LINGUIST List 24.832

Fri Feb 15 2013

Review: Applied Linguistics: Doiz, Lasagabaster, & Sierra (2012)

Editor for this issue: Monica Macaulay <>

Date: 15-Jan-2013
From: Damian Rivers <>
Subject: English-Medium Instruction at Universities
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Book announced at

EDITOR: Aintzane DoizEDITOR: David LasagabasterEDITOR: Juan Manuel SierraTITLE: English-Medium Instruction at UniversitiesSUBTITLE: Global ChallengesSERIES TITLE: Multilingual MattersPUBLISHER: Multilingual MattersYEAR: 2012

REVIEWER: Damian J. Rivers, Osaka University


Converging on language policy and language planning within the burgeoningdiscourse addressing the internationalization of higher education, this bookincludes chapters which analyze various contexts such as China, Finland,Israel, Holland, South Africa, Spain and the USA. More specifically, this221-page volume takes a critical look at English-medium instruction (EMI) froma variety of interpersonal, pedagogical, political and methodologicalperspectives. To varying degrees, all chapters illustrate tensions andchallenges surrounding EMI policies and programmes which are seen as beingcast in response to increased economic pressures for universities to attractstudents and to remain competitive in a virtually borderless globalmarketplace.

Foreword and Introduction

The volume features a Foreword by Jim Coleman which immediately implicates theeconomic and political rationale behind the internationalization of highereducation (and thus EMI policies and programmes) - “the impulse to helpstudents from developing countries is hugely outweighed by the financialmotive to recruit fee-paying students” (p. xiv). Embedded within discourseconcerning the dramatic rise in tertiary education programmes availablethrough EMI across multiple contexts, the Introduction outlines the motivationfor the volume and provides an overview detailing the chapters in each of thefive sections. Prior to describing each of the eleven contributions, theeditors cite and acknowledge the rather predictable discourse concerningglobalization and internationalization as being responsible for the rise ofEMI programmes. Indeed, the authors rightly position EMI programs as beingdiverse, complex and impacting upon “the ecology of languages in every singleuniversity, irrespective of context” (p. xviii). This rather inconvenientpolitical truth is dealt with in more detail at various junctures throughoutthe volume.

Part 1: The Development of English-Medium Instruction

Chapter 1 [English-Medium Instruction at a Dutch University: Challenges andPitfalls] by Robert Wilkinson assesses the advantages and disadvantages of EMIwithin Maastricht University, Holland. The author charts the evolution of EMIprogrammes across two decades of personal experience within the university anddiscusses his central role in the process. The background provided isextensive, with specific attention given to the loss of domain for the L1,curriculum and course design, collaboration between content staff and languagestaff, and issues concerning assurances of quality. The chapter also examinesthe use of EMI programmes at other European universities and the consequencesto students, faculty and society in general. The conclusion reflects upon thestrong economic motivations underpinning decisions to introduce EMI programmesas well as other social and political pressures. The author suggests thatuniversities must “take a very long view in weighing up whether our children,and our children’s children, will thank them for the educational decisionsthey are making and implementing today” (p. 21). Unfortunately, this kind ofhumanistic pondering, although crucial within the domain of education, isoften absent from institutional decision-making processes.

Part 2: Language Demands of English-Medium Instruction on the Stakeholders

Chapter 2 [Acknowledging Academic Biliteracy in Higher Education AssessmentStrategies: A Tale of Two Trails] by Christa van der Walt and Martin Kiddpresents an experimental investigation into the concept of academic literacyat Stellenbosch University in South Africa. Attention is drawn to how withinmany South African universities English is often used alongside Afrikaans toprovide the foundation for a bilingual education in spite of the fact thatSouth Africa has eleven official languages. The two studies documented examinethe influence of Afrikaans-English biliteracy on academic performance (in thiscase assessed through a bilingual reading comprehension test). Citing lecturerconcerns regarding the ability of students to understand academic texts theauthors ask “whether a summary in one language can be shown to increasecomprehension in another language under controlled, quasi-experimentalconditions” (p. 29). The results of the study are thought-provoking, welldocumented and clearly presented. The authors acknowledge the limitations ofthe study design and call for more qualitative investigations to beundertaken.

