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Review of  Code Choice in the Language Classroom

Reviewer: Jose Ignacio Aguilar Río
Book Title: Code Choice in the Language Classroom
Book Author: Glenn S. Levine
Publisher: Multilingual Matters
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Language Acquisition
Issue Number: 22.2943

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AUTHOR: Glenn S. Levine
TITLE: Code Choice in the Language Classroom
PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters
YEAR: 2011

Jose Ignacio Aguilar Río, Département de Didactique, UFR de Langues, Lettres et
Sciences Humaines, University du Maine, Le Mans, France.


Levine's work particularly addresses language teachers and curriculum
developers. The author analyses code choice in foreign language (L2), US
university classrooms from an ecological, sociocultural perspective. The
classroom is depicted as a community composed of individuals carrying different
experiences who have different views about learning, and different attitudes
toward language codes and code choice. Levine aims to modify the (rather
negative) way most L2 teachers and curriculum developers seem to regard L1 use
in the L2 class. Instead of banning L1 use, L2 teachers should encourage
learners to consider both codes as legitimate communicative tools in everyday
real situations -- inside and outside the classroom. In order for L2 teachers to
have learners engage in such a reflexive process, curriculum designers should
reconsider their monolingual agenda and favor multilingual programs instead.

The book opens with a preface in which Levine categorizes himself as an L2
teacher and an L2 program director. The author argues that his experience has
allowed him to reflect on teaching methodologies, the L2 classroom as a social
context, and the roles of the L1 and the L2 within the classroom. The main body
of the book is divided in three parts. Part One is entitled ''Conceptual
framework'', and contains Chapters One through Three. Chapter 1, ''Monolingual
norms and multilingual realities'', distinguishes code choice from
code-switching. Code choice is characterized as conscious, creative, socially
dynamic behavior, which should be brought to the forefront of classroom
discussion – whereas code-switching is the admittedly non-conscious ''systematic
alternating of two or more languages''. The teacher and the learners should spend
time negotiating the scope of code choice in L2 classroom communication. This
negotiation builds on the traditional sociolinguistic question of ''who speaks
which language, to whom and when'' (Fishman, 1965), to which the author adds ''and
why''. This question is a sort of leitmotiv throughout the book. Levine suggests
specific roles that L2 teachers should integrate in order to encourage this
reflection about code choice; teachers should not only act as communication
conductors and facilitators, but should also sensitize learners to different
codes, as well as to code choice. The author defends the role that the L1 plays
in successful L2 classrooms – it may help reflect on ways to foster optimal L2
use among classroom participants. The ecological and sociocultural perspective
that Levine adopts allows him to acknowledge the complexity of the L2 classroom
situation. At the end of Chapter 1, Levine questions (and invalidates) five
recurrent ''myths'' concerning L1 use in the L2 classroom: a) monolingual L2 is
not an intuitive mode of language classroom communication; b) monolingual native
speaker norms are not an appropriate target for L2 learners; c) a monolingual
approach does not represent the reality of L2 classroom communication; d) L1 use
in the L2 classroom does not lead to fossilization or pidginization; e) L1 use
in the L2 classroom does not minimize L2 use.

