[lg policy] book review: English-Medium Instruction at Universities

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Sat Feb 16 15:54:59 UTC 2013

English-Medium Instruction at Universities

Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/23/23-4504.html

EDITOR: Aintzane Doiz
EDITOR: David Lasagabaster
EDITOR: Juan Manuel Sierra
TITLE: English-Medium Instruction at Universities
SUBTITLE: Global Challenges
SERIES TITLE: Multilingual Matters
PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters
YEAR: 2012

REVIEWER: Damian J. Rivers, Osaka University


Converging on language policy and language planning within the burgeoning
discourse addressing the internationalization of higher education, this book
includes chapters which analyze various contexts such as China, Finland,
Israel, Holland, South Africa, Spain and the USA. More specifically, this
221-page volume takes a critical look at English-medium instruction (EMI) from
a variety of interpersonal, pedagogical, political and methodological
perspectives. To varying degrees, all chapters illustrate tensions and
challenges surrounding EMI policies and programmes which are seen as being
cast in response to increased economic pressures for universities to attract
students and to remain competitive in a virtually borderless global

Foreword and Introduction

The volume features a Foreword by Jim Coleman which immediately implicates the
economic and political rationale behind the internationalization of higher
education (and thus EMI policies and programmes) - “the impulse to help
students from developing countries is hugely outweighed by the financial
motive to recruit fee-paying students” (p. xiv). Embedded within discourse
concerning the dramatic rise in tertiary education programmes available
through EMI across multiple contexts, the Introduction outlines the motivation
for the volume and provides an overview detailing the chapters in each of the
five sections. Prior to describing each of the eleven contributions, the
editors cite and acknowledge the rather predictable discourse concerning
globalization and internationalization as being responsible for the rise of
EMI programmes. Indeed, the authors rightly position EMI programs as being
diverse, complex and impacting upon “the ecology of languages in every single
university, irrespective of context” (p. xviii). This rather inconvenient
political truth is dealt with in more detail at various junctures throughout
the volume.

Part 1: The Development of English-Medium Instruction

Chapter 1 [English-Medium Instruction at a Dutch University: Challenges and
Pitfalls] by Robert Wilkinson assesses the advantages and disadvantages of EMI
within Maastricht University, Holland. The author charts the evolution of EMI
programmes across two decades of personal experience within the university and
discusses his central role in the process. The background provided is
extensive, with specific attention given to the loss of domain for the L1,
curriculum and course design, collaboration between content staff and language
staff, and issues concerning assurances of quality. The chapter also examines
the use of EMI programmes at other European universities and the consequences
to students, faculty and society in general. The conclusion reflects upon the
strong economic motivations underpinning decisions to introduce EMI programmes
as well as other social and political pressures. The author suggests that
universities must “take a very long view in weighing up whether our children,
and our children’s children, will thank them for the educational decisions
they are making and implementing today” (p. 21). Unfortunately, this kind of
humanistic pondering, although crucial within the domain of education, is
often absent from institutional decision-making processes.

Part 2: Language Demands of English-Medium Instruction on the Stakeholders

Chapter 2 [Acknowledging Academic Biliteracy in Higher Education Assessment
Strategies: A Tale of Two Trails] by Christa van der Walt and Martin Kidd
presents an experimental investigation into the concept of academic literacy
at Stellenbosch University in South Africa. Attention is drawn to how within
many South African universities English is often used alongside Afrikaans to
provide the foundation for a bilingual education in spite of the fact that
South Africa has eleven official languages. The two studies documented examine
the influence of Afrikaans-English biliteracy on academic performance (in this
case assessed through a bilingual reading comprehension test). Citing lecturer
concerns regarding the ability of students to understand academic texts the
authors ask “whether a summary in one language can be shown to increase
comprehension in another language under controlled, quasi-experimental
conditions” (p. 29). The results of the study are thought-provoking, well
documented and clearly presented. The authors acknowledge the limitations of
the study design and call for more qualitative investigations to be

Chapter 3 [Language Demands and Support for English-Medium Instruction in
Tertiary Education. Learning from a Specific Context] by Phil Ball and Diana
Lindsay examines the nature of EMI courses offered at the University of the
Basque Country in Spain with focus on the support given to teaching staff. A
number of core pedagogical and methodological questions are raised which hold
widespread implications for the teacher-institute, teacher-student and
student-institute interface. The chapter provides data in the form of basic
descriptive statistics (i.e. percentages) in addition to comments from
questionnaires given to both students and teachers. After a brief discussion
of the results, the chapter ends with the acknowledgement that the “future is
very probably a multilingual one” (p. 59). However, and in seeming contrast to
this position, the authors also add that “EMI pedagogy, or CLIL-oriented
approaches in general, may come to be regarded, in the not-too-distant future,
as standard practice” (p. 59).

