NationalVOLUME 18 ISSUE # 44

English medium instruction experience: a bane or boon?

A comprehensive examination of studies in the domain of negative experiences sheds light on the impediments caused by the use of English in students’ engagement with and completion of routine academic tasks. These studies elucidate the myriad challenges faced by students in comprehending and fulfilling course assignments, as well as in the process of learning and grasping course content.

An exemplary study conducted in a Japanese context underscores the difficulties students encounter in acquiring vocabulary and grammar skills, navigating classroom interactions, comprehending lectures, and crafting course essays. Similar findings have emerged from other expanding circle countries, including Pakistan, China, Oman, Turkey, Taiwan, Italy, the UAE, Austria, and Hong Kong. The overarching conclusion drawn from these investigations is that the utilization of English significantly hampers students’ comprehension of lectures and textbooks, impeding effective communication of ideas in written assignments and presentations.

Furthermore, these studies reveal a surge in students’ workload, accompanied by challenges in time management due to their struggles in comprehending, processing, and producing academic content, primarily attributable to the use of English Medium Instruction (EMI). Participants in these studies reported investing more time outside the classroom to grapple with the challenges posed by course readings and the acquisition of technical vocabulary. Their coping mechanisms included resorting to translation, bilingual dictionaries, and online resources, consuming a significant portion of their time. Additionally, the research highlights assessment-related hurdles faced by students in an EMI environment, such as their inability to comprehend exam questions in English, necessitating the use of their first language (L1) for exams to facilitate completion.

Moreover, these studies shed light on the detrimental impact of instructors’ inadequate proficiency in the English language on student learning. It becomes evident that students’ challenges in an EMI environment are exacerbated by the instructors’ insufficient language skills. Instructor-related issues reported in these studies include a lack of classroom interaction and a monotonous teaching style, as instructors with low English language proficiency often rely on reading directly from textbooks rather than delivering engaging and interactive lectures. This tendency adversely affects students’ active engagement in the learning process.

Another negative aspect of the EMI experience in such contexts is students’ inability to discuss their problems with teachers, especially when teachers do not share a common first language with students. Students’ limited English language proficiency further hampers these discussions. Most importantly, the studies also highlight the adverse effects of EMI on students’ academic performance, mental and emotional well-being, and social interactions. Psychologically, students experience emotional anxiety, stress, demotivation, and adjustment problems, while socially, the EMI environment reduces opportunities for human interaction, both within and outside the classroom, particularly between international and local students who do not share a common first language.

Nevertheless, it is worth noting that the EMI experience also has its merits in various cases. While the majority of literature focuses on the challenges associated with EMI, some studies reveal its positive aspects. These advantages are primarily related to the constructive and empowering effects of the EMI experience. The most significant advantage appears to be an enhancement in students’ English language proficiency (ELP) and linguistic skills.

One study, for instance, reported improvements in students’ receptive and productive language skills, which, in turn, boosted their self-confidence. Other research findings indicated a significant enhancement in students’ essay writing abilities and improved performance in English proficiency tests, along with heightened intercultural awareness resulting from EMI.

However, it’s important to note that the beneficial nature of these experiences is heavily influenced by students’ prior schooling and English language learning backgrounds. For example, one particular study demonstrated that only students with prior experience in learning and being instructed in English reported advantageous and empowering effects of a university EMI experience. Another study highlighted the role of disciplinary backgrounds and the level of study in shaping these experiences positively.

Linguists argue that the issue at hand encompasses more than what the current studies reveal. Most investigations predominantly focus on the academic dimensions of the EMI experience, often isolating it as a mere academic or learning endeavor. This limited perspective neglects the broader impact of EMI on other aspects of students’ lives, including personal, social, cultural, emotional, and psychological domains. Many studies approach the student EMI experience as an isolated event that affects only their academic journey, rather than recognizing it as a complex, nuanced, holistic, and transformative life transition that shapes the entirety of a student’s life. This deficit-oriented view suggests that students find EMI challenging primarily due to their English Language Proficiency (ELP) and implies that a student’s ability to adapt to an EMI environment hinges on their level of ELP.

(The author holds a Master’s degree in English and a Postgraduate Diploma in English Language Teaching (PGD ELT) from the University of the Punjab. She has taught English language, literature, grammar, composition, and communication courses as a lecturer to intermediate and undergraduates at Government College, Wahdat Colony, Lahore, and the University of Management and Technology, Lahore (UMT). She can be reached at: [email protected])