Interview with Joyce Kling

Co-author of English Medium Instruction in Multilingual and Multicultural Universities: Academics' Voices from the Northern European Context

1. What was the impetus behind your recent book “English Medium Instruction in Multilingual and Multicultural Universities: Academics’ Voices from the Northern European Context”?

This book, in a sense, is a response to queries and requests my co-authors, Professor Birgit Henriksen and Professor Anne Holmen, and I received as we travelled around the world presenting our work and that of our colleagues at the University of Copenhagen (UCPH). Having conducted research and implemented programs in the area of English medium instruction (EMI) for a number of years, we were often approached to describe our experiences working with non-native English-speaking academics teaching their subject in English in Denmark. We knew the timing was right when we were invited by the series editors, Brian Paltridge and Sue Starfield, to submit this volume as part of the Routledge Research in English for Specific Purposes series.


2. Why did you focus on Northern Europe?

In the last five years, we have witnessed an increase of publications on EMI from a range of geographic contexts. We focused on Northern Europe because this is where we derive our experience and findings. At the time of publication, we were celebrating the 10th anniversary of the founding of the Centre for Internationalisation and Parallel Language Use (CIP) at UCPH. This milestone offered a natural point for us to reflect on a decade of research from this part of the world and provide a focused study of our context.

An important aspect of the internationalization process of UCPH is the implementation of a language policy which ensures consistently high standards of language use, in Danish as well as in English. To support the University’s efforts in implementing a language policy based on principles of parallel language use, the UCPH Board of Directors established CIP in 2008. Since its inception, CIP’s mission has been to create a professional and practical foundation to support the University’s parallel language policy. CIP’s central aim is to develop nuanced and robust, practical, and research-based knowledge of language needs and skills in university settings, thereby contributing to qualified discussions and decision-making regarding language and its use.

We realize that in Europe alone, EMI in the north is different than EMI in the south. Moving beyond Europe provides additional contexts and considerations. For the purpose of this publication, we wanted to provide a comprehensive description of the EMI context in northern Europe and more specifically, in Denmark by highlighting data through the voices of EMI content teachers.


3. How effective is EMI in the northern European context?

In the book, we introduce EMI and its role in current higher educational practices in Europe, and more specifically in the Nordic regions. Through an overview of current research in this area, we identified issues and challenges involved in EMI in relation to central linguistic, pedagogical, sociolinguistic and socio-cultural concepts. By drawing more specifically on qualitative research findings, we worked to capture university lecturers’ experiences in the midst of curricular change and present their reflections on ways to navigate professionally in English to meet the demands of the multilingual and multicultural classroom.

In general, however, I do not think we can respond to questions of how effective EMI is in any context yet. Effectiveness is difficult to assess from a comprehensive perspective because implementation and execution varies just from program to program within a single institution of higher education let alone regionally or nationally. In many respects, we are still in the early stages of our investigation. Plus, what indicators we should use to measure effectiveness? As we move forward, we need to consider more specific intended goals for all the stakeholders involved in EMI and work to determine comparable definitions of achievement before we can address this question.


4. What do the academics you interviewed think about EMI?

A prominent aspect of this volume is a deliberate emphasis drawing on the voices of content teachers teaching EMI courses. Throughout the research presented, we found a range of teacher reflection to EMI. In many cases, the teachers’ comments related to their self-assessed language proficiency and personal competence to teacher their subject in English. The continuum spanned from those who stated that they did not have the proficiency and felt uncomfortable teaching, to those who found teaching EMI course to be a natural career progression. In general, the voices showed that there is consensus that there should be institutional support for academics who require assistance in preparing to teach in a foreign language.


5. Was there anything in the results of the studies in this book that surprised you?

I would not say that there was anything that surprised me in the results that we presented in this book. However, readers may be interested to know that some academics in the Nordic countries, Denmark in particular, still find shifting to EMI programming to be a challenge. There tends to be the assumption that English language proficiency among academics in the north is sufficient to seamlessly transition from teaching in the national language, usually a teacher’s first language, to teaching English, the teacher’s foreign language. Although there has been a longer tradition for teaching with foreign language materials, i.e., books and articles in published in English, in the north compared to  other parts of Europe, some academics in Denmark still do not feel completely prepared to teach in English. In addition, higher education institutions in this region still lack formal language policies that support the breadth of EMI in these contexts.


6. Do you think there is still room for more research that focuses on Europe? In which direction should the research be heading?

Yes, definitely. This book has focused on the voices of EMI content teachers from one specific context. Research over the past couple of decades has been very locally based, in some cases only about isolated disciplines, and has provided a great deal of information about the initial growth cycle of EMI implementation. We need to expand our research networks to include more diversity of context for a more generalizable picture of the challenges ahead for not only academic staff, but also administrative staff, and of course the students. I believe we also need to investigate the ramification of the expansion of EMI programming in non-Anglophone contexts. There needs to be focus not only on the possibilities of domain loss of local languages, but also the effect on the teaching of local languages to immigrants and refugees and the teaching and maintenance of indigenous languages and additional foreign languages in higher education.


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

In the book, we presented findings from a range teacher attitudinal surveys and studies from the initial implementation of EMI programs. There was also focus on language policy issues from the Nordic region as they relate to parallel language use. As researchers, we have reached the stage where we are beyond these attitudinal surveys and opinions. Research needs to focus on concrete needs and practices though comparative and collaborative, longitudinal studies. I think that research on the EMI paradigm, or phenomenon (because that is what it is), should focus on both the intended and unintended consequences of implementing EMI in non-Anglophone contexts on topics such as learning outcomes, student achievement (content and language), compensatory strategies for both students and teachers, and effects of language policies on both teaching and organizational practices.