Chapter 2 is “The conundrum of Babel: Toward a theoretical framework for a
multilingual approach”. The Biblical episode of the Tower of Babel is used as a
metaphor to question the innatist and cognitive paradigms on which communicative
language teaching (CLT) is based. Levine suggests considering learners as
individuals who are capable of creatively and adequately using their multiple
linguistic competences. The author detaches himself from traditional second
language acquisition (SLA) research, insofar as it is mainly concerned with form
rather than meaning. The notion of ''transfer'' is questioned -- namely the
interference it may allegedly create. In effect, this ''transfer'' seems to be
incompatible with Levine's multilingual approach to L2 teaching. Plus, Levine --
who categorizes himself as a language teacher throughout the book -- gently
criticizes traditional SLA research, whose ''pedagogical implications'' are
disconnected from ''what can or should happen in the social space of the language
classroom'' (Levine, 2011: 23). The author precisely formulates the sociocultural
and ecological perspectives he stands for by drawing upon Vygotsky (1978) and
van Lier (2004). Levine contests a causal vision of L2 teaching and learning --
which is insufficient to explain the complexity of the L2 learning process --
yet, he acknowledges that most L2 teaching pedagogy is based on a cause and
effect basis. A renewed pedagogy is needed that accounts for the dynamic
complexity of L2 learning processes, such as the dynamic-systems approaches in
current SLA research (i.e. Larsen-Freeman and Cameron (2008)). L2 learning
complexity is further characterized, as Levine insists that language (and
languages) is not about form, but rather function, meaning and culture. Language
and languages are used by people to do things in specific contexts, according to
specific norms, which they must know in order to get things done. Consequently,
L2 learning is also about identity and identity construction. The L2 classroom
is ultimately defined as a ''community of practice'' (Levine, 2011: 42) where the
identity construction process(es) of L2 learners can be facilitated. The L2
classroom is not cut off from other communities of practices, but rather
interconnected to these; it is a context where conditions for learning may be
gathered and set, meaning learning cannot be predicted nor controlled.

Chapter 3, ''What is a code, what is code-switching?'', presents accessible,
working definitions for these two sociolinguistic phenomena. Levine suggests
that they be presented to learners, in the L2 classroom, as notions that help
foster a metalinguistic reflection about code and code choice. Three models of
code-switching are reviewed: a) Myer-Scotton's (1993) Markedness Model; b)
Auer's (1998) Interactional Approach; c) Myer-Scotton's (2002) Rational Choice
Model. Concerning the Markedness Model, Levine stresses the status of the
unmarked choice, which would be the one that corresponds most closely with the
users' expectations. Levine will use this notion of (un)markedness to develop
his ''principled approach to code choice'' (Levine, 2011: 44). As for the
Interactional Approach, the question is, do norms determine all social
encounters, or are they co-constructed as the social encounter unfolds? Finally,
the Rational Choice Model deals with 'how' speakers code-switch. Levine
completes his comments on this last model by asking 'why' speakers code-switch?
The reason: to be able to ''engage in reflection and (subjective) analysis of
both the how and the why of code choices'' (Levine, 2011: 65), which should be
one of the goals of the L2 classroom community of practice.

Part Two is ''Empirical support'', and comprises two chapters. Chapter 4, ''The
code choice status quo of the language classroom'', describes L1 use in any L2
classroom as recurrent and real behavior that can be neither ignored nor
avoided. Levine suggests encouraging a ''critical reflection about code choice
issues'' (Levine, 2011: 70) in order to make the L2 the unmarked code in the
language classroom community of practice. Levine then reviews research on
classroom code choice in the last thirty years. The studies cited suggest: a) a
highly variable ratio of L2 to L1, which is determined by different factors --
the author enumerates ''pedagogical approach, instructional content, teacher
training, official policy, personal beliefs about L2 use, dynamic, fluid learner
identities'' (Levine, 2011: 83); b) that the teacher does most of the (L2)
talking; c) that ''the L1 remains the unmarked code for several key contexts of
use'' (Levine, 2011: 84). The last pages of Chapter 4 present an exploratory,
analytical, quantitative study on code choice conducted by the author in two L2
classes. His conclusions confirm the major observations made by the previously
cited pieces of research: a) the L2 is the unmarked code in many scripted
contexts, whereas the L1 is the unmarked code in many unscripted contexts and
serves a number of functions -- namely to negotiate aspects of the L2; b) the
teachers use the L2 more than the learners; c) the learners use the L1 to
complete tasks, and favor it when speaking amongst themselves.

Chapter 5 is entitled ''Classroom code choice: toward becoming bilingual''. It
describes bilingualism as an individual's ability to embody different norms, to
act efficiently in different contexts, and to exist socially in different codes.
Levine suggests seven features related to language use -- ''significance'',
''activities'', ''identities'', ''relationships'', ''politics'', ''connections'', ''sign
systems and knowledge'' -- that interaction analysts may use in order to explore
how language users operate code choice. Two interaction excerpts taken from L2
classroom observations are finally presented and analyzed according to the seven
language features proposed.

