EMI – English Medium Instruction

Is EMI ESP? Does EMI belong to ESP? No, but some people think it should and that does not make sense to me.

ESP is about teaching English. EMI is about teaching other non-language subjects.

As Macaro (2018) defines it, EMI is

The use of English language to teach academic subjects (other than English itself) in countries or jurisdictions: where the first language of the majority of the population is not English.

Another definition by Kling (2019, p. 2) is:

While there is a great deal of debate as to a specific definition, English as a medium of instruction (EMI) typically refers to the use of English as the language of teaching and learning for academic content courses (e.g., chemistry, biochemistry, sociology, political science) in contexts where English is not the natural or standard language of instruction (Dafouz & Camacho-Miñano, 2016; Henriksen, Holmen, & Kling, 2019). In most cases, the learning outcomes for EMI courses focus on disciplinary competences; the language itself is not being explicitly taught.

So it only exists in “non-Anglophone countries”. If I teach – which I did – 100 MSc International Business Students and I taught them Research Methodology. This is in the UK. There are no home students in the class. I do not know if there are native speakers in the class, but there are several Nigerians and Kenyans. There are many from the Indian Subcontinent and many from Asia. This would not be considered to be EMI as it is in UK. I’m not sure how different it is, though.

It is also clear that in EMI, the language is not explicitly taught. This again separates it from ESP, which involves explicit teaching of the language. This also distinguishes EMI from language teaching approaches such as CLIL and CBI.

In both cases, there is an explicit aim to teach the language. For example, for CLIL,

CLIL is a dual-focused educational approach in which an additional language is used for the learning and teaching of both content and language (Mehisto, Marsh, & Frigols, 2008, p. 9)..

Thus, CLIL is a tool for the teaching and learning of content and language The essence of CLIL is integration. This integration has a dual focus:
1) Language learning is included in content classes (eg, maths, history, geography, computer programming, science, civics, etc) . This means repackaging information in a manner that facilitates understanding. Charts, diagrams, drawings, hands-on experiments and the drawing out of key concepts and terminology are all common CLIL strategies.
2) Content from subjects is used in language-learning classes. The language teacher, working together with teachers of other subjects, incorporates the vocabulary, terminology and texts from those other subjects into his or her classes. Students learn the language and discourse patterns they need to understand and use the content. (p. 11)

And CBI:

In this volume, we define Content-Based Instruction as the integration of particular content with language-teaching aims (Brinton,  Snow, & Wesche,  1989, .p. 2).

Similarly, CBI assumes that language is learned most effectively using content of interest and relevance to the learner.  Several content-oriented instructional models have appeared on the second language teaching scene. These models provide alternatives for integrating the language curriculum with the academic or occupational interests of students. Brinton, Snow & Wesche (1989, pp. 14-17) propose three content-based models: theme-based, sheltered, and adjunct courses.

In theme-based courses, the language class is structured around topics or themes, with the topics forming the backbone of the course curriculum. The content material presented by the language teacher provides the basis for language analysis and practice.

Sheltered courses consist of content courses taught in the second language to a segregated group of learners by a content area specialist.

In the adjunct model, students are enrolled concurrently in two linked courses — a language course and a content course —with the idea being that the two courses share the content base and complement each other in terms of mutually coordinated assignments. Second language learners are sheltered in the language course and integrated in the content course, where both native English and nonnative English-speaking students attend the same lecture.

See also Benesch (1988), Brinton & Masters (1997),  Coyle,  Hood & Marsh  (2010) & Nordmeyer & Barduhn (2010).

I am, therefore, from a teaching point of view, not sure what EMI is. Is it simply what we have been doing for the last 200 years with a new name? I also wonder about the fact that language is not explicitly taught in EMI as I think I teach language – often explicitly – whatever I am teaching. It is not possible to separate the teaching of language from the teaching of non-language content.

Nevertheless, however EMI is conceptualised, many people around the world are teaching and being taught through the medium of English, whether English is a first  and only language or a second or third etc. language. In all cases ESP – particularly EAP – has a major contribution to make to EMI as it does to almost every course in English medium countries. But that does not mean that EMI is part of ESP. ESP can be involved in teaching English to the teachers who need to teach through the medium of English. It is certainly needed for the students who are learning through the medium of English. It might also be necessary for textbook writers and examiners. Any of the CLIL or CBI models above would be useful in this case.

EMI – teaches a non-language subject though the medium of English – no explicit language teaching. Aim is learning the non-language subject.

CLIL – teaches a non-language subject and a language at the same time – explicit language teaching. Main aim is leaning of both subject and language.

CBI – teaches a language through the content of a non-language subject.  Main aim is language learning.

LSP – teaches a language for use in a non-language subject. Main aim is language teaching. Useful in EMI, but not EMI.


Benesch, S. (Ed.). (1988). Ending remediation: Linking ESL and content in higher education. Alexandria, VA: TESOL.

Brinton, D. M. & Masters, P. (Eds.). (1997). New ways in content based instruction.. Alexandria, VA: TESOL.

Brinton, D. M., Snow, M. A., & Wesche, M. B. (1989). Content-based second language instruction. New York: Newbury House.

Coyle, D., Hood, P. & Marsh, D. (2010). CLIL. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Dafouz, E., & Camacho-Miñano, M. M. (2016). Exploring the impact of English-medium instruction on university student academic achievement: The case of accounting. English for Specific Purposes, 44, 57–67.

Henriksen, B., Holmen, A., & Kling, J. (2019). English medium instruction in multilingual and multicultural universities: Academics’ voices from the Northern European context. Oxford: Routledge/Taylor & Francis.

Kling, J. (2019). TIRF language education in review: English as a medium of instruction. Monterey, CA & Baltimore, MD: TIRF & Laureate International Universities.

Macaro, E. (2018). English medium instruction: Language and content in policy and practice. Oxford University Press.

Mehisto, P. Marsh, D. & Frigols, M. J. (2008). Uncovering CLIL: Content and language integrated learning in bilingual and multilingual education. London: Macmillan.

Nordmeyer, J., & Barduhn, S. (Eds.). (2010). Integrating language and content. Alexandria, VA: TESOL.


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