Exploring Code-Switching in the Classroom

By Isabella Guerra Uccelli

In this spoken word, Jamila Lyiscott complicates notions of what it means to be “articulate” arguing that being “articulate” is having the ability to code-switch. Through her Trinidadian parents, her school, and her friends, Lyiscott learned three different ways to speak English. Each English she uses has rules and grammar, each is a language of its own, but not always recognized with such legitimacy. She embodies three different ways to speak English and her ability to speak these three variations shows that no variation falls into a specific category. 

Jamila Lyiscott echoes sociolinguistic theories (Labov) demonstrating that variations exist both between people who speak the same language and even the same person. Linguistic variation may be caused by differences in pronunciation, syntax, vocabulary, formality, and the ways in which language is used.

Reflection Questions

1. Before watching the video, consider:

  1. Do you switch languages? And/or do you change variations? (i.e. Do you talk to your teachers the same way you talk to your friends?)
  2. How do you change the way you talk?
  3. Why do you talk a certain way to certain people and a different way with other people?
  4. What benefits does this have?

2. Questions After Watching the Video

  1. How can you relate to Lyiscott’s experiences?
  2. What did you learn from the spoken word about the way that language works?
  3. Consider the significance of Lyiscott’s words. One way to explore that with students is to use Project Zero’s Three Why’s Thinking Routine.