Code-Switching In Psychology: Understanding The Both Sides

Last Update on July 26, 2023 : Published on July 28, 2023

Many of us use the word “code-mixing” or code-switching” without even realizing the actual meaning behind it! Well, this word has a lot to do with psychology. In simple words, code-switching is a behavior where the BIPOC community switches from their native language to a different language.

Well, commonly the BIPOC uses code-switching to mainly gain attention or self-protection from the major community, White people. From a psychological viewpoint, code-switching is a type of self-protection from microaggressions or judgments. Most people do not consider it as even a real-term but it usually matters a lot to the BIPOC communities.

In this blog, let us understand what is code-switching, how code-switching impacts the BIPOC community, and what we can do to create a safer place for the BIPOC community.

So, let’s get started!

What Is Code-Switching?

Code-switching happens when someone changes or switches their native language to the standard language specifically used by the major group. Code-switching is not only about switching to a dominant or standard language but also suppressing someone’s identity, cultural background, or upbringing.

In the last few years, the definition of code-switching has taken different meanings. However, it’s quite clear that the behavior or switching is generally adapted to fit in or to protect themselves. According to psychologists, when someone changes their language or behavior related to how they speak or interact is usually based on the environment.

Fact Check: Code-switching is not a new term and it was first used back in 1950 by an Indigenous Writer Sierra Miwok in her book “Language of the Sierra Miwok.

Examples of Code-Switching:

  • An ethnic teenager changing the pronunciation of their name in a more anglicized name to fit in the school.
  • Someone ordering local food instead of ordering their traditional food in school or the workplace.
  • Ethnic people speaking local languages at home and using English exclusively in front of other people.

Why Do We Code-Switch?

Psychologists and researchers believe that people code-switch to:

  • Exert control
  • Unify with dominant group members
  • Shift between formal to informal discussions

Additionally, BIPOC people may code-switch to:

  • Adapt different conversations: Someone might code-switch to remove the formal pressure and adapt to informal settings within the workplace.
  • Fit in a group: In most cases, people code-switch to simply fit in a group. During such situations, code-switching might happen consciously or subconsciously.
  • Self-protect: Sometimes, an individual code-switches as a form of self-protection. Basically, to protect themselves from judgments based on their cultural background, native language, and others.
  • Survive: There’s a stereotypical thinking that still is present in the US that people who don’t speak English as a first language are less intelligent. This stereotypical thinking mostly affects the BIPOC community. Exhibiting double-consciousness is used as a survival skill by some people.
  • Avoid negative judgments: Sometimes, BIPOC people or people of color have to struggle with certain stereotypes, therefore, they might bring some change in their appearance or language to avoid negative comments or judgments from the major community.
  • To express ideas: Bilingual people are not able to express their feelings or ideas in one language so they code-switch to help them communicate clearly and effectively.
  • To advance professionally: In some professional situations, code-switching becomes a necessity as people have to balance out everything for advancing their careers.

Types of Code-Switch

In order to understand code-switching better, there are generally three types of code-switching at the workplace or in personal life:

1. Bilingual Code-Switching

When someone speaks multiple languages, it comes with a lot of benefits and research shows that bilingual people are more likely to adapt and focus better. Bilingual people use code-switching as a tool to navigate society.

2. Person of Color Code-Switching

Research shows that people of color are unfairly judged for their languages or accent they use. This results in the inability to express themselves. Therefore, as a defense mechanism people of color often chooses code-switching to overcome the judgments especially when they are the dominant ones.

3. Behavioral Code-Switching

code-switching means speech modifications which sometimes also lead to some behavioral changes. for example, someone might start changing their appearance so that they can fit better in the environment.

Impacts Of Code-Switching

The concept of the impact of code-switching on BIPOC is known as “double consciousness.” This term was created by Black folks. Double consciousness signifies how Black people see themselves from the viewpoint of dominants.

This concept often shows that being split by the dominant group can make people feel unsafe. This feeling can result in:

  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Frustration
  • Isolation or loneliness
  • Sadness
  • Stress

Code-switching at the workplace can result in:

  • Detachment
  • Dissatisfaction
  • Emotional exhaustion
  • Irritability
  • Reduces sense of accomplishment
  • Reduces work performance

Pros And Cons Of Code-Switching

Code-switching is a result of racism, ethnicity, and the dominant group.  It might look safer to code-switch while communicating with a group of dominant communities, but if you flip the coin, the other side can be full of cons as well.

Let us find out some pros and cons of code-switching in this section:


  • Code-switching helps in fitting in with the dominant group.
  • Some individuals feel safe as they are able to initiate a comforting discussion with the dominant group.
  • Code-switching helps BIPOC people explore different major communities safely.
  • Code-switching is basically used as a self-protection technique from discrimination, judgment, and more.


  • Code-switching can be emotionally draining most of the time.
  • Code-switching sometimes also flogs in the real self or uniqueness of a group.
  • Code-switching reminds people of oppressive systems as it becomes difficult to deal with social acceptance or self-expression.
  • Acting right to be socially accepted brings out a lot of stress or anxiety within.

Differences Between Code-Switching And Code-Mixing

Code-switching and code-mixing hold different meanings as code-switching means alternating between two languages and choosing one as a communicative episode. Meanwhile, code-mixing means hybridizing two languages together. Generally, two languages are combined together to make meaning.

How To Create A Safe Place To Prevent Double Consciousness?

The need to code-switching while present in a dominant group must be avoided and we all must work on bringing some positive changes. We all must work on creating a safe place for everyone, reducing the pressure to fit in, or using code-switching out of double consciousness:

  • Focusing on the needs of marginalized groups
  • Creating inclusive workplaces for all to make everyone feel safe
  • Bringing change from within and providing a comforting and understanding environment for people from other groups

Key Takeaway: Bringing Some Positive Changes

In order to bring positive change and prevent stressful situations, we must try to make some structural changes within to prevent people from code-switching. We must all make people comfortable and not expect them to be someone else. We must actively remove “code-switching” systems so that people can feel comfortable and enjoy their uniqueness.

If you’re someone who code-switches or someone you know who code-switches, you must not let yourself burn through societal expectations. Getting help or sharing your feelings with your support system

You can also take the help of mental health professionals, to connect with a certified and experienced mental health professional through online platforms, click below:

I hope this blog helps you understand what is code-switching and its impacts. Comment down and share your views on the same.

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Thanks for reading!

About The Author

Aayushi Kapoor
Aayushi Kapoor

Aayushi is a Content Creator at Calm Sage. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Food Technology and a Master's Degree in Clinical Nutrition. Her constant interest in the improvement of mental health, nutrition, and overall wellness embarked upon her career as a “full-time educational writer.” She likes to make an asynchronous connection with her readers. Her mantra for living life is "What you seek is seeking you".

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