Julie Dearden is Head of English Medium Instruction at the University of Oxford’s Hertford College, developing and teaching professional development programmes for teachers and university lecturers around the world.
Across the world, an educational trend is becoming increasingly popular. Subjects such as Science, Maths, Geography and Economics are being taught through the medium of English – known as English Medium Instruction, or EMI.
My definition of EMI is: “The use of the English language to teach academic subjects (other than English itself) in countries or jurisdictions in which the majority of the population’s first language is not English”. (Dearden, 2015)
EMI started at tertiary level in universities seeking to ‘internationalise’ their education offer. They wanted to attract students from abroad, prepare their home students to study and work abroad, publish in English and survive in an increasingly competitive education market-place – and still do!
There seem to be different reasons why institutions ‘go EMI’. Administrators may choose to adopt it as a means of competitive advantage and survival. Or, it may be that a university’s lecturers are particularly idealistic, seeking to attract the brightest minds, share their knowledge with the widest possible audience and to develop their own teaching.
Two big buzz words in education are internationalisation and globalisation, although nobody has as yet clearly defined what these words mean in practice. In fact, they are often used interchangeably – in an educational context, though, they almost invariably include teaching some or all of a subject or subjects in English. And, in an EMI world, faculty members can move around, teaching in universities and institutions across the globe. EMI is seen as a passport to success, a way of opening doors and providing golden opportunities for both staff and students.
Although EMI usually refers to teaching at university level, there are an increasing number of secondary, primary, and even pre-primary schools which teach using the English language. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is more EMI at tertiary level than at secondary level, and more at secondary than primary. There is also more EMI in the private sector than in the public sector as EMI is extremely marketable. Parents consider an EMI education as superior, elite and they are willing, in some countries, to spend a large portion of their income on giving their child an EMI education, feeling it will give their children a head start in life.
EMI or CLIL?
At secondary and primary level, though, this type of bilingual education is often referred to as CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning). For me, this is slightly different from EMI. The two are similar in the sense that they are both forms of bilingual education, but CLIL is usually used at primary school and secondary school and means teaching through any second language (for example, French or German), while EMI (as we see from its title) means teaching in English.
Another difference is the way the teachers perceive what they are doing. In both CLIL and EMI, teachers are teaching a subject through the medium of English. The difference comes in the way the teacher or lecturer thinks about his/her aims in the lesson/lecture. In CLIL classrooms there is a dual objective which is clearly stated – teaching both language and the subject content. In EMI, at university level, the lecturer typically does not think of themselves as a language teacher. Their aim is to teach the subject while speaking English.
This, though, presents all sorts of challenges for both teachers and students. For example, teachers believe that EMI is good for students, and that they will improve their English if they are taught through EMI. But if teachers do not consider themselves language teachers how is that improvement supposed to happen?
That is the million dollar question.