But how do I handle code-switching in talks NOT about code-switching?
This Monday, I had the rare opportunity to give a speech at Toastmasters as part of an evaluation contest. An evaluation contest is a competition where not the best speech, but the best evaluation of a speech wins. Ganz praktisch heißt das, that I gave a talk, and then three different individuals evaluated it. Which is fantastic, as you get triple the amount of detailed feedback! Drei zum Preis von einem, sozusagen!
The feedback I got was fantastically useful. Three different perspectives on my strengths, and on my weaknesses. But one of the evaluators really made me think. Not about my speech per se, but about code-switching in speeches.
I am a member of an English-speaking Toastmasters group in a German-speaking city. Everybody speaks English here, but what kind of English differs: Some members are at home in the English language, others in the German language, yet others in none of them.
The speech I gave was titled „Why grammar sucks – and how to unsuck it.“ and covered Krashen's theory of language acquisition. In the introduction, I discuss my own language learning experience:
When I was 11 years old, I started to learn English at school. One of the very first things I learned was that to form the third person singular present tense active indicative form of regular verbs, you attach an s to the stem.Or, as I learned it: "He she it – s muß mit."Nine years later, preparing for my Abitur exams, there were students in my class who still did not get this right. They would say The man walk. The cat sleep. One simple rule. Nine years of instruction. No effect.My classmates weren't dumb, and my English teachers weren't bad. Studies show that explicit grammar instruction does not work as well as one should think. Even if you spend hours working on one grammatical construction, the effects on your actual language use can be tiny. Some grammatical rules do not pose much of a problem, while others may SEEM easy, but are very difficult to get right – just like the third-person-singular-s.
My use of German here was criticized by one of my evaluators, since the club – and the contest – were English-based. He suggested complementing use of German with a translation into English.
I know that one needs to be careful when using languages in a talk that not everybody present speaks. I had assumed that my use of German was justified for two reasons:
- Heavy redundancy: "to form the third person singular present tense active indicative form of regular verbs, you attach an s to the stem", "He she it – s muß mit.", "third-person-singular-s" basically say the same thing, the examples of rule-violations (The man walk, The cat sleep) provide further examples.
- It's a quote. Not just any quote: It's a silly aide-memoire they taught me at school.
I expected that everybody in the audience would (a) recognize the format of mnemonic rhyme based on context and sound-structure, and (b) would be able to understand the content of this aide-memoire from context. I am not sure if this was or was not the case, of course.
I will need to think about why this is perceived by some as being problematic, and whether or not I want this perception to impact my use of different languages. Is it OK to code-switch in speeches as long as you can assume everybody will be able to follow the overall content? Should you avoid code-switching unless everybody speaks all languages involved? Or is code-switching never acceptable in public speaking? Code-switching, that one is for certain, can make an audience feel included as well as excluded, depending on the audience and the exact use of code-switching.
(Since my talk was part of a contest (though not entered into the contest itself), there might have been rules on language choice too. If there are, I'm not aware of them – but that doesn't mean much, as I've never read the (extensive) contest handbook.)
I have a few topics coming up that, from my point of view, scream for code-switching for artistic purposes, especially my talk on "Languages at Toastmasters" and my talk on "Monolingualism ist heilbar". Till then, I need to find answers for these questions.
Do you use more than one language in your talks, presentations, speeches? If you do: How? If you don't: Why not?