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Code Switching in Oman ESL Classrooms Research Paper


Code-switching has become a common phenomenon in the education sector. It is widely practised by both learners and instructors. The practice is observed among communities with two or more discrete languages (Bullock & Toribio, 2009). A person may start conversing in one language, but change to another in the middle of the dialogue. Also, the individual may switch idioms within a single sentence. Numerous studies by different scholars reveal that the utilisation of code-switching in English as a Second Language in (ESL) classroom settings enhances the learning process. During their interactions with learners, teachers tend to shift between the first and the target language (Cook, 2001).

In this research, the author examined the form of code-switching that takes place in Oman public schools. The social and cultural meanings associated with the practice were also discussed. Also, the author analysed different types of code-switching and social-cultural aspects that influence the phenomenon. To conduct the research, the author used participants from two ESL classrooms in a public school. Data was collected using several tools. They included questionnaires. Others were interviews and observations. The major focus of the study is to analyse code-switching from a sociolinguistic perspective.


Education System in Oman

The country has a unique education arrangement. For example, the government offers this service for free up to the secondary level. Even though individuals are not charged for schooling, they don’t need to enrol. Today, the education system in Oman comprises of primary, middle, secondary, vocational, and tertiary levels.

Primary schooling is offered to children below the age of ten. Secondary education in Oman lasts for three years (Chau, 2007). At this stage, students can opt to specialise in arts or sciences.

Vocational education comprises of centres, which offer opportunities to individuals in need of professional training. Majority of people who enrol in the institutions are basic school leavers (Kiranmayi & Phil, 2010).

Tertiary or higher education in Oman started in 1986. The system was introduced after the founding of the first public university, Sultan Qaboos. Before the establishment of this institution, university students were sent by the Oman government to study in such countries as Egypt, Kuwait, and Jordan (Saxena, 2009).

English as a Second Language in Oman

Currently, English is one of the most common forms of communication in the world (Alonso, 2011). Due to this, the demand for this language in Oman is high. All learning institutions across the country now teach English as a second language (Heredia & Brown, 2006). Also, language is becoming the main form of communication in public places in the nation, such as hotels and hospitals.

As a second language in Oman, English was adopted in learning institutions in the 1970s (Saxena, 2009). The curriculum in most private schools is in English. Also, French institutions in the Arab country use it as a second language. Due to this, locals and foreigners interested in learning the language enrol in private schools.

The use of English as a second language in Oman is not limited to business purposes. It is the main mode of communication between the locals and foreigners residing in the country. As a result, English is now seen as a unique language that can be used by people from diverse social backgrounds (Schendl & Wright, 2011).


Code-switching has existed for a long time due to the presence of multilingual and multicultural communities in the world (Holmes, 2013). The concept has been the subject of many studies in the field. Despite the numerous studies that revolve around the phenomenon, scholars seem to lack a common definition of the term.

For a long time, code-switching has been defined variously by different scholars and researchers. In the beginning, it was conceptualised using cognitive terms (Chloros, 2009). It was considered to be an individual’s capability to possess two languages in the brain. Today, the term is analysed from a sociolinguistic perspective.


The concept is commonly defined as the unconventional utilisation of at least two languages or varieties of the same language in dialogue. One is often the target language (TL), while the other is the home or embedded language. Based on this description, Cantone (2007) defines CS as a normal trend of switching from one idiom to another in one conversation.

Differences between Code Switching, Code Mixing, and Borrowing

The terms ‘code-switching’ and ‘code-mixing’ are two distinct entities. Code-switching stresses on the multilingual speaker’s tendency to shift from one grammatical mode to another in the same conversation (Al-Khatib, 2003). Code mixing, on the other hand, represents an advanced form of change. The phenomenon highlights the formal elements of language structures. It illustrates stable instances where a wide variety of languages are utilised without pragmatic effects. On its part, code-switching emphasises on sociolinguistic performance. The art is linked to specific realistic effects or social-group membership in bilingual communities (Abalhassan & Al-Shalawi, 2000).

Borrowing differs in both code-switching and mixing. Loanword usage takes place in the lexicon. In contrast, code-switching and mixing are experienced at the syntax stage or the utterance formulation level. In sociolinguistics, loaning refers to the art of one language taking a certain phrase from another and making it a permanent part of its system without translation (Mackey, 1957). For example, several English words are borrowed from the Arabic language. They include algebra, alkali, alcohol, and carat.

