Multilingual classrooms: opportunities and challenges for English medium instruction in low and middle income contexts

Elizabeth J Erling

Lina Adinolfi

Anna Kristina Hultgren

This research report considers the complex field of English medium instruction (EMI) policies in low- and middle-income countries. Its purpose is to provide insight and support to those responsible for setting policy or enacting it in complex language environments around the world.

Governments in low- and middle-income contexts around the world mandate that the curriculum is taught in English to secure the future development of intellectual and economic capital. But it is a complex field: while English language acquisition might allow students to access global opportunity, there is an equally compelling argument for teachers and students to use a language that is wholly familiar to them – and often, that is not English. Our latest research report shines a light on English as a medium of instruction (EMI) policy in practice. What can policymakers learn from experience to date?

Recommendations for policymakers

There are two aspects to our report: a comprehensive global literature review to draw on lessons from existing research as well as the evaluation of brand new findings from fieldwork specifically carried out for this report in two very different primary school contexts – Ghana and India. The report explores opportunities and challenges identified through interviews and observation and provides a set of valuable recommendations that will help policymakers, practitioners and academics operating in multilingual EMI environments.

This research was produced in partnership with The Open University and British Council.

Since publishing the report, we have collaborated with our partners the British Council and Open University on a series of subsequent thinkpieces to further explore different aspects of the research:

Listen to Anna's podcast on what policymakers and practitioners need to know to make a success of EMI:

Read Anna's blog, the final one in a series of six by the report's research team and partners: English-medium policy should not mean 'English only

To read more in the series:

How can children in low- and middle-income contexts learn more easily when English is the medium of instruction?

Great opportunities to support EMI with multilingual practices by Dr Elizabeth J. Erling, formerly Senior Lecturer in English Language Teaching and International Teacher Education at The Open University, and now Professor of ELT Research and Methodology at the University of Graz

Ghana's teachers need permission and support to incorporate local languages into EMI teaching by Kimberly Safford, Senior Lecturer in Primary Education Studies and International Teacher Development at The Open University

Studying teachers' use of language in Indian low-cost English medium schools by Dr Lina Adinolfi, Lecturer with expertise in language in education within the School of Languages and Applied Linguistics at The Open University

Don't sacrifice good education for poor EMI by John Knagg OBE FAcSS, Global Head of English for Education Systems at the British Council