Part Three is entitled ''Curriculum'', which presents two chapters. Chapter 6, ''An
architecture of classroom code choice'', deals with practical ways to foster a
multilingual classroom community of practice. The reflexive and principled
approach to L2 teaching must help sensitize learners to various aspects: a) the
ways the L2 may be used inside and outside the classroom; b) approaching
'otherness' with tolerance and appreciation; c) taking responsibility for their
own learning in order to become autonomous and active regulators of code choice
practices. Learners must be trained to become critical code choice regulators
and competent, efficient, aware, socially acceptable, multilingual speakers. It
is in the L2 classroom where this awareness-raising work can be conducted. The
L2 classroom is the place where the L2 may be partially learned, but also where
the norms that regulate teaching, learning, code choice, and code use may be
negotiated by all participants. In order to raise the learners' awareness, it is
appropriate to introduce activities that do not deal directly with the
linguistic forms of the L2, but which favor a debate about human communication,
classroom language use, L2 discourse strategies, code-switching, the
co-construction of norms, multilingual content instruction and critical
reflection -- eleven of these multilingual consciousness-raising activities are

The final chapter of the book is ''Getting from marked to unmarked and back
again: Articulation of multilingual classroom communities of practice''. It
suggests ways to articulate a multilingual approach. Levine compares a
horizontal articulation -- across multi-section language courses -- to a
vertical one -- across instructional levels. A horizontal articulation entails
delivering ''similar (or identical) instruction across courses at the same level''
(Levine, 2011: 160). According to the author, this would not allow accounting
for the heterogeneity that is likely to exist among participants in any L2
classroom. A horizontal articulation is described as incompatible with an
ecological approach, and thus not suitable for a multilingual approach. The
vertical articulation would be more suitable for accompanying the learners'
development as bilinguals, insofar as it would cater to varying code choice
practices across instructional levels. Plus, a vertical articulation would be
more apt to negotiate the (un)markedness of the L1 and the L2 on particular
occasions ''depending on any number of situated factors in the context of local
interactions and features in the environment'' (Levine, 2011: 163). At the end of
Chapter 7, Levine presents three stages leading to the development of a
multilingual classroom community of practice: a) ''co-construction of
multilingual norms'', when learners' awareness about code choice and code use is
raised without stigmatizing either the L1 or the L2; b) ''emerging multilingual
classroom'', which is associated with ''fun'' and ''language play'', when learners
can act creatively according to agreed upon norms; c) ''multilingual classroom
community of practice'', which is regarded ''as the basis for continued reflection
about classroom code choice norms'' (Levine, 2011: 168).

An epilogue closes the book. Levine reminds us of his main argument --
rethinking the role of code choice in the L2 classroom, as far as learning and
curriculum-development are concerned. He emphasizes one last time the
fundamental complexity of being ''truly bilingual'' -- a state of being that
entails specific 'savoir-faire' and 'savoir-être' that may take years to integrate.


Levine presents, in a clear and pedagogical way, his project to de-stigmatize
the use of the L1 in the L2 classroom. This de-stigmatization should contribute
to attaining a multilingual classroom community of practice where the L1
complements L2 learning. Learning is understood as a complex activity that
entails non-linear processes of language acquisition and personal development.
L2 learning is certainly a cognitive matter, but more than that, it is a matter
of identity construction, social competence, and group allegiance. The author
keeps the theory accessible, yet adequate and coherent to the practical, L2
classroom-based questions that he is concerned with. The analysis effectively
shows how sociolinguistic theoretical aspects may be materialized in L2
classroom situations. The consciousness-raising activities in Part Three may be
put into practice by teachers right away. A short summary at the end of each
chapter aids in organizing the main points for the reader.

A tone of uncertainty is sensed throughout the book concerning the influence
that the suggested practices may have on learning; statements such as ''to foster
a multilingual classroom community of practice that also promotes avid L2 use,
and hopefully L2 acquisition'' (Levine, 2011: 82-83) are not rare. These
perceived uncertainties are not inconsistent with Levine's positioning; the
author clearly defines the L2 classroom as an interactive space where the
conditions for learning may be set, yet a space where learning may be neither
controlled nor predicted. However, it may have been interesting to see how the
suggested classroom practices lead to new (or to the same) outcomes.

