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I was reading an article in the Advocate about TV networks targeting Hispanics who speak both Spanish and English. The article made me think about code-switching.

What is code-switching?
Code-switching is alternating between two or more languages.

When I talk to friends who speak both English and Spanish, and use English and Spanish words interchangeably, that is code switching. See example below:

"I went to the Mexican restaurant that just opened in town, pero no me gusto. La comida tenía sabor de cartón. So I would go somewhere else if I were you."

I code-switch without even thinking. It's as simple as changing the channel on your TV, that is how easily I can switch from one language to the next in the middle of a sentence. When I think about this ability, it is surprising to me. You see, English is my first language and my Spanish speaking ability isn’t so great. I forgot a lot of words and have to improvise, think of other Spanish words to use instead, but I can manage to carry on a decent conversation in Spanish with family and friends. However, I would have never imagined being able to switch between Spanish and English with so much ease.

Sometimes I have to catch myself at work. My brain in Spanish-mode, I have to stop myself from asking my boss or co-workers a question in Spanish. I can just imagine the looks I’d get from them, non-Spanish speakers, if I asked them, “Donde está la computadora rota?”

Just this weekend I found myself talking to my mom in English, which is the primary language I speak with my parents, and then all of the sudden I started asking her a question in Spanish.

I stopped in mid-sentence, then said out loud, “Why am I talking to you in Spanish?”

My mom just laughed and said she didn’t know. Neither did I. The only time I speak Spanish with my parents is in public, when I’m divulging some dark secret I don’t want the non-Spanish people around us to hear.

You have to be careful about that plan though, because there are a lot of non-Hispanics that speak Spanish fluently. I have a little test for that, and if I don’t get a reaction from bystanders, I let the Spanish flow freely. My test includes me saying the following while pointing off into the distance, "¡Mira, los pantalones estan llenos de queso!," which roughly translates into, “Look the pants are full of cheese!” If I see anyone furiously looking around for some cheese-pants, then I know my secrets will have to wait for a later time.

As far as my own code-switching is concerned, maybe it's just part of my subconscious reminding me not to forget the language of my ancestors. Or maybe I need to stop falling asleep to Univision at night.


Note: To translate the Spanish included in this blog, go to Google's language tools. The translations aren't exact, but they are the best ones I've seen from an online translator.