Part 3: Fostering Trilingual Education at Higher Education Institutions

Chapter 4 [Linguistic Hegemony or Linguistic Capital? Internationalization and
English-Medium Instruction at the Chinese University of Hong Kong] by David
C.S. Li provides a review of recent (post 2004) controversies surrounding the
language of instruction policy at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK).
Drawing upon multiple data sources including university directives, media
reports and student comments, the author asserts that controversies at the
university have been “triggered by the university management’s decision to
offer more courses across a wide range of disciplines in English” (p. 66).
Hong Kong’s language policy is discussed before the author provides a detailed
and informative case study of the situation at CUHK. Familiar problems are
highlighted such as the ability of local students to fully understand lectures
given in English at a level which allows them “to benefit from cutting-edge
knowledge in their field directly” (p. 75) without recourse to Cantonese. The
discussion is extensive and a number of significant issues are raised which
will undoubtedly be relevant to other universities engaged in debates
surrounding the internationalization of higher education and the turbulent
relationship between English (as both invader and liberator) and the host
language (as central to issues of national identity maintenance).

Chapter 5 [English as L3 at a Bilingual University in the Basque Country,
Spain] by Aintzane Doiz, David Lasagabaster and Juan Manuel Sierra presents a
quantitative exploration of local and international student attitudes toward
multilingualism and the influence of student mother-tongue on attitudes toward
multilingualism at the University of the Basque Country (UBC) in Spain.
Undergraduate students’ opinions and beliefs are also sought in relation to
the presence of international students on campus, the role of foreign
languages in education, English as a lingua franca, the impact of English on
Basque and the role of minority languages such as Basque in the context of the
international university. The chapter begins with a discussion of university
internationalization based upon the three models presented by Chan and Dimmock
(2008) (globalist, internationalist and translocalist) before detailing a
multilingualism programme at the UBC (delivered through EMI). The research
questions and research methodology are clearly documented and the results are
presented in a manner conducive to further replication in other contexts. The
actual results are statistically sound and discussed in adequate detail.

Chapter 6 [Introducing English-Medium Instruction at the University of Lleida,
Spain: Intervention, Beliefs and Practices] by Josep Maria Cots takes a
multidimensional look at language policy in connection to the promotion of
English as an L3 at a Catalan-Spanish bilingual university (University of
Lleida). Drawing largely upon the conceptual framework of Spolsky (2004) in
relation to language policy (intervention, beliefs and practices), and with a
focus on the ambiguities and tensions surrounding the introduction of English
as an L3, the chapter utilizes both primary and secondary data (quantitative
and qualitative). Although original data is featured in the form of discourse
between two university instructors, the chapter is a theoretical discussion
with the inclusion of data to support or illustrate various points as opposed
to a more traditional empirical study.

Part 4: Institutional Policies at Higher Education Institutions

Chapter 7 [Implicit Policy, Invisible Language: Policies and Practices of
International Degree Programmes in Finnish Higher Education] by Taina Saarinen
and Tarja Nikula examines data collected from text documents (e.g. website
course descriptions) from four Finnish institutions and interviews/narratives
from a small number of teachers and students. The authors address what they
view as a paradox - “despite the strong position of English as the
instructional language, it is rarely problematized at the outset, and the
questions of language mastery or the effects of teaching in English on content
learning are rarely discussed” (p. 132). An historical account of
internationalization in the Finnish context is first presented before the data
is explored. The data is well presented and examined. The conclusions offered
are insightful, particularly where the authors assert how “the emerging
picture is complex, with English appearing vital, even exotic from certain
perspectives, and marginal and mundane from others” (p. 146). This further
supports an emerging viewpoint that EMI programs and policies, while seen as
holding benefits for some, also hold drawbacks for others.

Chapter 8 [Englishization in an Israeli Teacher Education College: Taking the
First Steps] by Ofra Inbar-Lourie and Smadar Donitsa-Schmidt draws attention
to the “unique linguistic scene within which this phenomenon of
‘Englishization’ occurs” (p. 151) by highlighting how the hegemony of Hebrew
stands in contrast to the inferior status assigned to Arabic in academia, as
well as other immigrant languages such as Russian. The authors stress that
research into the use and role of EMI in Israeli tertiary institutions is rare
and that research within the context of teacher education colleges is
non-existent. In attempting to change this situation the authors investigate
EMI within a teacher education college in order to provide initial insights
into this understudied phenomenon. The chapter begins with an overview of the
linguistic context in Israel and documentation of the language policies that
exist within various academic institutions. Two research questions are
presented concerning attitudes and motivations towards EMI, and they are
investigated using two different research samples, analyzed using quantitative
methods. Of particular interest in the discussion is the observation that it
was “the more proficient students [who] chose to take advantage of the [EMI]
opportunity offered, thereby creating a situation where ‘the rich get richer’”
(p. 170). Once again, this serves as evidence for how even when language
policies are designed to empower students they can often also act as promoters
of inequality and disempowerment among other students.