Chapter 3 [Language Demands and Support for English-Medium Instruction inTertiary Education. Learning from a Specific Context] by Phil Ball and DianaLindsay examines the nature of EMI courses offered at the University of theBasque Country in Spain with focus on the support given to teaching staff. Anumber of core pedagogical and methodological questions are raised which holdwidespread implications for the teacher-institute, teacher-student andstudent-institute interface. The chapter provides data in the form of basicdescriptive statistics (i.e. percentages) in addition to comments fromquestionnaires given to both students and teachers. After a brief discussionof the results, the chapter ends with the acknowledgement that the “future isvery probably a multilingual one” (p. 59). However, and in seeming contrast tothis position, the authors also add that “EMI pedagogy, or CLIL-orientedapproaches in general, may come to be regarded, in the not-too-distant future,as standard practice” (p. 59).

Part 3: Fostering Trilingual Education at Higher Education Institutions

Chapter 4 [Linguistic Hegemony or Linguistic Capital? Internationalization andEnglish-Medium Instruction at the Chinese University of Hong Kong] by DavidC.S. Li provides a review of recent (post 2004) controversies surrounding thelanguage of instruction policy at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK).Drawing upon multiple data sources including university directives, mediareports and student comments, the author asserts that controversies at theuniversity have been “triggered by the university management’s decision tooffer more courses across a wide range of disciplines in English” (p. 66).Hong Kong’s language policy is discussed before the author provides a detailedand informative case study of the situation at CUHK. Familiar problems arehighlighted such as the ability of local students to fully understand lecturesgiven in English at a level which allows them “to benefit from cutting-edgeknowledge in their field directly” (p. 75) without recourse to Cantonese. Thediscussion is extensive and a number of significant issues are raised whichwill undoubtedly be relevant to other universities engaged in debatessurrounding the internationalization of higher education and the turbulentrelationship between English (as both invader and liberator) and the hostlanguage (as central to issues of national identity maintenance).

Chapter 5 [English as L3 at a Bilingual University in the Basque Country,Spain] by Aintzane Doiz, David Lasagabaster and Juan Manuel Sierra presents aquantitative exploration of local and international student attitudes towardmultilingualism and the influence of student mother-tongue on attitudes towardmultilingualism at the University of the Basque Country (UBC) in Spain.Undergraduate students’ opinions and beliefs are also sought in relation tothe presence of international students on campus, the role of foreignlanguages in education, English as a lingua franca, the impact of English onBasque and the role of minority languages such as Basque in the context of theinternational university. The chapter begins with a discussion of universityinternationalization based upon the three models presented by Chan and Dimmock(2008) (globalist, internationalist and translocalist) before detailing amultilingualism programme at the UBC (delivered through EMI). The researchquestions and research methodology are clearly documented and the results arepresented in a manner conducive to further replication in other contexts. Theactual results are statistically sound and discussed in adequate detail.

Chapter 6 [Introducing English-Medium Instruction at the University of Lleida,Spain: Intervention, Beliefs and Practices] by Josep Maria Cots takes amultidimensional look at language policy in connection to the promotion ofEnglish as an L3 at a Catalan-Spanish bilingual university (University ofLleida). Drawing largely upon the conceptual framework of Spolsky (2004) inrelation to language policy (intervention, beliefs and practices), and with afocus on the ambiguities and tensions surrounding the introduction of Englishas an L3, the chapter utilizes both primary and secondary data (quantitativeand qualitative). Although original data is featured in the form of discoursebetween two university instructors, the chapter is a theoretical discussionwith the inclusion of data to support or illustrate various points as opposedto a more traditional empirical study.

