Interview with Ernst Macaro

Author of English Medium Instruction: Content and language in policy and practice

Why do you think English as a medium of instruction growing so fast around the globe?

Three reasons:

1) the desire for universities to internationalise (and thereby rise in the world rankings) – this needs a lingua franca (English) so that teachers and mixed L1 students can communicate.

2) a growing number of secondary schools are teaching some subjects through the medium of English and those matriculating students will want to continue studying via EMI

3) the pressure from the private sector which advertises itself as teaching subjects through English. This puts pressure on the state sector to keep up or try to keep up


What does the research say about EMI and its effectiveness in teaching and learning?

There is a limited amount of research evidence that suggests that EMI provides gains in English proficiency. But it is very limited and I’m not sure that the research has been conducted on a level playing field

There is also anecdotal research (by which I mean not through hard testing but from beliefs of teachers and students) that EMI has a negative effect on content learning. But again this needs a lot more research to see if the negative effect is short or long term.


What research are you currently working on?

I am researching transition issues in Italy where CLIL is compulsory for at least one or two subjects in upper secondary schools. We are investigating whether CLIL students have enough vocabulary to cope with the teacher talk. We are also investigating whether there is a gap between secondary CLIL and tertiary EMI


What significance do you think it has to the research field of EMI?

If you mean my current research..? then the significance lies in the different nature of the two educational settings: secondary and tertiary and whether the pedagogy of the latter has to become more like the pedagogy (one would hope) of the former


Was there anything in your current project results that surprised you?

Yes in terms of vocabulary used in teacher talk there was less difference than hypothesised between secondary and tertiary teacher talk. Or put it another way: teacher talk in secondary was on the whole quite difficult considering the vocabulary knowledge of the students.


What research contexts in particular do you think should be the focus for future research? Why?

I think the transition issue I have mentioned above is important so upper secondary to early tertiary.

We also need to have a much clearer understanding of the linguistic demands of the different disciplines


What sort of research topics should researchers focus on in future EMI projects?

We need more studies which accurately measure gains (or losses) in both English proficiency and content knowledge. In my OUP book I have called this a cost-benefit analysis.

We need a lot more intervention studies to see if a different pedagogy helps EMI students to achieve better results