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Use of L1 in EMI: Understanding why and moving to how

The publication of the paper The Role of the First Language in English Medium instruction (EMI) marks a benchmark moment in both local and international EMI contexts. Although educational organisations have been researching the issue of students schooled in a language other than their first/dominant language (L1) for many years, the results of that research have been more or less neglected in discussions about EMI. Why this is the case is unclear, but the results have been the same. Despite concerted efforts to bring about awareness of the myriad issues caused by learning in a second or additional language by organisations such as UNESCO¹, EMI schools have steadfastly continued to maintain the monolingual habitus² of ‘English only’.

In international schools, this is often caused by the real or perceived prestige of having the ‘opportunity’ to study in English. When we talk about something as being a privilege we tend not to see the possible negative aspects. Regardless of the prestige of an English-language education, and regardless of the educational situation, whether state or private, all children benefit from accessing education at least partly in their own language.

Understanding Why

So what do we know about the impact of using the L1 in EMI education? The answer is, quite a lot!

There are three areas which have consistent research support when discussing L1 in education:

  1. Having access to learning in the stronger language is better for academic outcomes. This point is the easiest to understand; it’s harder to learn something in a language you don’t master, as your attention is dividing between learning language and learning content.
  2. Use of L1 in EMI is associated with better outcomes in English proficiency. This seems counter-intuitive, as more English would seem to develop English better. But again, accessing learning through the stronger language ensures content mastery, which then leaves students time to attend to developing language. The L1 is also tied to cognitive development, and the better a student develops in terms of cognition, the better a learner they become, which enhances language acquisition as well³.
  3. Access to L1 in learning is associated with higher proficiency levels in the L1. Many schools don’t consider the development of students’ L1 as their job, but students should never lose a language in the quest for acquiring English; bilingualism should be the goal for all students who arrive in an EMI situation with another language. The school supporting their L1 is a powerful message about the value of their other language and bilingualism.

There are other areas of a student’s school experience that can be positively influenced by the presence of their L1 as well. Students who are able to use all of their linguistic resources for learning are more likely to be engaged in learning and motivated. Students who feel that their “whole self” is seen and valued at school will have a more positive attitude towards school and be more involved socially. This impacts on student well-being and agency, and can have positive consequences across all aspects of teaching and learning.

Moving from Why to How

How can schools make a difference for their students by supporting their learning in and through the L1? The easiest answer, which could also be considered the most difficult answer, is through bilingual education. Where the student body is homogenous enough to allow for a strong bilingual programme, this is the route that will be most successful. Bilingual programmes that support the continued growth of the L1 alongside the acquisition of English have the strongest results in terms of academic success, as well as success in learning English and in maintaining the L1⁴. Programmes that are “two-way” entail roughly equal numbers of speakers of the L1 and English, and these are particularly successful, in part due to the equal power relationships; both groups of students master one of the target languages and are learning the other, so they can develop strong collaborative relationships. In EMI situations where the students all, or mainly, speak the same L1, there is no reason to not develop a bilingual programme that will ensure L1 development, English development, and academic development.

Bilingual programmes are not always possible, for reasons ranging from the extent of language diversity to resourcing and staffing. In cases where the student body is too linguistically diverse to be served by a bilingual programme, there are still many ways to bring all students’ first languages into the classroom. An area that is currently the focus of much development in terms of research and practice is translanguaging. There are two types of translanguaging that we can develop in the classroom. The first, and simplest, is serendipitous translanguaging. This involves allowing and encouraging students to use their languages to help scaffold learning, to translate when they don’t understand, to share their languages with their friends, and to consider how their languages work as compared to English. All of these goals can be achieved through simple but meaningful teaching moments: asking a student to translate instructions for a new-to-English students, using Google translate to ask a student why they are upset, encouraging students to explain to each other how to say hello in their languages, or how verbs work! A language-inclusive environment will allow for the development of all of these classrooms moments that will support learning, support identity and support both L1 and English development.

The second type is planned translanguaging. This form of translanguaging is an extension of language into the curriculum, to support both learning and language development. Teachers who plan for language integration consider the context and content to find areas where learning would be enhanced through L1 access. This may mean having students do initial research on a topic in their own languages to build knowledge, or having students work in same-language groups to discuss and debate what they are learning. It can also mean integrating L1 into writing, by having students do initial planning in their L1 and then write in English. All of these examples provide support for content-learning, support for English learning, and support for the continued growth in L1.

Given what we now know conclusively about the importance for all students of having their first languages involved in their learning experiences, there is no longer any excuse for not making this happen. Serendipitous translanguaging is straightforward and simple to implement in any classroom, and provides ample opportunities for L1 use. Planned translanguaging is a longer-term endeavour but would seem to be a way forward for schools that are committed to the holistic development of their students. EMI schools should begin to investigate their student populations and determine the best way forward to support the language and learning development of all their students.

More information about all of the topics discussed in this blog post can be found in the original paper and will be discussed in more detail in the webinars on the 12th February.

Biography

Eowyn Crisfield is a Canadian-educated specialist in languages across the curriculum, including EAL/ELL, home languages, bilingual and immersion education, super-diverse schools and translanguaging. Her focus is on equal access to learning and language development for all students, and on appropriate and effective professional development for teachers working with language learners. She maintains a popular blog for parents and teachers (onraisingbilingualchildren.com) and writes regularly for other publications. She is co-author of the recent book “Linguistic and Cultural Innovation in Schools: The Languages Challenge” (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2018, with Jane Spiro, co-author). She is also a lecturer at Oxford Brookes University, in the Department of Education.

