The promotion of English medium instruction (EMI) in higher education has been a widely adopted institutional response to the forces of globalization in the 21st century. However, while EMI has received much enthusiasm in policy discourse, little research has been conducted to explore whether it effectively addresses the new demands of an increasingly multilingual student body. To fill this gap, in this talk I draw on extensive literature on linguistically responsive instruction (LRI) to examine: 1) the practices that are linguistically responsive in higher education EMI classrooms, and 2) the affordances and constraints of such practices.
The data for this study – taken from a larger research project that looked into different instructional outcomes of EMI – show that approaches to LRI are manifested in three main ways: technical, facilitative, and sociocultural. To illustrate what these labels mean, a close-up look into three classroom profiles and interviews conducted with the lecturers of each of these classes are provided. Importantly, the multiple approaches to LRI pointed toward a common concern that centered on students’ English proficiency. While LRI may have helped resolve immediate comprehension issues and low participation in classroom interactions, the increased attention to language in content courses posed a potential threat to the teaching of the subject discipline. This creates serious problems to the functions of higher education: although EMI may have been intended as “English- enhanced instruction” (developing both language and content in the same classroom space), it faces the risk of turning into “English without instruction” (learning some English but not much disciplinary knowledge) when responses to the changing linguistic reality are not context-focused nor content-accountable.
To systematically and sustainably address different student needs in higher education, in this talk I argue that aside from equipping individual lecturers with the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to be linguistically responsive, considering wider structural changes may also be necessary (e.g., expanding the “I” in LRI to include policy-making and curriculum-planning). The talk will close with a tentative dynamic language-content model to open up a space for discussing how such structural changes may be envisioned and implemented institutionally.