The multilingual classroom community of practice that Levine advocates redefines
the L2 classroom participants' roles. Throughout the book, Levine insists that
teachers must set the conditions and provide the means for learners to make
their own choices; the sentence ''our job as language teachers/instructors'' is a
sort of leitmotiv. Teachers must train learners to become autonomous, critical,
effective L2 learners, and make them understand that they can become legitimate
L2 practitioners. However, the question 'How can this be achieved?' remains
somewhat unanswered. A more systematic reflection on the specific roles that the
L2 teacher should play in the L2 classroom would be welcome. In the preface,
Levine acknowledges that the core of his thoughts comes from his (sometimes
rather frustrating) own experience as an L2 teacher and language program
director. It may have been helpful and enlightening to share some of his
intimate reflections about how teaching should be within a multilingual
classroom community of practice. Is this L2 teacher more of an organizer, or a
facilitator? Is this teacher less of a participant, and more of an educator? Is
he/she to play the role of a mediator (Bertin & Narcy-Combes, 2007)? Is he/she
all, some, or none of the above?

Levine's proposal for a multilingual classroom community of practice is
perceived as a way to catch up with the complexity of a multicultural,
globalized, complex society. Yet Levine's proposal, notwithstanding its
appropriateness, courage and timeliness, seems to build on old means -- ''typical
classroom'' is used quite systematically. If Levine's purpose is to make sure
that the L2 classroom is an observatory from which participants come to terms
with the complex allegiance and sociolinguistic practices of current societies,
why not take into account the complexity brought upon by the new ways and means
of communicating and existing in the global world? Why not take into account the
characteristics of multimedia and ICT mediated communication? This certainly
goes beyond Levine's aims, yet it would be helpful to explore the fundamental
characteristics and possible outcomes of an ICT mediated, multilingual,
multicultural, classroom community of practice (Bangou, 2006; Demazière, 2007).

Levine's book is clear, practical and thought-provoking. The way he describes L2
learning processes and L2 classrooms as social spaces for participants to exist,
develop, and negotiate their multiple identities, is both necessary and
pedagogical. L2 teachers trying to come to terms with L2 teaching nowadays will
certainly be encouraged, inspired and comforted by this book. Curriculum
developers trying to mediate between the ever-growing complexity of 21st century
societies and the educational needs that these societies generate will
appreciate the conceptual and methodological framework presented by Levine.
Scholars and students wishing to explore the main tenets of sociocultural
approaches to L2 teaching will find this work to be a fine and thorough synthesis.


Auer, P. (1998). Code-switching in conversation: language, interaction and
identity. Routledge

Bangou, F. 2006. Intégration des Tice et apprentissage de l'enseignement : une
approche systémique. ALSIC 9. 145-160.

Bertin, J.-C. & Narcy-Combes, J.-P. 2007. Monitoring the Learner--Who, Why and
What For? Computer Assisted Language Learning 20(5). 443-457.

Demazière, F. 2007. Didactique des langues et TIC : les aides à l'apprentissage.
ALSIC 10(1). 5-21.

Fishman, J. 1965. Who speaks what language to whom and when? La Linguistique 2.

Larsen-Freeman, D. & Cameron, L. 2008. Research Methodology on Language
Development from a Complex Systems Perspective. The Modern Language Journal
92(2). 200-213.

Myers-Scotton, C. 1993. “Common and Uncommon Ground: Social and Structural
Factors in Codeswitching”. Language in Society 22(4) 475-503.

Myers-Scotton, C. 2002. Contact Linguistics: Bilingual Encounters
and Grammatical Outcomes, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Van Lier, L. 2004. The ecology and semiotics of language learning: a
sociocultural perspective, Birkhäuser: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Vygotski, L. S. 1978. Mind in society: the development of higher psychological
processes, Harvard University Press.

Jose Ignacio Aguilar Río has a PhD in Applied Linguistics. His research interests are in foreign language teaching, foreign language teachers' education and cognition, computer-assisted language learning, second language acquisition, sociology, conversation analysis, social psychology, and research methodology in social sciences. He is a part-time lecturer in applied linguistics at University of Maine in Le Mans, France.

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