Part 4: Institutional Policies at Higher Education Institutions

Chapter 7 [Implicit Policy, Invisible Language: Policies and Practices ofInternational Degree Programmes in Finnish Higher Education] by Taina Saarinenand Tarja Nikula examines data collected from text documents (e.g. websitecourse descriptions) from four Finnish institutions and interviews/narrativesfrom a small number of teachers and students. The authors address what theyview as a paradox - “despite the strong position of English as theinstructional language, it is rarely problematized at the outset, and thequestions of language mastery or the effects of teaching in English on contentlearning are rarely discussed” (p. 132). An historical account ofinternationalization in the Finnish context is first presented before the datais explored. The data is well presented and examined. The conclusions offeredare insightful, particularly where the authors assert how “the emergingpicture is complex, with English appearing vital, even exotic from certainperspectives, and marginal and mundane from others” (p. 146). This furthersupports an emerging viewpoint that EMI programs and policies, while seen asholding benefits for some, also hold drawbacks for others.

Chapter 8 [Englishization in an Israeli Teacher Education College: Taking theFirst Steps] by Ofra Inbar-Lourie and Smadar Donitsa-Schmidt draws attentionto the “unique linguistic scene within which this phenomenon of‘Englishization’ occurs” (p. 151) by highlighting how the hegemony of Hebrewstands in contrast to the inferior status assigned to Arabic in academia, aswell as other immigrant languages such as Russian. The authors stress thatresearch into the use and role of EMI in Israeli tertiary institutions is rareand that research within the context of teacher education colleges isnon-existent. In attempting to change this situation the authors investigateEMI within a teacher education college in order to provide initial insightsinto this understudied phenomenon. The chapter begins with an overview of thelinguistic context in Israel and documentation of the language policies thatexist within various academic institutions. Two research questions arepresented concerning attitudes and motivations towards EMI, and they areinvestigated using two different research samples, analyzed using quantitativemethods. Of particular interest in the discussion is the observation that itwas “the more proficient students [who] chose to take advantage of the [EMI]opportunity offered, thereby creating a situation where ‘the rich get richer’”(p. 170). Once again, this serves as evidence for how even when languagepolicies are designed to empower students they can often also act as promotersof inequality and disempowerment among other students.

Chapter 9 [Educating International and Immigrant Students in US HigherEducation: Opportunities and Challenges] by Ofelia García, Mercè Pujol-Ferranand Pooja Reddy begins by highlighting the implicit language policy of the USwhich encourages people outside of its national borders to learn English (i.e.promoting English bilingualism) yet discourages immigrants within its nationalborders for maintaining their own language (i.e. promoting Englishmonolingualism). This protectionist language policy is cited as beingresponsible for “the different treatment of international students andimmigrant students in US colleges and universities” (p. 174). The data withinthe chapter is drawn from two case studies, one at a community college whichhas a majority population of poor Latino immigrants, and one at a universitywhich has a substantial population of middle-class international students. Inthe conclusion the authors claim that “[w]hereas international students arewelcomed and perceived as a financial asset to the private US colleges anduniversities, immigrant university students at public institutions of highereducation are received with caution” (p. 192). Ending the chapter with aquotation from Wright (2004), the authors suggest that within the US,bilingualism reflects a nationalistic orientation toward “one nation, oneterritory, one language” (p. 194). The implications generated for furtherresearch concerning the intersection of language policy and national identityare clear.

Chapter 10 [A Critical Perspective on the Use of English as a Medium ofInstruction at Universities] by Elana Shohamy presents a conceptual overviewof the main issues associated with EMI at universities. The chapter is notbased on empirical data and is therefore able to provide greater textual depththan some of the other chapters. The author highlights four main settings ofmedium of instruction: learning content via L2 for immigrant students, usingschool language which is different than home language, learning content via L2for majority students and learning through EMI at universities. Followingthis, the chapter focuses exclusively on a number of critical issuessurrounding EMI in tertiary educational contexts. The author draws attentionto the belief that more languages than English are needed to ensure equalitywithin education and for functioning within the globalized society. However,such optimism stands in contrast to a view repeatedly echoed throughout thevolume: “[n]evertheless, EMI programmes continue to exist and are expanding atan accelerated rate in more countries than ever before, due to the fact thatuniversities’ policies are driven by economic considerations” (p. 208).

