What is English Medium Instruction?

When universities internationalise, they usually decide to offer some courses in English. Teachers are then asked to teach their academic subject not in their own language but in English. This is called English Medium Instruction or EMI.

The most well-known definition of English Medium Instruction is:

The use of the English language to teach academic subjects in countries or jurisdictions where the first language (L1) of the majority of the population is not English.

This is from a report “EMI: A Growing Global Phenomenon” by Julie Dearden (2015). 

In our project with the Ministry of Education in Taiwan, led by the British Council and in partnership with Ecctis, Oxford EMI is responsible for the Standards of Good Practice in EMI Teaching and Learning. Oxford EMI set out the following definition of EMI to help teachers answer the question: Does EMI mean 100% English?

"For EMI courses, the delivery of content, whole-class interaction, the learning materials, and the demonstration and assessment of learning outcomes (such as oral presentation, assignments or tests) should be in English. Other languages may be used in a principled and limited way in specific circumstances, for example, Student-to-student and teacher-to-student interaction during pair work and group work may sometimes take place in languages other than English to aid mutual comprehension and idea generation. However, students should be asked to present their discussion outcomes in English and lecturers should ensure that at least 70% of class communication takes place in English". (Dearden and Spain 2021)

 EMI is growing rapidly all around the world. The number of universities teaching graduate and undergraduate courses in EMI is increasing rapidly and more teachers are faced with the challenge of teaching their academic subject through EMI.  There has also been an impressive increase in the amount of research conducted over the last few years into this phenomenon of EMI. The growth of EMI at university level is well-documented in the research and Julie Dearden, EMI researcher and Director of Oxford EMI, would be happy to guide you to research references if you are an EMI researcher.

At first, subjects such as Engineering, Business, Economics IT, Sciences were taught in English as much of the real-world business and research in these domains takes place in English. Then, EMI expanded to many other academic subjects such as the Humanities and Social Sciences. The number and range of EMI subjects in a university varies but, in all cases, EMI is increasing.

This change of language for both lecturers and students has advantages and challenges. If a university can offer EMI courses, it can attract international students and faculty, exchange easily with other countries, present at international conferences, publish in English and rise in the international rankings. An EMI university becomes part of the global education scene, competing for the best students from around the world.  However, the challenges are also great and questions abound: What is needed to ensure that quality teaching and learning takes place? How will we ensure that the same high levels of academic achievement are reached in both the subject and in English? Who will support both teachers and learners in this new venture? What needs to change at a university before and during the implementation of EMI? What support systems are in place for Managers, staff, teachers and students? 

The use of English to educate our students has many geopolitical and sociocultural implications. It also has implications for our students. Our aim is that students achieve highly in their academic subject and also become proficient in English to become bilingual professionals in a global world. Learning should not be dumbed down, it should become truly international, multi-lingual, multi-cultural and motivating. These are aims which teachers share but which they do not always know how to implement. Academics are world leaders in their subjects but they have often not been trained to teach through EMI.

In order for successful learning to take place in EMI, teachers and lecturers need to be trained. At Oxford EMI, we run short courses which train academics, lecturers and teachers the language awareness and pedagogical skills they need to successfully teach their subject in English.