Literature Review

Models and Approaches to Code Switching

The study of alternate use of two or more languages has resulted in the development of two primary approaches to code-switching. The two are sociolinguistic and structural systems. A structural approach to the phenomenon focuses on grammatical facets (Milroy & Muysken, 1995). Its major aim is to identify morph-syntactic and syntactic constrictions on code-switching. In contrast, the sociolinguistic approach considers CS to be an occurrence in dialogue. It focuses on such aspects as to how social meaning is generated in CS. Also, it aims at discovering the functions of an alternation. Despite the difference between the two approaches, both complement each other. The structural system aims at identifying the morph-syntactic patterns underlying CS grammar (Metila, 2011). On its part, the sociolinguistic approach builds on the structural concepts to clarify the reason why bilingual speakers converse in the way they do.

To understand the concept of code-switching, two primary models have been developed. The first is Sankoff and Poplack’s model. The second is the matrix language-frame approach. The former is the most comprehensive and detailed of the two approaches. It considers code-switching to comprise of two constraints. The two are free-morpheme and equivalence constrictions. The former informs the nature of the shift between lexical stem and bound morphemes (Isurin, Winford & Bot, 2009). Equivalence model stresses on the alternations that occur at areas where surface compositions of languages overlap.

The second model (matrix language-frame [MLF]) was developed by Carol Myers-Scotton. It applies to bilingual phrases. Also, it stresses the existence of two idioms involved in the alternation process. They are the matrix language (ML) and embedded language (EL). The former emphasises that frame-building comes first before the inclusion of content morpheme. According to Myers-Scotton (2000), ML is often an individual’s first or dominant language. Due to this, it tends to be applied more in a discourse.

Code-Switching and Bilingualism

Sociolinguistic approaches to code-switching have helped scholars to understand the reasons why bilingual speakers opt to change between languages. The term ‘bilingualism’ is used in different ways. The utilisation is based on the context, purpose, and linguistic proficiency of the individual. According to Cantone (2007), bilingualism is the ability to converse in two languages with equal aptitude.

Bilingualism and code-switching are interrelated. To enhance communication, bilinguals engage in code-switching. To examine code alternation and second language acquisition, three forms of bilingualism are used. They include simultaneous, receptive, and sequential bilingualism. The first entails learning two languages as first lingos (Al-Khatib, 2003). It is evident among infants exposed to different languages from birth. Receptive refers to the ability to understand two languages. However, a person expresses themselves using only either the first or the second. The sequential form entails learning a second language with full knowledge of the first (Chau, 2007).

From a sociolinguistic perspective, code-switching among bilinguals exists in three forms. They include tag, inter, and intra-sentential alternation. Tag-switching entails the incorporation of phrases of a different language in a single sentence (Moodley, 2007). Tags tend to have slight syntactic restraints. Due to this, their use does not contravene syntactic rules.

Inter-sentential switching refers to changing from language to another between different sentences. In dialogue, one can speak an entire sentence in a particular lingo then switch to other languages in the next segment. On its part, Intra-sentential switching takes place in a single sentence fragment (Bullock & Toribio, 2009). It creates more complex grammar systems compared to the other tag and inter-sentential switching.

Reasons and Functions of Code-Switching


From a sociolinguistic perspective, the practice of code-switching is prompted and limited based on the situation such as personal affection and social context. Also, language, speech, slang, and dialect can all be considered as codes. In a sociolinguistic study, the primary focus is often on the correlation between codes and social situations. According to Sharaf (2014), the primary purpose of code-switching from a sociolinguistic sense is to help people build and influence interpersonal relations.

Other justifications include:

  1. Habitual experience: Some people tend to code-switch because they are used to it. The familiarity with two languages makes alternation seem like a common or ordinary aspect when engaging in dialogue.
  2. Wanting to fit in: In most instances, people change languages either consciously or unconsciously to fit in the group around them. When individuals converse in the same way, they feel like they share values and experiences (Heredia & Brown, 2006).
  3. Lack of facility: Majority of bilinguals or multilingual report code-switching in instances where they fail to find the right term to fit in a sentence (Holmes, 2013). A student in a class, for example, may opt to use an Arabic expression when conversing in English since they cannot figure out the appropriate phrase.
  4. Convenience: in a classroom context, both teachers and students may find the use of English in Arabic discourses to be more convenient (Moodley, 2007). Such a factor can be influenced by a lack of standard and corresponding translations. Besides, some English terminologies may be understood better than when Arabic form.


There are various functions of code-switching in dialogues. The first is to report what another individual said. When using English, Person A can change to Arabic to report the exact words conveyed by person B (Kiranmayi & Phil, 2010). The switching is also used to clarify what has been said. When addressing a group, the speaker can repeat a sentence in a different language to enhance understanding.