Chapter 9 [Educating International and Immigrant Students in US Higher
Education: Opportunities and Challenges] by Ofelia García, Mercè Pujol-Ferran
and Pooja Reddy begins by highlighting the implicit language policy of the US
which encourages people outside of its national borders to learn English (i.e.
promoting English bilingualism) yet discourages immigrants within its national
borders for maintaining their own language (i.e. promoting English
monolingualism). This protectionist language policy is cited as being
responsible for “the different treatment of international students and
immigrant students in US colleges and universities” (p. 174). The data within
the chapter is drawn from two case studies, one at a community college which
has a majority population of poor Latino immigrants, and one at a university
which has a substantial population of middle-class international students. In
the conclusion the authors claim that “[w]hereas international students are
welcomed and perceived as a financial asset to the private US colleges and
universities, immigrant university students at public institutions of higher
education are received with caution” (p. 192). Ending the chapter with a
quotation from Wright (2004), the authors suggest that within the US,
bilingualism reflects a nationalistic orientation toward “one nation, one
territory, one language” (p. 194). The implications generated for further
research concerning the intersection of language policy and national identity
are clear.

Chapter 10 [A Critical Perspective on the Use of English as a Medium of
Instruction at Universities] by Elana Shohamy presents a conceptual overview
of the main issues associated with EMI at universities. The chapter is not
based on empirical data and is therefore able to provide greater textual depth
than some of the other chapters. The author highlights four main settings of
medium of instruction: learning content via L2 for immigrant students, using
school language which is different than home language, learning content via L2
for majority students and learning through EMI at universities. Following
this, the chapter focuses exclusively on a number of critical issues
surrounding EMI in tertiary educational contexts. The author draws attention
to the belief that more languages than English are needed to ensure equality
within education and for functioning within the globalized society. However,
such optimism stands in contrast to a view repeatedly echoed throughout the
volume: “[n]evertheless, EMI programmes continue to exist and are expanding at
an accelerated rate in more countries than ever before, due to the fact that
universities’ policies are driven by economic considerations” (p. 208).

Part 5: Final Considerations

Chapter 11 [Future Challenges for English-Medium Instruction at the Tertiary
Level] by Aintzane Doiz, David Lasagabaster and Juan Manuel Sierra acts as a
brief summary of the volume and offers a number of final considerations and
challenges associated with EMI in the university context. The authors pose a
number of questions which are then discussed in relation to other chapters in
the volume as well as other external sources. The questions focus on the role
of EMI in the internationalization process, the proficiency abilities of
students and their abilities to cope with EMI programmes, the successful
integration of language and content, and examples of successful practice.


As a teacher-researcher and advocate of linguistic diversity working within
the Japanese tertiary education context this volume was of immediate appeal to
this reviewer. Higher education with Japan has subscribed en masse to the
viewpoint that in order to internationalize (but not integrate) the university
campus, EMI is vital. It should be noted that this practice does not extend to
Japanese nationals, who are ineligible for participation in such EMI classes
(implicating issues of national identity preservation at the intersection of
language). Previous experiences working within manufactured ‘English only’
environments (for the purpose of English as a Foreign Language) and within
contexts where EMI is used among multinational students (for the purpose of
content-based courses such as ones dealing with cultural and linguistic
policy) has reinforced my view that English language policies, in whatever
guise they are presented, are significantly more multidimensional than they
ostensibly appear to be. Any policy promoting extremes serves to both empower
and disempower students and faculty. In other words one may question “whether
this trend towards increasing EMI is good, and if so, who actually benefits.
On the other hand, it is worth considering whether there are also ‘losers’,
and if so, what are they losing” (Wilkinson, this volume, p. 4) (see also
Chapter 7 and Chapter 8). Indeed, situated within an extreme ‘English only’
environment (for the purpose of English as a Foreign Language), it has been
documented how such policies often hold negative consequences for students:
“these consequences are grounded in a failure to match up to the strict
demands, which an English-only language policy places upon the learner -- this
being nothing less than 100% compliance… a bi-product of this unrealistic
demand is a negative impact upon the learner’s psychological and emotional
well-being through the promotion of feelings of guilt, disappointment,
resignation, and indifference” (Rivers, 2011:42). While this volume often
touches upon the consequences of EMI it does not detail what the actual
consequences are, thus leaving open the possibility of a follow-up volume
specifically focused on the consequences of EMI (rather than the challenges)
upon students and faculty.

