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January 2018

English medium teaching ‘not always beneficial’


Early introduction of English medium instruction (EMI) impairs learning and limits educational attainment in low- and middle-income countries, a landmark report from the British Council has found.

The Council released its position paper on EMI to ‘prevent misconceptions arising about the British Council seeking to promote English over mother tongue,’ it says.

The report says that ‘EMI at primary-school level in low- or middle-income countries is not always beneficial, nor is it a policy or practice we support.’

It adds there is little to no evidence supporting the widely held view that English medium instruction practices are a better way to attain English fluency than teaching English as a subject.

According to the report, experts say children need six to eight years to develop the cognitive and academic language proficiency needed to support learning.

Introducing English medium in primary school, a common practice in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, gives pupils too shallow a foundation in English to sustain effective learning.

The report, written by BC senior adviser John Simpson, says it would be better to opt for a mother-tongue-based multilingual education model. However, this system will be a challenge as there is a shortage of teachers who speak local languages and a lack of teaching materials in those languages.

In fact, one of the reasons why EMI policies have grown is that English has been used as a single teaching language in young multilingual states, the report says.

EMI policy expert Professor Andy Kirkpatrick told the Gazette: ‘I think the BC is to be applauded in bringing out this position paper on EMI.

‘It is refreshing to see the British Council promoting the use of local languages in education in this way and presenting a summary of coherent arguments developed by experts in the field which illustrate that too early an introduction of English can be harmful to students and staff alike.’

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