Also, code-switching is used as a communicative strategy. From a sociolinguistic perspective, multilingual people code-switch to enhance communication (Schendl & Wright, 2011). Speakers who cannot express certain ideas in one language can change to a lingo they are more familiar and comfortable with.

Code-Switching also plays a referential function. The phenomenon is utilized in instances where a speaker lacks knowledge of a particular language. To ensure the conversation continues, the person may switch to another language. Besides, an addresser can change lingo in instances where an-expression from a different language seems to fit better (Isurin et al., 2009).

Social and Cultural Factors Associated with Code Switching

Code alternation is influenced by a wide range of factors. They range from cultural to social aspects. The social context of interaction can affect a person’s choice of code. Holmes (2013) argues that setting makes a difference when a bilingual engages in dialogue. While at home, a student may switch language more compared to when in school. The reason is that there are strict rules of the language to be used in school. At home, the child is exposed to a variety of languages, which influence code-switching. New words can be learned from the streets. They can also be acquired by talking to peers and parents (Lightbown & Spada, 2006).

Cultural aspects affect code-switching in a wide range of ways. A certain group of people may develop the ability to alternate between languages to get along in a society where they are a minority. To such people, code change reflects culture and identity. Also, the phenomenon promotes solidarity. According to Isurin et al. (2009), the feeling of belonging plays a key role in influencing switching.

Code-Switching in ESL Classrooms

Code-switching in classroom settings differs from what takes place in natural dialogue. Language change in ESL classrooms is considered to be an interactional resource. It is utilised by both students and tutors in the course of attaining a form of native competence in the second language (Metila, 2011). In such settings, CS has different functions. They include communicative, social, and pedagogical.

Pedagogical role of switching in ESL classrooms comes into play when students’ ability to acquire new language and content is enhanced. The communicative function allows the learners to articulate and present pragmatic meaning (Moodley, 2007). The social role of code-switching in a learning setting is experienced when relationships are created between students from different language backgrounds (Heredia & Brown, 2006).

Besides, code-switching is utilized to show power and solidarity. In a conversation, speech brings out the element of social identity. Also, it depicts the correlation between the speaker and the addressee. From a sociolinguistic perspective, people code-switch to increase their power in discourse (Kiranmayi & Phil, 2010). Besides, speakers who can converse in more than one language are considered to share solidarity. In an ESL Classroom context, the ability code switch enhances the relationship between teachers and students.

According to Holmes (2013), code-switching is used for convenience purposes. in a classroom context, both teachers and students may find the use of English in Arabic discourses to be more convenient. Such a factor can be influenced by the lack of standard and corresponding translations. Also, some English terminologies may be understood better than when Arabic form.

Methods and Procedures

To garner information on the attitudes and significance of code-switching in ESL classrooms, the author incorporated various methods and data collection procedures. They include observation and semi-structured interviews with both teachers and students. Besides, questionnaires were used. Before the study, the researcher took several weeks to plan and negotiate with members of staff at the selected schools. The reason for this was to get permission to select participants and classrooms for the study.

The researcher conducted one classroom observation with Oman-speaking bilingual teachers and another with non-Oman-speaking tutors. Five monolingual and six bilingual educators were interviewed. The group interviewed was different from the one observed. Questionnaires were used on 15 students. The 15 participants were from the two classrooms under study. Appendix A is the questionnaire devised for the study.

Results and Discussion

The findings of the research reveal that code-switching is used for various functions in ESL classrooms. The utilisation of L1 is criticised by some researchers. However, despite this, the study revealed that the use of L1 is inevitable in Oman schools. The language is often used in classrooms where both scholars and tutors share the same first language. L1 is used to explain complex words, illustrate grammatical rules, and help in interpretation (Milroy & Muysken, 1995).

Results from interviews and questionnaires revealed that students have varying attitudes towards code-switching. 10 out of the 15 participants interviewed consider the phenomenon to be a useful tool in learning. The reason behind this is because they deem the ability to switch from Arabic to English is desirable. The capability to shift from the first language to second in ESL classrooms creates an authentic learning atmosphere (Myers-Scotton, 2000).

Further analysis of the results and findings from interviews and questionnaires revealed that most of the students support the use of LI (Arabic) in the classroom. The major reason for this is because it helps in the explanation of new and complex English terms and expressions. Although students favour code-switching, comments in the questionnaires showed that some scholars were more comfortable when conversing in Arabic. Students found it easier to use the first language when they are not competent enough to use the second (Abalhassan & Al-Shalawi, 2000). Besides, it becomes a challenge for learners to dialogue if they do not understand or know the meaning of key terms. While not learning, 9 out of the fifteen students interviewed reported that they prefer using English when communicating with friends. On their part, 4 prefer to use Arabic. 2 opted not to answer the question.

