English Medium Instruction (EMI) (oxford.ly/EMI) in secondary and primary schools is growing in popularity across the world. There are many reasons for this, including:
• a desire to prepare students for EMI university courses
• the high value put on English as a global language of business and popular culture
• the personal enrichment gained by speaking more than one language
EMI programmes are a type of education programme which aim to develop English proficiency by using English to teach the content and skills of mainstream curriculum subjects. Example subjects might include the Sciences or Geography. These programmes take many forms, with instruction in English varying by amount of time across the curriculum or by subject area. Students on EMI programmes can be thought of as ‘multilingual learners’. This term recognizes their knowledge of other languages, including their first language (L1), as well as their developing knowledge of English.
It is often assumed that in order to learn English students should use only English. However, this is unlikely to be the most effective approach. Different types of research show that the first language (L1) spoken by multilingual learners is in fact an important tool in the successful learning of English. Here are five reasons why you should start using English Medium Instruction in your classrooms.
- LANGUAGE PROFICIENCY AND ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT
Maintaining and developing a student’s first language alongside English medium instruction is associated with:
• better acquisition of English
• beneficial outcomes in other academic areas
• higher proficiency in L1
Our mind’s capacity for learning multiple languages is enormous. Research on multilingualism shows that when an individual knows more than one language, these languages actually support one another. There is extensive evidence of strong positive relationships between proficiency in the L1 and proficiency in a second language. Research has also shown that students who are educated in both their L1 and in English tend to learn English more effectively and do better academically than their peers who are educated in English only.
- BILINGUAL PROGRAMMES HAVE BETTER OUTCOMES
Bilingual programmes lead to successful multilingual learners.
‘Bilingual programmes’ include EMI programmes which use both the L1 and English to teach the curriculum. Research shows that the mutually supportive relationship between languages is best when development in both languages is maintained for long periods. Bilingual programmes have better outcomes in English and other curriculum subjects than English-only programmes. The longer bilingual education can be maintained, the better the outcomes.
- NON-BILINGUAL PROGRAMMES BENEFIT WHEN L1 IS SUPPORTED
The use of the ‘mother tongue’ in the classroom can also improve results in English in non-bilingual EMI programmes.
Sometimes bilingual programmes are not possible for a school, but research shows that the use of the L1 can also improve results in non-bilingual programmes. This includes using L1 to explain the meanings of new words, to compare and contrast the language features of L1 with English, and to teach thinking skills.
Some schools will be able to provide daily ‘mother tongue’ lessons for their students to support continued development in L1. Where even this is not practical, teachers can allow multilingual learners to use their L1s in ways that support their learning in English. Research shows that students organize their thinking, plan and review their work, and manage tasks more productively when they can collaborate with other students who share the same L1.
- ENGAGEMENT AND MOTIVATION
Early and sustained provision of L1 support improves student engagement and motivation in education.
Research indicates that an inclusive attitude to students’ L1 has positive effects on their engagement in the education system. Parents should also be encouraged to provide home support. Some parents assume that speaking only English at home is the best way to help their children achieve their long-term linguistic, academic, and personal goals. In fact, parents can and should be encouraged to keep using their L1 at home, for example in conversation and reading, to nurture their child’s L1 development.
- SOCIAL AND EMOTIONAL WELL-BEING
Programmes that value students’ L1 reinforce their identities, support their social and emotional well-being.
Research indicates that an inclusive attitude to students’ L1 has positive effects on their personal and cultural identities, and their social and emotional well-being. It is important in contexts with multiple languages that schools give value to all the L1s of their students by finding opportunities to use and celebrate them.
The growing popularity of EMI programmes worldwide provides a unique opportunity for policymakers and school leaders to lead the way in emphasizing the importance of supporting the development of students’ L1 alongside English. Different contexts will require different interpretations of how the key messages of the paper can be put into practice. However, there is rarely a strong case for English-only education, and so we urge policymakers and school leaders to implement EMI programmes that recognize and support students’ L1.
For more information on how Oxford University Press can help with English medium instruction in your classroom visit oxford.ly/EMI.