Code Switching and Indigenous workplace learning: Cross-cultural competence training or cultural assimilation?

For more than two decades, within numerous spheres of education, code switching (CS) – moving competently between two languages or dialects – has been promoted as a useful, if not a necessary skill for Indigenous students to develop.  Linguistically it enables them to maintain communicative links with their home communities and at the same time provides functional access to the non-Indigenous language environment. In schools and training organisations the focus for the development of CS is often on the verbal aspects of language (e.g., ‘What does that mean in your English?’ or ‘How do we say that in Standard Australian English?’), but CS also encompasses the nonverbal. In this chapter we consider the cultural nuances that underpin the development of competent CS and its associated behaviours– what training organisations often refer to as soft skills. In doing so we examine the vexed question of whether the development of these soft skills constitutes competency in cross-cultural communication or whether it is another guise for assimilation.

Oliver and Rochecouste

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