Interviews with bilingual and non-Arabic speaking teachers produced varying results. Not all tutors favoured the concept of code-switching. However, most considered the phenomenon to be vital in teaching English. Only 3 teachers were against the idea. From observations during lessons, it was evident that Arabic and English languages were applied interchangeably. In some instances, a concept was mentioned in English and translated in Arabic. Also, a word relayed in Arabic was repeated in a different language. It was also found that 8 teachers and 13 students reported that the alternation helped in understanding passages and paragraphs. In a classroom, students’ interests are of more important than other elements (Metila, 2011). From observations and interviews made, it was found that teachers sometimes used Arabic to encourage learners and enhance their confidence. None of the tutors supported total avoidance of L1 in the classroom. Their main point of argument was that the exclusive use of English would impact negatively on learning. Their view coincides with the arguments made by Cook (2001). Cook (2001) argues that the use of L1 helps improve language learning and teaching in ESL classrooms.


Code-switching is a widespread phenomenon across the world. In Oman, people understand the need to learn other languages in addition to Arabic. Consequently, the government has made efforts to promote the English language. The introduction of English as a second language in schools has both positive and negative effects on learning. However, the majority of learners favour the initiative. The reason is that the ability to switch between languages helps them to connect better with people from other parts of the world.


Abalhassan, K. M, & Al-Shalawi, H. G. (2000). ‘Code-switching Behavior of Arab Speakers of English as a Second Language in the United States’. Intercultural Communication Studies, X(1), 179-188.

Al-Khatib, H. (2003). ‘Language Alternation among Arabic and English Youth Bilinguals: Reflecting or Constructing Social Realities?.’ International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, VI (6), 409-422.

Alonso, D. (2011). English as a second language. New York: Nova Science.

Bullock, B. E., & Toribio, A. J. (2009). The Cambridge handbook of linguistic code switching. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Cantone, K. (2007). Code-switching in bilingual children. Dordrecht: Springer.

Chau, E. (2007). ‘Learners’ use of their First Language in ESL Classroom Interactions’. TESOL in Context, XVI(2), 11-18.

Chloros, G. (2009). Code-switching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cook, V. (2001). ‘Using the First Language in the Classroom’. Canadian Modern Language Review, LVII, 402-423.

Heredia, R., & Brown, M. (2006). Code-switching. New York: Taylor & Francis Group USA.

Holmes, J. (2013). Introduction to sociolinguistics (4th ed.). London: Routledge.

Isurin, L., Winford, D. & Bot, L. (2009). Multidisciplinary approaches to code switching. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

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Lightbown, P., & Spada, N. (2006). How languages are learned (3rd ed.). Oxford. Oxford University Press.

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Metila, R. A. (2011). ‘Decoding the Switch: The Functions of Codeswitching in the Classroom’. Education Quarterly, LXVII(1), 44-61.

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Appendix A: Students’ Questionnaire

Section A: Background Information and Introduction



The purpose of this research is to examine your thoughts and reasons for using Arabic in English classes by both your teacher and you.

Section B: Close Ended Questions

Please tick one choice out of the five columns. Your answer should be based on your personal preference and view on switching between Arab and English.

a = Never b = Hardly ever c = most of the time d= often e= every time

Item a c a a
  1. Teachers’ use of Arab helps me to understand the lesson more.
  1. Teachers’ use of Arab makes the lesson more enjoyable.
  1. Teachers’ use of Arabic helps me to stay more focused and not worry about new words and phrases.
  1. Teachers’ use of Arabic makes me more active in classroom activities.
  1. Teachers’ use of Arabic makes me feel at ease and motivates learning of English.
  1. I would prefer my teacher to use only English in the classroom.
  1. I would prefer my teacher to use both Arabic and English in the classroom.
  1. I would prefer my teacher to reduce the use of Arabic in the classroom.
  1. I don’t prefer my teacher to use Arabic in English classrooms.
  1. I use Arabic when it is hard to express myself in English.
  1. I find it a challenge to concentrate in English classrooms when the teacher uses English only.
  1. I use both English and Arabic when conversing with friends of the same language.
  1. I use both English and Arabic to explain difficult words when talking with friends.
  1. I use both English and Arabic to ensure the dialogue flows well.
  1. I find it challenging to learn when my teacher fails to explain new words in Arabic.

Section C: Open-Ended Questions

  1. Please give reasons why you think Arabic is not necessary or should be minimized in the English classroom
  2. Please give reasons why you think Arabic is necessary in the English classroom
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