I often notice my mother code-switching when talking to people of other races other than Indian. To me, it is very obvious: her voice becomes a bit higher and she pronounces certain words differently because she feels she needs to compensate for her heavy Indian accent.
This is only noticeable to our family (and I’d assume a few of her friends) because we know how she speaks around us. Around us, she doesn’t care if she is messing up her English grammar, as long as she gets her point across. For example, she will often say things like “Go to Indian store and pick up all vegetables on list.” Notice anything funny? She struggles to incorporate articles such as “the” when she speaks English. The case is not that she doesn’t know how to use articles, rather for sake of convenience she doesn’t attempt to use them. Around others, however, she is often careful about what she says as she doesn’t want to let out improper English.
Around us she will often try to use common sayings, and fail miserably. In our conversation about studying hard in college, she said, “You have to hit head on the nail.” Although I understood her message, I still died laughing. She understands that she has not mastered English, however, for this reason she does not feel comfortable speaking with native speakers.
These countless instances have taught me things about my mother and myself. Neither of us are very comfortable meeting new people, nor do we connect with most people we meet. I’m aware that, around Americans in general, she feels a bit self-conscious about her accent. I’m not entirely sure why she feels this way, nevertheless, this is the primary reason why she code-switches. Of course, I don’t judge her– she doesn’t judge me when I speak Marathi in my weird American accent.
I have to acknowledge the amount of progress she has made since arriving in this country over twenty years ago. I can’t imagine how socially inept she was a decade ago, however from the stories I hear from my dad, she’s made a lot of progress. Similarly, over time, even I have opened socially. I is evident that social skills improve over time and with age.