A Conversation Analysis-Based Investigation of Code-Switching in the English Language Classroom in Quebec

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D)


Literature and Languages

Date of Award

Fall 2015


In this study, I investigated code-switching in the Québec ESL classroom. The current policy regarding ESL in the public school system in Québec dictates that teachers and students should only speak English and not use French, their first language, in the English language classroom (Ministère de l’Éducation, 2006a ; 2006b). However, research has shown that the use of the first language varies greatly in language classrooms (Duff & Polio, 1990) and that even teachers who believe they do not use the first language in fact, do so in practice (Canagarajah, 1995). In addition, this research suggests that language learners in these contexts are behaving similarly to bilinguals who also frequently code-switch. For these reasons, some researchers have called for investigation into optimal use of the first language in the language classroom (Turnbull & Dailey-O'Cain, 2009). This study follows in these steps and focuses on the way code-switching is constructed in the Québec ESL classroom, what is achieved through these code-switches and the implications for language teaching. The data for this study comprise audio and video data recorded during six 75-minute English classes with two video cameras and six digital audio recorders. Twenty nine Grade 9 intensive English students and their teacher participated in this study. The participants were all native speakers of French and were enrolled in a public school in the region of Québec in Québec, Canada. The data were analyzed using standard conversation analysis procedures with a special interest in code-switching episodes. The analysis shows that students use code-switching to achieve certain aims. When they produced a movement from French off-task talk to English on-task talk, the students used code-switching to mark the change in activity, but also to distance themselves from a trouble in interaction. When producing word searches, the participants used four kinds of searches depending on their goals. They used the most elaborated word searches when they oriented to language learning, and the least elaborated word searches when they oriented to the progressivity of the talk. Thus I concluded that the students used both languages meaningfully and are developing as competent bilingual speakers.


Lucy Pickering

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | English Language and Literature | French and Francophone Language and Literature