This time, on the return trip, I had the privilege of sitting next to an Amish family: grandparents, parents, and three small children. They had traveled to the Cleveland Amtrak station very earlier on the morning we were scheduled to leave and still had many hours of train travel ahead of them. They were headed to their home outside Utica, New York, after visiting relatives and friends in Northeast Ohio.
We had the chance to chat a bit, particularly the young mother, as we both had toddlers with us. We laughed at our little boys, so different yet so similar, interested in many of the same things. I admired how well behaved her little girls were being, as they sat quietly on her lap, or passed between the grandparents and father.
This conversation was all in English, the heavily accented Midwestern English of my home region. When the family spoke to each other, they conversed and joked in their own dialect of German, as I gathered from the little I know of that language. I couldn't help but overhear their conversation, and was struck by the interesting code switching going on between them. The grandfather read from an English-language newspaper, but in German. The men spoke about farm machinery, which I only knew because phrases like "John Deere" weren't translated.
So often when we discuss code switching and language use, we assume a Spanish-English context. However, code switching happens in many different ways and in different contexts, including with the Amish, who have been switching between English and German for generations. Holding on to their German language has helped maintain the Amish culture and traditions.
As the school year gets underway, TWIN schools might be well-served to remember code switching can be found in many communities, and is a skill that requires great cognitive flexibility. Our children know so much. We just need to give them the opportunity.
-Mary Bridget Burns