Navigating the language barrier: Innovative strategies for English Medium Instruction lecturers

Posted in: Language and Educational Practices

This blog is from Dr Samantha Curle, Reader in Education (Applied Linguistics)

In the ever-evolving landscape of global education, English Medium Instruction (EMI) has emerged as a pivotal element in higher education institutions worldwide (Macaro et al., 2018). However, the challenge of effectively conveying complex subject-specific terminology in English to non-native speakers remains a significant hurdle for many educators. This blog post delves into the groundbreaking strategies uncovered by a recent study aimed at enhancing the efficacy of EMI lecturers in teaching STEM subjects.

The Study's Core Insights

The study, conducted across diverse educational landscapes in China, Turkey, South Africa, and Nepal, focused on the strategies employed by EMI lecturers to teach intricate STEM concepts. A key finding was the crucial role of context in explaining subject-specific terms. Lecturers who skilfully integrated new terminology within familiar contexts significantly improved student comprehension. Another revelation was the power of visual aids. Complex terms, when accompanied by diagrams or infographics, became more accessible and understandable to students. This visual approach not only aided in immediate comprehension but also helped in long-term retention of the material.

  • A standout strategy identified in the study was the use of interactive exercises. These included activities like group discussions, problem-solving tasks, and real-world application scenarios. Such methods not only engaged students more deeply but also allowed them to apply new terms in practical settings, thereby solidifying their understanding.
  • The study also highlighted the importance of cultural sensitivity in EMI settings. Lecturers who were attuned to the cultural backgrounds and linguistic nuances of their students were better able to tailor their teaching methods, resulting in a more inclusive and effective learning environment.
  • ┬áThe findings of this study are not just academic revelations; they are practical tools that can empower EMI lecturers worldwide. By adopting these strategies, educators can transcend language barriers, making STEM education more accessible and engaging for students from diverse linguistic backgrounds.


As the world of higher education continues to globalize, the role of EMI lecturers becomes increasingly crucial. The strategies unearthed by this study offer a roadmap for educators to navigate the challenges of teaching complex subjects in English. By embracing these methods, EMI lecturers can significantly enhance the learning experience for their students, preparing them for a globalized world.

About the Author

Dr Samantha Curle (DPhil, FHEA, FRSA) is a Reader in Education (Applied Linguistics), Director of the MRes programme in Advanced Quantitative Research Methods (University of Bath), and Associate Member of the English Medium Instruction Oxford Research Group (University of Oxford). Her main research interest lies in factors affecting academic achievement in English Medium Instruction (EMI) in higher education. She has published five edited books on EMI. Her research has been published in journals such as Language Teaching, Applied Linguistics Review, Studies in Higher Education, Journal of Engineering Education, Journal for the Psychology of Language Learning, Journal of English for Academic Purposes, Language Teaching Research, and Education and Urban Society.

Posted in: Language and Educational Practices


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