European Journal of Language Policy

English-medium education revisited

Arguing for a comprehensive conceptualisation in the age of internationalised universities

European Journal of Language Policy (2021), 13, (2), 141–159.


Connected to the growing internationalisation of higher education in the world, the English language is increasingly being used as medium of teaching and learning, thereby contributing to the roles of English for transnational mobility, career development, access to new information and research, and the facilitation of global communication. While the label English-medium instruction (EMI) has been widely used in the last two decades to capture this phenomenon, we consider it an unfortunate choice in that it falls short in conceptualising the complexity of English in twenty-first-century higher education. First, EMI solely focuses on English, ignoring the increasing multilingual realities of higher education institutions (HEIs) worldwide; secondly, EMI does not explicitly include reference to higher education, even though learning and teaching at the tertiary level is in crucial ways different to lower levels of education. Thirdly, EMI talks about “instruction” and thus views education as a non-relational process where teachers teach and learners learn. From this unilateral perspective, the co-construction of knowledge as a key feature of higher education remains unacknowledged.

Against this backdrop, our paper sets out to argue for the conceptual need for an alternative label, known as English-medium education in multilingual university settings (or EMEMUS). This label, we argue, portrays more accurately and specifically the growing multilingual reality of current internationalised HEIs, the complex and highly situated roles that English plays in relation to other national and local languages, and the importance of interpreting education as a social-constructivist process. Moreover, EMEMUS will enable HEIs to re-examine comprehensively the range of activities that respond locally to global phenomena, from policy issues (e.g. regulations, implementation and management) to university practices (e.g. teaching, research, administration and teacher professional development) in an inclusive and multifaceted manner. Ultimately, this comprehensive conceptualisation aims to redefine English and internationalisation in a much more nuanced light.

Con la creciente internacionalización de la educación superior en el mundo, la lengua inglesa ha adquirido una mayor presencia como medio de enseñanza y aprendizaje, contribuyendo a una mayor movilidad transnacional, desarrollo profesional, acceso a la información e investigación y la comunicación global. A pesar de que, en las últimas dos décadas, el término en inglés ‘English-medium instruction’ (EMI) se ha utilizado ampliamente para describir este fenómeno, creemos que dicho término se queda corto a la hora de conceptualizar la complejidad del inglés en la educación superior del siglo XXI. Por una parte, EMI se centra únicamente en el inglés, ignorando la creciente realidad multilingüe de las instituciones de educación superior en todo el mundo; por otra, EMI no se refiere explícitamente a la educación superior, a pesar de que el aprendizaje y la enseñanza en el nivel terciario es muy diferente a los otros niveles educativos. Asimismo, EMI habla de “instrucción” y, por tanto, considera la educación como un proceso no interactivo en el que los profesores enseñan y los alumnos aprenden. Desde esta perspectiva unilateral, se ignora la co-construcción del conocimiento como característica clave de la educación superior.

Con este telón de fondo, nuestro artículo presenta varios argumentos para el uso de una etiqueta alternativa - la educación en inglés en entornos universitarios multilingües (o EMEMUS en inglés). Esta etiqueta retrata de forma más precisa la creciente realidad multilingüe de una educación superior cada vez más internacionalizada, así como las complejas funciones que desempeña el inglés en relación con otras lenguas nacionales y locales, y la importancia de concebir la educación como un proceso socio-constructivista. Además, EMEMUS permitirá a las universidades reexaminar de manera exhaustiva e inclusiva las diversas actividades que responden localmente a los fenómenos globales, desde las cuestiones políticas (tales como, la aplicación y gestión de las normativas) hasta las prácticas universitarias (ya sea docencia, investigación, o el desarrollo profesional del profesorado). En definitiva, esta conceptualización integral persigue redefinir la relación entre la enseñanza en inglés y la internacionalización de la educación atendiendo a sus diferentes matices.

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