Part 5: Final Considerations

Chapter 11 [Future Challenges for English-Medium Instruction at the TertiaryLevel] by Aintzane Doiz, David Lasagabaster and Juan Manuel Sierra acts as abrief summary of the volume and offers a number of final considerations andchallenges associated with EMI in the university context. The authors pose anumber of questions which are then discussed in relation to other chapters inthe volume as well as other external sources. The questions focus on the roleof EMI in the internationalization process, the proficiency abilities ofstudents and their abilities to cope with EMI programmes, the successfulintegration of language and content, and examples of successful practice.


As a teacher-researcher and advocate of linguistic diversity working withinthe Japanese tertiary education context this volume was of immediate appeal tothis reviewer. Higher education with Japan has subscribed en masse to theviewpoint that in order to internationalize (but not integrate) the universitycampus, EMI is vital. It should be noted that this practice does not extend toJapanese nationals, who are ineligible for participation in such EMI classes(implicating issues of national identity preservation at the intersection oflanguage). Previous experiences working within manufactured ‘English only’environments (for the purpose of English as a Foreign Language) and withincontexts where EMI is used among multinational students (for the purpose ofcontent-based courses such as ones dealing with cultural and linguisticpolicy) has reinforced my view that English language policies, in whateverguise they are presented, are significantly more multidimensional than theyostensibly appear to be. Any policy promoting extremes serves to both empowerand disempower students and faculty. In other words one may question “whetherthis trend towards increasing EMI is good, and if so, who actually benefits.On the other hand, it is worth considering whether there are also ‘losers’,and if so, what are they losing” (Wilkinson, this volume, p. 4) (see alsoChapter 7 and Chapter 8). Indeed, situated within an extreme ‘English only’environment (for the purpose of English as a Foreign Language), it has beendocumented how such policies often hold negative consequences for students:“these consequences are grounded in a failure to match up to the strictdemands, which an English-only language policy places upon the learner -- thisbeing nothing less than 100% compliance… a bi-product of this unrealisticdemand is a negative impact upon the learner’s psychological and emotionalwell-being through the promotion of feelings of guilt, disappointment,resignation, and indifference” (Rivers, 2011:42). While this volume oftentouches upon the consequences of EMI it does not detail what the actualconsequences are, thus leaving open the possibility of a follow-up volumespecifically focused on the consequences of EMI (rather than the challenges)upon students and faculty.

The variety of contexts examined and the team of authors assembled areimpressive. While all chapters deal with EMI in some capacity, perspectivesand specific points of contention differ, which together form a powerfulmultidimensional analysis of the EMI concept. It was also liberating to seethat the majority of chapters were able to name their research institution byits actual name rather than resulting (through fear, force or coercion) to theuse of pseudonyms. The structuring of the book is generally very good and thechapters within each section are coherently linked together via either theirthematic, theoretical and/or practical similarities. However, it could besuggested that Chapter 10 would have functioned better in Part 1 of the volumeas, unlike many of the other chapters, it is not based on empirical data andit provides a broad conceptual overview of critical perspectives in relationto EMI at universities.