The variety of contexts examined and the team of authors assembled are
impressive. While all chapters deal with EMI in some capacity, perspectives
and specific points of contention differ, which together form a powerful
multidimensional analysis of the EMI concept. It was also liberating to see
that the majority of chapters were able to name their research institution by
its actual name rather than resulting (through fear, force or coercion) to the
use of pseudonyms. The structuring of the book is generally very good and the
chapters within each section are coherently linked together via either their
thematic, theoretical and/or practical similarities. However, it could be
suggested that Chapter 10 would have functioned better in Part 1 of the volume
as, unlike many of the other chapters, it is not based on empirical data and
it provides a broad conceptual overview of critical perspectives in relation
to EMI at universities.

In terms of specific criticism, it could be argued that Chapter 3 is somewhat
lacking in methodological rigour as the data collected is selectively
presented and analyzed in a rather superficial manner (through percentages and
the block presentation and summary of teacher/student comments). Questions
could also be asked in relation to Chapter 4 where, framed within discourse
concerning courses taught exclusively in English at European universities, the
author claims that “[i]t gives English an unprecedented status and its native
speakers undue advantages, with the disruption of the local language ecologies
as a consequence” (p. 65). While the first point raised concerning the status
of English is certainly true, the latter two points are much more contentious
than this statement suggests. For example, through research in Japan (Rivers,
2013) and Europe (Petrie, 2013), it has been shown that so-called
‘native-speakers’ of English (when positioned as language teachers in the
international university) are quite often disadvantaged through the imposition
of this problematic and largely restrictive status-label. Likewise, one could
also argue that if English is seen as a disruption to local language ecologies
(which are assumed to be Englishless), then one must also subscribe to the
viewpoint that English is not a language to be locally owned, shared,
constructed and utilized, but rather primarily represents an imposed outside
force forever belonging to a more superior Other.

Further minor criticisms include the use of certain terminology. On occasion
not enough attention was given to the conceptual differences existing between
globalization and internationalization. It seems important to make clear
differentiations between the two concepts especially as many universities, in
their eagerness to promote themselves to international students, often
conflate the terms thus overlooking vital differences between them. These
differences are given further importance when considering issues of national
identity (Chapter 9) and the symbolic nature of national borders - maintained
under internationalization but removed under globalization. Another example of
problematic terminology can be found in Chapter 8 where the authors make
numerous references to the process of Englishization. From the evidence
presented this description appears to be inappropriate as the introduction of
a few elective EMI courses cannot really be termed as Englishization. Perhaps
many readers would agree that the term Englishization suggests a much more
expansive systematic application of EMI courses. From a more general
perspective, it came as a surprise that there was no mention or chapter
dedicated to the role of EMI within distance learning courses or other forms
of higher education primarily administered online. In this respect, the
internationalization of higher education is restrictively cast as being
limited to instances of face-to-face interaction where foreign/international
students move to institutions within a different national context.

Despite these minor (and subjective) criticisms, this volume was a pleasure to
read with each chapter making a significant contribution to the overall
success of the volume. The volume will undoubtedly hold appeal to
teacher-researchers across numerous contexts, especially those on the
frontlines of university internationalization where issues of language policy
and language planning are unavoidable.


Chan, W. and Dimmock, C. (2008). The internationalization of universities:
Globalist, internationalist and translocalist models. Journal of Research in
International Education, 7, 184-203.

Petrie, D. (2013). (Dis)integration of mother tongue teachers in Italian
universities: Human rights abuses and the quest for equal treatment in the
European single market. In S.A. Houghton and D.J. Rivers (Eds.),
Native-Speakerism in Japan: Intergroup Dynamics in Foreign Language Education
(pp. 29-41). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Rivers, D.J. (2011). Strategies and struggles in the ELT classroom: Language
policy, learner autonomy and innovative practice. Language Awareness, 20(1),

Rivers, D.J. (2013). Institutionalized native-speakerism: Voices of dissent
and acts of resistance. In S.A. Houghton and D.J. Rivers (Eds.),
Native-Speakerism in Japan: Intergroup Dynamics in Foreign Language Education
(pp. 75-91). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Spolsky, B. (2004). Language Policy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wright, S. (2004). Language Policy and Language Planning: From Nationalism to
Globalization. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan.


Damian J. Rivers is an Associate Professor at Osaka University in the English
Department, Graduate School of Language and Culture and holds a Ph.D in
Applied Linguistics / Sociolinguistics from the University of Leicester,
England. His main research interests concern the management of multiple
identities in relation to otherness, the impact of national identities upon a
variety of foreign language education processes, critical issues in
intercultural communication, and social processes underpinning intergroup
stereotypes. He is co-editor of ‘Native-Speakerism in Japan: Intergroup
Dynamics in Foreign Language Education’ (2013, Multilingual Matters) and
‘Social Identities and Multiple Selves in Foreign Language Education’ (2013,
Continuum / Bloomsbury Academic) (www.djrivers.com).


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