PROFiLE (Professional Literacy in English): a longitudinal study of the relationship between English as the medium of instruction and the development of professional English literacy
Paper in proceedings, 2015
In many European universities, English is today used as a medium of instruction. One of the reasons is that it is believed that using English as a medium of instruction (EMI) can develop students’ subject-specific knowledge of English. This knowledge is seen as an asset in the workplace and often presented as providing a competitive advantage supporting professional success. The design of many educational programmes shows that this knowledge is supposed to develop incidentally rather than through explicit instruction. Recent research has, however, offered reason to question the extent to which such incidental learning actually occurs (Pecorari et al., 2011, Shaw et al. 2010). In addition, little is known about what type of knowledge is developed in different educational contexts. The present paper reports on the preliminary findings of a project testing assumptions about the development of English-language skills in the EMI environment.
This longitudinal study is following students from several master's programmes from the beginning of their degrees into the workplace, gathering a range of data including language test results, interviews and observations. The aim is to carry out a thorough analysis of proficiency levels, the development of English literacy, and the extent to which activities in the programs support the development of disciplinary discourse and workplace demands. The findings will be used to discuss and recommend measures for improved practice.
Preliminary analysis of the data reveals several themes: evidence that teaching staff and students see use of English as opposed to the local language as both opportunity and disadvantage; a wide diversity of English proficiency levels in the English-medium classroom (as shown by results from four tests distributed to approximately 150 students); and significant differences across participating programmes in terms of the sorts of English-language proficiencies their students are believed to need in the workplace.