HomeTeaching approachesEMI (and CLIL) - a growing global trend

EMI (and CLIL) – a growing global trend




MOBURF-00002371-001Julie Dearden is Head of English Medium Instruction at the University of Oxford’s Hertford College, developing and teaching professional development programmes for teachers and university lecturers around the world.

Across the world, an educational trend is becoming increasingly popular. Subjects such as Science, Maths, Geography and Economics are being taught through the medium of English – known as English Medium Instruction, or EMI.

My definition of EMI is: “The use of the English language to teach academic subjects (other than English itself) in countries or jurisdictions in which the majority of the population’s first language is not English”. (Dearden, 2015)

EMI started at tertiary level in universities seeking to ‘internationalise’ their education offer. They wanted to attract students from abroad, prepare their home students to study and work abroad, publish in English and survive in an increasingly competitive education market-place – and still do!

Why EMI?

There seem to be different reasons why institutions ‘go EMI’. Administrators may choose to adopt it as a means of competitive advantage and survival. Or, it may be that a university’s lecturers are particularly idealistic, seeking to attract the brightest minds, share their knowledge with the widest possible audience and to develop their own teaching.

Two big buzz words in education are internationalisation and globalisation, although nobody has as yet clearly defined what these words mean in practice. In fact, they are often used interchangeably – in an educational context, though, they almost invariably include teaching some or all of a subject or subjects in English. And, in an EMI world, faculty members can move around, teaching in universities and institutions across the globe. EMI is seen as a passport to success, a way of opening doors and providing golden opportunities for both staff and students.

Although EMI usually refers to teaching at university level, there are an increasing number of secondary, primary, and even pre-primary schools which teach using the English language. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is more EMI at tertiary level than at secondary level, and more at secondary than primary. There is also more EMI in the private sector than in the public sector as EMI is extremely marketable. Parents consider an EMI education as superior, elite and they are willing, in some countries, to spend a large portion of their income on giving their child an EMI education, feeling it will give their children a head start in life.


At secondary and primary level, though, this type of bilingual education is often referred to as CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning). For me, this is slightly different from EMI. The two are similar in the sense that they are both forms of bilingual education, but CLIL is usually used at primary school and secondary school and means teaching through any second language (for example, French or German), while EMI (as we see from its title) means teaching in English.

Another difference is the way the teachers perceive what they are doing. In both CLIL and EMI, teachers are teaching a subject through the medium of English. The difference comes in the way the teacher or lecturer thinks about his/her aims in the lesson/lecture. In CLIL classrooms there is a dual objective which is clearly stated – teaching both language and the subject content. In EMI, at university level, the lecturer typically does not think of themselves as a language teacher. Their aim is to teach the subject while speaking English.

This, though, presents all sorts of challenges for both teachers and students. For example, teachers believe that EMI is good for students, and that they will improve their English if they are taught through EMI. But if teachers do not consider themselves language teachers how is that improvement supposed to happen?

That is the million dollar question.



  1. Thank you. Is there anyway lecturers in Italy can participate? best regards Andrew M. Garvey

    On 2 February 2017 at 12:23, Oxford University Press wrote:

    > Oxford University Press ELT posted: “Julie Dearden is Head of English > Medium Instruction at the University of Oxford’s Hertford College, > developing and teaching professional development programmes for teachers > and university lecturers around the world. Across the world, an educational > tren” >

    • Hi Andrew,
      I’m not sure but will ask OUP to answer your question! I hope so!
      Best wishes

  2. This is how the French teach their students in secondary school.It doesn’t work for them because the English levels are not adapted to the subjects. EMI could be a great method if the students have an interest in the subject and if the teacher is continually adjusting to the appropriate English levels.

    • Yes I agree. Teaching in an L2 is a very complicated process. Not only does the language level of the teachers and students need to be sufficient to enable them to teach and learn through the medium of English – there’s also all the pedagogy involved in conveying and checking comprehension of complicated concepts…all in an L2!

  3. In many educational environments, especially in many Japanese colleges, TEFL is at the bottom of the academic ladder. In general, language teachers have the lowest status and salaries and worst contracts. Some language teachers prefer to describe themselves as content teachers instead of language teachers, which is a shame. The teaching of all fields of knowledge and skills should be respected.

    • yes exactly! This is something we can talk about next Sunday. TEFL teachers have such an important role to play in an EMI world and yet their expertise and know-how is not yet being appreciated to its full extent. I think TEFL teachers will become very important in an EMI world.

  4. Hi,
    Universities in Mexico are experimenting CLILeducation with several difficulties and I would like to know your opinion why is it advisable to use EMI in stead of CLIL at this level.

  5. I like Dominique’s comments. The students need to be motivated to learn English along with the academic subject they are studying. So, as well as the teachers know the subject they also need to supply the students with the correct usage of vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation. This is expecting a lot from teachers. Support can come through written material that has the English, or video supports. The teachers in an EMI environment need to be taught how to teach English words and phrases and this information could be supported with written material or video or both.

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