Research summary: Plurilingual lecturers in English Medium Instruction in the Netherlands

Duarte, J. & Ploeg, Mara van der (fc.). Plurilingual lecturers in English Medium Instruction in the Netherlands: The key to plurilingual approaches in higher education? European Journal for Higher Education.

This is a sneak preview of a forthcoming article that I’m really excited about! Thanks to Joana Duarte for sharing it with me.

Background/aim: Dutch universities increasingly employ non-Dutch lecturers of diverse backgrounds, who bring different linguistic profiles into the university classroom than their Dutch counterparts. The authors are interested in whether these lecturers in particular help to make EMI more plurilingual. Research questions:

  • What types of plurilingual resources do Dutch-speaking and plurilingual lecturers use within EMI programmes?
  • To what extent are there significant differences between Dutch-speaking and plurilingual lecturers in the use of plurilingualism within EMI?
  • How do Dutch-speaking and plurilingual lecturers make use of their students’ plurilingualism within EMI programmes?

Data & methods: Sequential mixed-methods study design involving:

  • an online survey
    • 54 EMI lecturers at the Faculty of Arts of the University of Groningen (33 Dutch lecturers, 21 international)
    • 28 items in total, measuring self-reported proficiency in English, socio-demographic background information and strategies applied to use students’ plurilingual repertoires. For the latter, respondents rated (from never to always) the frequency of 14 activities common in plurilingual teaching. They also indicated the extent to which they were aware of the linguistic backgrounds of the students
    • linear regression used to explain differences between Dutch and international lecturers
  • semi-structured interviews
    • 20 EMI lecturers from various faculties at the University of Groningen (9 Dutch, 11 international)
    • 12-45 minutes each, fully transcribed
    • Questions focused on views on EMI in relation to self-perception of English proficiency and students’ proficiency, experiences with EMI and general teaching methodology, and use of plurilingualism in the teaching methodology
    • qualitative content analysis using Atlas-ti

Results:

  • Survey:
    • All lecturers make a point of explicitly including non-native speakers of English in classroom discussions
    • They occasionally encourage comparison of different languages, use translations, encourage use of other languages in research/assignments and encourage use of sources in other languages
    • The only statistical difference between Dutch and international lecturers was that the latter valued multilingualism significantly higher than the former – but note that the sample is small and the background of the lecturers variable explained only 19% of the variance in the data
  • Interviews:
    • The lecturers report challenges of EMI related to language proficiency, fluency, and preparation time
    • All lecturers report using their plurilingual repertoires to overcome linguistic barriers.
    • They also saw plurilingual approaches within EMI as facilitating rather than hampering the learning process.
    • International lecturers engaged more frequently in plurilingual practices; Dutch lecturers ‘often followed a strict interpretation of official language policies which limited their engagement with students’ plurilingual resources’
    • Also, Dutch lecturers were more anxious about the status of Dutch and students’ level of proficiency in Dutch
    • Dutch lecturers tended to be more reluctant to encourage the use of other languages due to the official language policy. International lecturers tended to not feel responsible for strictly implementing EMI: ‘they do not think that their mission is “to police which language students are using”’
    • All lecturers worried that the use of languages other than English among students may have an exclusionary effect
    • Most lecturers saw benefits of using plurilingual resources in teaching: they believe it broadens students’ academic opportunities (e.g. use of sources in different languages), social benefits (e.g. connecting with students by using their languages), overcoming language barriers (e.g. explaining difficult concepts in students’ own language), fosters students’ academic Dutch competences, contributes to ‘international classroom’ experience

Conclusions:

  • Plurilingual lecturers are particularly well-placed to ‘contribute to a shift within EMI towards acknowledging and using the plurilingual resources of both lecturers and students’
  • But at present ‘EMI largely remains monolingually oriented’
  • The interviewees reported that more use could be made in EMI programmes of students’ plurilingualism
  • In particular, official language policies pose obstacles by expecting to lecturers to impose English-only monolingualism
  • These policies clash with classroom reality: ‘Plurilingual approaches are in fact compatible with EMI. Nonetheless, much needs to be done in order to empower both lecturers and students to systematically use their plurilingual resources’

Reader tips: which paper on English in Dutch higher education should I summarise next? Leave a comment!

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