In terms of specific criticism, it could be argued that Chapter 3 is somewhatlacking in methodological rigour as the data collected is selectivelypresented and analyzed in a rather superficial manner (through percentages andthe block presentation and summary of teacher/student comments). Questionscould also be asked in relation to Chapter 4 where, framed within discourseconcerning courses taught exclusively in English at European universities, theauthor claims that “[i]t gives English an unprecedented status and its nativespeakers undue advantages, with the disruption of the local language ecologiesas a consequence” (p. 65). While the first point raised concerning the statusof English is certainly true, the latter two points are much more contentiousthan this statement suggests. For example, through research in Japan (Rivers,2013) and Europe (Petrie, 2013), it has been shown that so-called‘native-speakers’ of English (when positioned as language teachers in theinternational university) are quite often disadvantaged through the impositionof this problematic and largely restrictive status-label. Likewise, one couldalso argue that if English is seen as a disruption to local language ecologies(which are assumed to be Englishless), then one must also subscribe to theviewpoint that English is not a language to be locally owned, shared,constructed and utilized, but rather primarily represents an imposed outsideforce forever belonging to a more superior Other.

Further minor criticisms include the use of certain terminology. On occasionnot enough attention was given to the conceptual differences existing betweenglobalization and internationalization. It seems important to make cleardifferentiations between the two concepts especially as many universities, intheir eagerness to promote themselves to international students, oftenconflate the terms thus overlooking vital differences between them. Thesedifferences are given further importance when considering issues of nationalidentity (Chapter 9) and the symbolic nature of national borders - maintainedunder internationalization but removed under globalization. Another example ofproblematic terminology can be found in Chapter 8 where the authors makenumerous references to the process of Englishization. From the evidencepresented this description appears to be inappropriate as the introduction ofa few elective EMI courses cannot really be termed as Englishization. Perhapsmany readers would agree that the term Englishization suggests a much moreexpansive systematic application of EMI courses. From a more generalperspective, it came as a surprise that there was no mention or chapterdedicated to the role of EMI within distance learning courses or other formsof higher education primarily administered online. In this respect, theinternationalization of higher education is restrictively cast as beinglimited to instances of face-to-face interaction where foreign/internationalstudents move to institutions within a different national context.

Despite these minor (and subjective) criticisms, this volume was a pleasure toread with each chapter making a significant contribution to the overallsuccess of the volume. The volume will undoubtedly hold appeal toteacher-researchers across numerous contexts, especially those on thefrontlines of university internationalization where issues of language policyand language planning are unavoidable.


Chan, W. and Dimmock, C. (2008). The internationalization of universities:Globalist, internationalist and translocalist models. Journal of Research inInternational Education, 7, 184-203.

Petrie, D. (2013). (Dis)integration of mother tongue teachers in Italianuniversities: Human rights abuses and the quest for equal treatment in theEuropean single market. In S.A. Houghton and D.J. Rivers (Eds.),Native-Speakerism in Japan: Intergroup Dynamics in Foreign Language Education(pp. 29-41). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Rivers, D.J. (2011). Strategies and struggles in the ELT classroom: Languagepolicy, learner autonomy and innovative practice. Language Awareness, 20(1),31-43.

Rivers, D.J. (2013). Institutionalized native-speakerism: Voices of dissentand acts of resistance. In S.A. Houghton and D.J. Rivers (Eds.),Native-Speakerism in Japan: Intergroup Dynamics in Foreign Language Education(pp. 75-91). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Spolsky, B. (2004). Language Policy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wright, S. (2004). Language Policy and Language Planning: From Nationalism toGlobalization. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan.


Damian J. Rivers is an Associate Professor at Osaka University in the EnglishDepartment, Graduate School of Language and Culture and holds a Ph.D inApplied Linguistics / Sociolinguistics from the University of Leicester,England. His main research interests concern the management of multipleidentities in relation to otherness, the impact of national identities upon avariety of foreign language education processes, critical issues inintercultural communication, and social processes underpinning intergroupstereotypes. He is co-editor of ‘Native-Speakerism in Japan: IntergroupDynamics in Foreign Language Education’ (2013, Multilingual Matters) and‘Social Identities and Multiple Selves in Foreign Language Education’ (2013,Continuum / Bloomsbury Academic) (

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