What is EMI? Tips and Tools

These days many educational programs in universities are offered in English and ITMO University is no exception to this trend. The university’s Foreign Language Training Center has organized a series of workshops on English Medium Instruction (EMI). On June 21, the Center’s tutors Maryam Reyhani and Aleksandra Shparberg spoke about EMI, what makes it different from teaching students in their first language (L1) and how one should teach students whose mother tongue is not English.

What is EMI?

EMI (English Medium Instruction) implies using the English language to teach academic subjects in countries or jurisdictions where English is not the official language and in which the students’ first language is not English.

The use of EMI has a number of advantages for both the students and the university. For instance, the students are able to get better access to international educational programs, fare better on the job market and have less difficulty becoming members of the international scientific community. Meanwhile, universities using the system can improve their image and performance in global rankings, attract international students, and benefit economically.

Lecturers may face a number of issues when they first begin teaching in the EMI format. Oftentimes the level of language proficiency in both students and teachers is not sufficient enough to conduct the educational process on a higher level. Besides, students are often resistant to the idea of learning something in English when they could do the same in their own language. It also needs to be noted that course preparation takes much longer for both parties but it is overall beneficial.

Differences between EMI and teaching in L1

When the program is being taught in the students’ and the teacher’s native tongue, the latter is more confident while the former can easily take notes and retain more information after the lecture as opposed to when they are taught in English and need to focus on the language itself and not the subject. EMI learning might make students anxious as they will often lack experience in learning and expressing complex ideas and will require language support during the classes. In addition, if a student tries to take notes in English, they may find themselves distracted from the content of the lecture. The tutors might also experience discomfort in trying to express subject-specific concepts in a less-familiar language, as well as in finding educational material for the class (or having to compile their own).

EMI teaching strategies

In light of the issues faced by students and teachers, it is important to approach EMI classes a little differently in order to make the overall educational process more effective. It need not be said that it is impossible to simply change the language of a course without tweaking the curriculum, as students simply can’t acquire material at the same rate as in their native language. Because of this, any instructor about to begin teaching in English needs to reconsider several aspects of their course. Here are some tips:

Language

  1. It is acceptable to “translanguage” – mix English with the students’ native language in an all-Russian speaking class. What matters most is that they are able to learn the subject using their full linguistic repertoire without being constrained by what is and what is not allowed.
  2. Simplify sentences. Complex words and terms confuse students and distract them from the content of the lecture.
  3. Emphasize the most important parts of the material being learned.
  4. If necessary, sentences and terms can be paraphrased to make sure the students grasp their meaning.
  5. Complex concepts, terms and problems can be explained in several ways to let students pick ones they understand.

Delivery

  1. Break large amounts of information into smaller pieces.
  2. Perform regular comprehension checks.
  3. Use the scaffolding strategy. First, you can explain to the students how a task should be done, then complete it with them; then, divide the class into groups and let them complete it in smaller teams. After that, the task can be done by each student individually.
  4. Use visual aids. Sometimes a presentation isn’t enough, in which case you can hand out additional material.
  5. Let students ask questions in the course of the class, don’t wait till it’s over.
  6. Personal contact matters, so try to include interactive tasks in the program.

Material

  1. Seeing as how students themselves rarely take notes in English, prepare handouts containing the basic themes and terms.
  2. Try to hand out the materials before a class so as to give students ample time to prepare questions.
  3. Make glossaries and reference lists.

Support

  1. A teacher must be accessible to students. Let them know how they can get in touch with you.
  2. Refer them to online lectures.
  3. Tell them about online forums where they can join discussions on the subject.
  4. Assign students with stronger English skills to less-proficient ones.
  5. Attend your colleagues’ classes, share experience and practices.

There is now a great number of online platforms where both students and teachers can go for additional training. The MOOC (massive open online course) practice is widely popular. The biggest platform for such content are Udacity, Khan Academy, FutureLearn, Coursera, and EdX.

Online lectures from the world’s top universities can be accessed here:

Yale CoursesHarvard Courses (in Science&Engineering), MIT Courses,  Stanford Courses.   

Educational lectures can also be watched at:

Open Culture, Free Video lectures, Academic Earth, Video Lectures.

The next workshop will focus on EMI teaching strategies and will take place on June 28 at ITMO University’s main building at 49 Kronverksky prospect.

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