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When English Medium is the message

English as a Medium of Instruction is right at the top of the agenda for Trevor Grimshaw. He tells Melanie Butler why.

When Trevor first told people that his university would offer a Masters degree in English as a Medium of Instruction (EMI) (in addition to their well-established MA TESOL), eyebrows were raised.

“You want to launch another programme about English teaching?” came the reply. “But you’ve already got one of those!”

How different is EMI from good, old language teaching? One way of describing it, says Trevor, is as a cline. On one end, we have language-focused teaching, and at the other sits EMI. In the middle, we move from task-based learning though content-based instruction, CLIL and bilingual teaching.

The paradigm is shifting and it’s shifting towards EMI.

All over the world, as Trevor points out, there are millions of people who are moving along the EMI-cline, but they do not necessarily know that they are doing it because they call it by so many different names. Even when we talk about bilingual education, we normally expect that one of the languages is English.

In a survey commissioned by the British Council in 2014, Julie Dearden asked: ‘Are there enough qualified EMI Teachers?’ More than 80 per cent of respondents answered ‘no’.

By 2022, according to research by University of Bath’s own Tristan Bunnell, there will be 11,000 English-medium international schools world-wide, employing 500,000 English speaking teachers. Not to mention the teachers needed for the 29 million children currently in India’s English medium schools.

Until now the only training available has been short courses, or single units of study in a post graduate course. Yet, as Trevor says, there is a growing research base in EMI, with a mass of academic publications on the subject in recent years. Teachers and leaders need to engage with this research.

“You cannot get this research element from a short teacher training course,” Trevor commented. The launch of the Bath MA is designed to help fill the gap by balancing the growing body of research and the practical needs of classroom teachers.

Says Trevor, “The phrase – well, slogan – I like to use is: research led teaching and teaching led research.”

A quick look at the Bath programme highlights the difference between the discipline of EMI and that of ELT. Multiliteracies, translanguaging and plurilingualism replace the native speaker models of much of 20th-century second language acquisition. In the area of intercultural communication (IC), one of Trevor’s own research interests, the emphasis is on taking a critical view because, “in a world where the EMI learner is forced to interact, classical IC theory can be part of the problem because of its reliance on cultural stereotypes.”

He also addresses the importance of context in forming EMI policy, saying, “We put a lot of emphasis on this at University of Bath; it is one of the fundamental principles of the MA TESOL.”

So here, at least, the new world of EMI links to the familiar world of ELT.


is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Education, in the Centre for the Study of Education in an International Context at the University of Bath.

Images courtesy of Library and Administrator
Melanie Butler
Melanie Butler
Melanie started teaching EFL in Iran in 1975. She worked for the BBC World Service, Pearson/Longman and MET magazine before taking over at the Gazette in 1987 and also launching Study Travel magazine. Educated in ten schools in seven countries, she speaks fluent French and Spanish and rather rusty Italian.
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