References

¹UNESCO. (2016). If you don’t understand, how can you learn? United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. New York: UNESCO. Retrieved December 12, 2016

²Gogolin, I. (1997). The “monolingual habitus” as the common feature in teaching in the language of the majority in different countries. Per Linguam, 13(2), 38-49. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.5785/13-2-187

³Cummin, J. (1981). The Role of Primary Language Development in Promoting Educational Success for Language Minority Students. In C. s. Education (Ed.), Schooling and language minority students: A theoretical framework (pp. 3-49). Los Angeles: California state Department of Education.

⁴Collier, V., & Thomas, W. (2012). Dual Language Education For a Transformed World. Albuquerque: Fuente Press.


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EMI (and CLIL) – a growing global trend

MOBURF-00002371-001Julie 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!

Why EMI?

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.

 


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#IATEFL – English Medium Instruction as an unstoppable train: How do we keep it on the rails?

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Ernesto Macaro is Professor of Applied Linguistics (Second Language Acquisition) in the Department of Education at the University of Oxford, as well as Director of EMI Oxford. He joins us on the blog today to preview his IATEFL talk ‘Can English teachers and English Medium Instruction (EMI) lecturers cooperate?’ 

English Medium Instruction (EMI) is a general term which refers to the teaching of academic subjects (e.g. science and engineering) through the medium of English in countries where the majority population is not Anglophone. In European Higher Education it is sometimes synonymous with the term ‘CLIL’.

EMI is increasing at an astonishing rate in universities around the non-Anglophone world, a phenomenon largely driven by the desire to ‘internationalise’ higher education institutions by attracting overseas students and staff. EMI is a deeply contentious phenomenon!

We will propose the following:

  • Academic subject teachers are often ill prepared linguistically to teach through English and the level of support from the institution is often lacking.
  • Students may come from a variety of backgrounds with varying degrees of English language competence and experience of EMI.
  • The role of the English tutor or EAP teacher in universities where EMI is being introduced may be changing and this brings with it a number of organisational challenges, and may even pose a threat to the employment of such tutors.
  • Subject Teachers may not be aware of the changes in their pedagogy necessitated by a transition to EMI.

We will provide some general background to this global expansion of EMI and then offer a possible way forward.  We will present the findings of a collaborative project, in Turkey, involving both the English tutor and the academic subject teacher. Our findings suggest they both have a lot to learn in this rapidly changing world!

Ernesto Macaro joins Julie Dearden at IATEFL Birmingham for their talk ‘Can English teachers and English Medium Instruction (EMI) lecturers cooperate?’ on Wednesday 13th April, from 2.30-3 pm in Hall 8B.


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21st Century Skills in ELT Part 1: The rise of 21st Century Skills

Blended and cooperative learning in EAP

Shaun Crowley has worked as an EFL teacher and a marketing manager for an international ELT publisher. He is the founder of Lingua Vote, an e-learning platform for learners of English that features social learning and gamification. Follow Shaun on Twitter: @shauncrowley

In ELT we often regard our profession to be independent of teaching subjects like maths and science. That said, many of the approaches and materials we use are influenced by wider trends in education – from constructivist thinking in the 80’s that influenced the publication of Headway, to the recent “flipped learning” approach that’s inspiring some EFL teachers to rethink blended learning.

In American mainstream education there is an increasing emphasis on a concept referred to as “21st Century Skills” – a collection of various competencies that are regarded as being important for success in life, such as critical thinking, collaboration, communication, digital literacy, creativity, problem solving, environmental awareness and self-expression.

Now let’s be honest – it’s a bit of a buzzword, with a meaning that’s open to interpretation. But the essential concept is pertinent: the ability to combine the subject you’re learning, with the skills and awareness that you need to apply your knowledge of the subject successfully.

In ELT terms, I would interpret 21st Century Skills as:

  • Analyzing, synthesizing and evaluating materials written in English
  • Developing a “voice” on a topic and expressing it in English
  • Researching materials and solving problems that are presented in English
  • Being creative in English and taking communicative risks in pursuit of fluency
  • Collaborating in diverse international teams, communicating in English
  • Respecting international cultures and sensitivities
  • Presenting yourself professionally in English
  • Being able to use software to express yourself in English
  • Being able to navigate software and digital content that’s presented in English
  • Having the self-discipline to study English independently, and “learning how to learn”.

This probably isn’t an exhaustive list but already it is clear how relevant 21st Century Skills are to ELT, particularly in today’s interconnected world where English is the lingua-franca.

And when we look specifically at the expected outcomes of English classes in schools and universities, it is even more evident that 21st Century Skills have increasing importance.

21st Century skills and the changing ELT landscape

When I first started promoting ELT materials 10 years ago, there was a sizable market of end-users we playfully referred to as “EFNAR” (English for no apparent reason).

These days, English is considered in most places as a foundation subject, a universal requirement for success in later life. Students are aware that English is a necessity for their CVs, particularly if they harbour ambitions to work for an international company.

In many countries, English has become a preparatory subject in universities, partly because of the rise of English medium instruction on undergraduate and postgraduate courses.

These trends have implications on the type of English students must learn, but they also have implications on the interpersonal, cognitive and technical skills that students need to apply to function effectively in English.

Meanwhile, our students’ online worlds are bringing 21st Century skills to the surface even when they are at home… in gaming (collaborating as part of an international team on the Xbox), social networking (sharing thoughts with an international audience), and internet browsing (being able to quickly evaluate the validity of English websites found on Google).

So if we ask how ELT will be influenced by future trends in mainstream education, I would suggest that 21st Century Skills will become a lot more integrated into the language learning process.

What might that look like?  In my next posts I will offer four ideas for integrating some of these competencies in class and as part of a blended learning curriculum.