Thu, Sep 07, 2017 - Page 8 News List

Not all classes need be in English

By Cindy Chang 張心瑜

With the global expansion of English, the use of English as a medium of instruction (EMI) has been a growing phenomenon, often tied to discourses on internationalization in the reform of higher education.

In Taiwan, the number of EMI programs has steadily increased since the government joined the WTO in 2002.

EMI has been promoted through a series of policy statements and funding schemes, such as the Challenge 2008: National Development Plan and the Aim for the Top University Project. The Higher Education Evaluation and Accreditation Council has accredited 121 programs taught in English.

Taiwanese universities regard EMI as indispensable, not only to enhance institutional academic ranking, but also to increase staff mobility, graduate employability and international student exchanges.

However, EMI’s rapid expansion faces much controversy, especially concerning the actual implementation of classroom teaching.

Depending on social and educational needs, switching the medium of instruction is not merely a matter of translation, but may involve a more complex restructuring of pedagogy, as well as modified linguistic practices.

Specifically, many academics highlight the effect of disciplinary differences on EMI, arguing that English might be suitable for teaching some subjects, but not others.

This concern is reflected in the disproportionate distribution of EMI courses across academic disciplines on the Study in Taiwan Web site, where most of the accredited EMI programs fall into engineering, technology, agriculture, fishing, medicine, and environmental studies.

Although EMI programs in business and management share a considerable proportion, those that are categorized in the social sciences and humanities only comprise approximately one-eighth of the list.

This discipline imbalance regarding EMI also drew public attention in a heated debate last year when policymakers at National Chengchi University tried to enforce regulations on the number of EMI courses that each professor, regardless of discipline, should teach.

Because the school takes pride in its leading role in the social sciences and humanities in Taiwan, a number of professors from the faculties of history, literature, and philosophy worried that using a foreign language to deliver highly complex and contextualized concepts would compromise the quality of education.

However, how can the effect of disciplinary differences on EMI be explained?

A fundamental point to acknowledge is that the language of instruction is deeply implicated in the construction and communication of meaning across disciplines.

First, knowledge is constructed differently in the sciences than in the humanities. Knowledge structures in the sciences tend to be more linear and cumulative, often operating on an agreed set of specialist terminology as well as established methods and procedures for conducting research.

By contrast, knowledge structures in the humanities are characterized as interpretive and context specific, where the focus is placed on creative thinking and fluent expression.

Because of this, linguistic demands in the humanities are heavier compared with those in the sciences, making a change in the language of instruction less welcomed.

Second, communication in different disciplines varies largely according to a discipline’s educational objectives.

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