In an era where English is increasingly utilized as a global language of instruction, known as EMI, concerns arise regarding its impact on the quality of learning for non-native English speakers.
A recent study conducted by KTH Royal Institute of Technology and Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden has shed light on the significant negative impact of using English as the language of instruction in higher education when it is not the students’ first language. This research, based on a randomized study involving 2,000 Swedish students, challenges assumptions about the effectiveness of English Medium Instruction (EMI) in higher education.
The study delves into the relationship between the language of instruction and learning outcomes in higher education.
ENGLISH MEDIUM INSTRUCTION (EMI) IN HIGHER EDUCATION
EMI is an educational approach where courses are taught in English, irrespective of the students’ native language. The premise is that students should have the same quality of learning in English as they would in their first language. However, this study raises doubts about this assumption.
RANDOMIZED STUDY REVEALS SURPRISING RESULTS
In a unique approach, the study randomly assigned 2,263 students to either an English-language or a Swedish-language version of an introductory programming course. The course was entirely digital and self-paced, allowing for a controlled comparison. Students’ performance was evaluated based on the number of correctly answered test questions and the rate of course completion.
The results were striking: students who studied in Swedish scored an average of 73 percent more correct answers on test questions compared to their peers in the English-language course. Furthermore, the study found that 25 percent more students dropped out of the English-language course, demonstrating a statistically significant difference between the two versions of the course.
CONCERNS OVER THE PREVALENCE
The study’s outcomes raise critical questions about the widespread use of English in higher education, not only in Sweden but also in other countries where this language is not the first language for the majority of the population. While the study’s authors caution against making radical policy changes based on a single study, they believe that these findings can contribute to a more informed discussion about the consequences of using a foreign language as the primary language of instruction.
The study underscores the need for a nuanced approach to language in higher education, taking into consideration the impact on learning outcomes, particularly for non-native speakers.