Interviewed by Hind Mashrah
Basma Bouziri works as an Assistant Professor at the University of Gabés, Tunisia. She holds a PhD in Languages, Letters, and Translation studies from the Université Catholique de Louvain, Belgium. Her main research interests include academic spoken and written discourse, corpus linguistics, metadiscourse, EMI, and university teacher training and professional development.
1. Can you tell us about yourself, about your role in Carthage Business School and the courses that you teach?
Well, last year I’ve been recruited to teach courses for undergraduate and graduate students at the Carthage Business School. I’m a language teacher for the students but I have been also approached to be a trainer for the lectures there at the school. We had a kind of training in academic writing, in email writing, and then I started teaching them business English, so both graduate and undergraduate students. At the beginning of the academic year, the director said that they wanted to give a training to lecturers who are teaching their subject in English, and even lecturers who are teaching in French because at the school there are students learning or studying their subject in French, and other students who are studying their subjects through English. So they said that they would like to give English language training for the lecturers, who would be interested to take the English language training programme.
2. Your recent work is mainly involved in English language EMI training for lecturers in the fields of Business as EMI programmes. How did you become interested in this area?
Well, my PhD was on academic lectures in the Tunisian context, so what I did was videotape lectures that are delivered in English, in subjects like applied linguistics, cultural studies, literature, so to English majors basically, and what I did was discourse analysis of those lectures, so focusing on the way lecturers use meta-discourse to enhance comprehension of their lecture, to enhance the learning of their subjects, so that was my PhD project. In my post-doctoral project, I want to extend my interest. I’m still investigating meta-discourse in lectures but to focus on lectures that are delivered in EMI context, for example, some lecturers who are not English majors but, I mean, lecturers who are teaching finance, marketing, engineering through the medium of English.
So, I want to focus on another type of data to see if those lecturers or lectures are different from those that I’ve collected for my PhD degree. I want to collect more data in the EMI context. Unfortunately, the Covid-19 happened and it was not possible to conduct the training that I was asked to do, although I prepared some initial modules to start teaching with the lecturers, and I thought that I would start with the questionnaire investigating their attitudes, their challenges they encounter, their perception of EMI. And then, I give them the training and conduct a post-interview after the training. Then, I will go to the lecturers’ classes and see if I can videotape their lectures and analysing the way I did with the lectures in my PhD project, so that was actually the plan. But this year was kind of challenging to everyone and it was not even possible to collect the questionnaires.
3. You developed a training module for EMI lecturers, what is the motive behind this project? How did you start with it? What are these modules that you find it’s important to focus on?
Yes. So at the beginning when I was asked to train those lecturers, and since it was my first year at the University of Carthage, last year, I wanted to have a kind of an informal meeting with them to see what are their expectations from the training because many of them are really interested in having an English language training, but I wanted to see what are their expectation, what they wanted to learn, what are the challenges they encountered in relation to the English language as used in the academic context. So there was an informal meeting and from the meeting, there was a need for oral English language skills more than written English, so they said that they have “no problems” writing in English because they are used to read articles in English in their own subjects, to publish, and even though it would be interesting to have written English for them, what was more urgent for them is to have oral English language skills. In the interview, I learned that some of them wanted to teach in English but they were afraid of teaching in English, they feel like if they don’t speak with the American, the perfect American or British accent, they are afraid of the reaction of the students or the reaction of the director. They wanted this English language training to help them perhaps do so, to prepare them at least one step towards going for teaching their subject in English.
So based on that informal interview and my discussions with the director, I said, well, let’s develop first of all one major training programme for the first year which is based on the oral language skills, so this is their priority. I developed for example modules on English for academics, English in a global world. First of all, the objective was like the context of EMI, the motivation, why we do have EMI, the challenges in teaching English, in teaching their subjects in English, the solutions, the resources that they have access to, intercultural communication in a business context, so basically world Englishes.
So, basically, the module was really to raise their awareness of EMI as a global phenomenon. I want them also to share their own fears, their own challenges, but also their own resources, and also to situate this practice in their context and why this is being done. Because in the informal interview, some of them said that their pronunciation was not native-like, so I want to raise their awareness that we can have different pronunciations but still speak very good English.
4. So, you said you collected a questionnaire, could you talk about the questionnaires, and what do you want to reach at the end?
The questionnaire was distributed before the training and I thought to distribute the questionnaire to other teachers who I didn’t see during the informal interview in the first session of the training, but then training didn’t take place. I design the questionnaire to investigate their attitudes, beliefs about English as a medium of instruction, to investigate the way they see their students, their expectations, the challenges that they face, the challenges that their students face because this was a context which is new for me, so I wanted them to share as much as possible about this, and I thought that I would receive enough questionnaires to adjust the training and the modules and to discuss the questionnaire data with them during the first three sessions in the first module of the training.
I felt that I would start with lecturers and then I would continue with the students, but then it’s also a little bit difficult to reach lectures perhaps, I should develop another similar questionnaire for students because perhaps they are more accessible than lecturers.
5. Why do you think it’s important for teachers in higher education to be trained for EMI?
First of all, they are in a context where they need to teach in English and I think that they should improve their capacity of teaching as it’s part of their training. So sometimes you get training not in English language skills but something related to pedagogy just to improve the way we are teaching some subjects to our students in order to deliver a particular content, it’s part of their training, it’s part of enhancing their teaching.
At the university, the students, who study their subject in English, have a particular objective which is to go to Canada or to the United States to pursue post-graduate studies, and they need in addition to English language skills, they need also to understand that their subjects in a certain way in those contexts, so it’s (training) not only the language but the way their subject is taught or is learned through English.
So, they (students) need for example to be able to ask questions for clarifications during the lecture, to criticise, to think critically. The lecturer who is teaching through English will provide those spaces during the lecture for the student to be able to use English for a particular communicative situation.
6. What do you think the challenges of using EMI to teach subject knowledge?
There are challenges for students and lecturers. For example, the students of the University of Carthage, they are really very fluent in English. They do have very good English accents, sometimes the British, sometimes the American, or sometimes just good accents, good pronunciation of English. When it comes to writing, because I had the chance to train them into academic writing and email writing, things are a little bit different. So some of them just developed their oral language skills and never wrote anything in English correctly. Some students’ writing is fair and they need to improve while others have very good writing skills. So I think sometimes the challenges that when you are lecturing to those students you might see that their English language level is very good. When you see them participating in the lecture, they really understand a lot. In the lecture, they don’t seem to have problems incomprehension. But at the end of the semester, the students sit for exams, they sometimes do have problems in writing. This is the challenge that I saw for the students when I was teaching last year.
For the lecturers, there are challenges of keeping for example up-to-date with their subjects, with the innovations or there’s recent research in their subjects so they constantly need to read in English, and also improve the way they deliver perhaps their lectures in English.
7. What is your future research in EMI? Do you have any particular interest or areas you want to investigate?
Well, I would like first to continue investigating the attitudes, the challenges my lecturers are facing today in this institute and even beyond the university that I was speaking about, and I would like to videotape some lecturers’ context on discourse analysis whether the use of metadiscourse or the way they structure their lecture and see the way they are trying to enhance the comprehension and learning for their students. So for the moment, things are kind of everything is ready but the data is not coming, so I prefer to do this at the beginning to collect data, and analyse it and use it for the training, but also use it to write some papers about that, and then see what the next steps are going to be.
The End of the Interview