting for non-native speakers like KG who can offer advice or quick readings about social situations people might encounter even if conversational group isn't in their original language. Ultimately, understanding and respecting peoples comfort levels with code-switching is key for creating a welcoming and inclusive work environment for all language learners.

Code-Switching in the Workplace: Being Authentic and Building Resilience

Code-switching is the practice of covering or adjusting one's speech, appearance, or behavior to better fit in with a particular group. In the workplace, this can be a tactic for multilingual people or those who want to minimize stereotyped or stigmatized parts of their identity. However, it can also have potential negative effects on mental and emotional well-being. Recent Harvard Business Review research-backed article adjusting to dominant group norms may lead to enduring loss and external pressure assimilation.

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In a webinar entitled "Code-Switching: Building Resilience amid Workplace Challenges," hosted by the Plank Center and the Public Relations Student Society (PRSSA), experts discussed ways to build inclusive and intercultural workplaces while acknowledging issues such as racial oppression that still exist in the United States. Speakers included PRSSA National President Haniya Shariff, IBM Digital Advocacy Communications Manager Brandi Boatner, and Dr. Nilanjana Bardhan, Professor at Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIUC) and Plank Center Board member.

Dr. Bardhan kicked things off by explaining the background of code-switching and how it can help build inclusive workplaces but also perpetuate oppressive systems. She emphasized the importance of acknowledging differences among colleagues while striving for equity rather than simply assimilation. Boatner shared her experiences as a Black professional in predominantly white spaces, highlighting how code-switching can be a survival mechanism but also lead to exhaustion and burnout. The panelists called on leaders to practice inclusive leadership and communications while actively involving themselves in DEI programs to encourage differences rather than expecting conformity.

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Build a High-Performing Team of Linguistic Code-Switchers

Creating a linguistic code-switching team is essential for any business that operates in a multilingual workplace. By promoting an inclusive atmosphere, employees feel supported and valued, which leads to added clarity in internal written communications. Managers should actively promote linguistic code-switching and make corporate language training part of the CPD program.

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Side-by-side translation can be incredibly helpful for a sizable number of team members where English may not be their first language or where the workforce predominantly speaks French. Corporate language training can also help employees support each other in specific areas like register, email composition, and word choice. A multilingual approach sends a powerful signal about your company's commitment to diversity and inclusion.

By building a high-performing linguistic code-switching team, you create an environment where every team member feels empowered to communicate effectively. With the right training and support, everyone can contribute their unique perspectives without fear of miscommunication or misunderstanding. Ultimately, this will strengthen your company culture and enhance productivity across all teams.

1. Related articles

If you are interested in learning more about business language and communication, there are several articles that can help. For example, you can find top interview questions for non-technical hiring staff to learn how to conduct interviews effectively. Additionally, there are resources available for technical interviews and essential startup terms that can help your team enhance their knowledge.

If you want to improve your language skills specifically, there are also articles on how to learn business English or French strategies. Fluency in fast-key French business vocabulary can be useful in day-to-day work situations. Similarly, if you need to communicate with Spanish-speaking clients or colleagues, learning business Spanish strategies and key vocabulary will be an important linguistic objective. With these resources, you can feel more confident and effective in a variety of work situations.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is code switching?

Code switching is the practice of alternating between two or more languages or language varieties in a conversation. It is often used by bilingual or multilingual speakers to navigate different social and cultural contexts more effectively.

Is code-switching bad for your mental health?

No, code-switching is not inherently bad for your mental health. However, constantly having to switch between languages can be mentally taxing and may lead to feelings of stress or anxiety.

Does code-switching inform black people's work experiences?

Yes, code-switching can affect the work experiences of black people by allowing them to navigate different cultural environments and communicate effectively with diverse groups. It also highlights the pressure on black professionals to conform to mainstream standards while retaining their cultural identity.

Why is code-switching important?

Code-switching is important because it allows individuals to navigate different social contexts by using multiple languages or dialects. It can also serve as a tool for communication, self-expression, and cultural identity.

What does code-switching mean for people of colour?

Code-switching can provide people of colour with a sense of belonging and cultural identity in different contexts, but it can also be a result of systemic oppression and discrimination. It is a complex issue that highlights the intersectionality of race, culture, and language.

Elmer Fleming

Elmer Fleming

Writer at English Quest

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Elmer Fleming is a skilled writer with a passion for sharing his knowledge and insights with others. His blog posts cover an array of topics, from travel and food to technology and business, all written in a clear and engaging style that draws readers in. With years of experience in various industries, including marketing and finance, Elmer brings a unique perspective to his writing that resonates with readers.

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