Language support as a key prerequisite for English-medium instruction

Author: Dr Branka Drljača Margić

Published on 3 May 2017


Since 2015, the “Language Support for Teachers in EMI [English-Medium Instruction]” lifelong learning programme has been offered to teachers at the University of Rijeka. As one of the strategic goals of the University of Rijeka is to increase the number of degree programmes in a foreign language, it is crucial that the teachers teaching content courses in English be linguistically prepared.

Prior to the introduction of the programme, extensive research was conducted among university teachers in order to identify the language needs and challenges relating to the EMI classroom. The results indicate that inadequate language proficiency leads to the simplification of the course content as well as to its reduced clarity, impaired student understanding, diminished interaction and decreased spontaneity in class. Insufficient language skills can have a negative impact on teacher self-esteem as well as their professional status, especially when they have to perform actions that cannot be fully prepared in advance, such as elaborating, exemplifying and answering students’ questions. Besides, students expect their teachers to be proficient in the language and consider them responsible for their own language progress (cf. Airey, 2015; Drljača Margić & Vodopija-Krstanović, 2017; Wilkinson, 2013).

The aim of this programme is to equip teachers with the language skills and knowledge deemed necessary for teaching in higher education, such as knowledge of formulaic language used to introduce a topic (e.g. Today, I’m going to talk about […]; Let’s begin with […] or The topic of today’s presentation is […]). Moreover, as the programme is held in English, the participants learn classroom language in a naturalistic way. The usual errors teachers make while lecturing, such as those concerning word order, tenses, subject–verb agreement, the use of articles and pronunciation (cf. Drljača Margić & Vodopija-Krstanović, 2017), are also addressed. Most of them are negatively evaluated by students, especially the ones perceived basic, such as the omission of the third person -s in the Present Simple (e.g. he learn instead of he learns), while some can actually impede student understanding of the content, such as mispronunciation.

The programme comprises two courses: Speaking Competences for EMI and Writing Competences for EMI. The first course focuses on improving fluency and accuracy in the spoken discourse of teaching in English, as well as on maintaining lesson flow and enhancing comprehensibility by including signposting phrases (e.g. As we noted earlier […]; That brings me to […] or It should be emphasised that […]). It also strives to develop teacher self-reflection on language use in academic discourse and their ability to identify language errors. The participants give a presentation in English, reflect critically on their own presentation and provide feedback on their peers’ presentations. The course instructors’ feedback focuses on grammatical and pronunciation accuracy, fluency, use of signposting phrases, and presentation structure and clarity. The participants are also asked to view videotaped recordings of their teaching, identify what needs to be improved and how, and share what they have learned from watching themselves and others teach.

The second course aims to improve writing skills for teaching in English, especially for material design. It covers features of a written text, such as orthography, grammatical accuracy, paragraph structure, and coherence and cohesion. The participants analyse written texts and write a short academic text on a topic from their respective fields, which undergoes several revisions.

The programme has generated considerable interest among university teachers, which indicates that teachers are aware of the importance of language training and support for a successful implementation of EMI. All aspects of the programme, from content development and teaching methods to the achievement of learning outcomes and atmosphere in class, have been highly rated. Moreover, the programme has been reported to boost teacher self-confidence, as the teachers improve their language skills, teach in English in front of language experts and learn that their peers face similar challenges and concerns.


Airey, J. (2015). From stimulated recall to disciplinary literacy: Summarizing ten years of research into teaching and learning in English. In S. Dimova, A. K. Hultgren, & C. Jensen (Eds.), English-medium instruction in European higher education (pp. 157–176). Berlin, Boston: Walter de Gruyter.

Drljača Margić, B., & Vodopija-Krstanović, I. (2017). Uncovering English-medium instruction: Glocal issues in higher education. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.

Wilkinson, R. (2013). English-medium instruction at a Dutch university: Challenges and pitfalls. In A. Doiz, D. Lasagabaster, & J. M. Sierra (Eds.), English-medium instruction at universities: Global challenges (pp. 3–24). Bristol, Buffalo, Toronto: Multilingual Matters.


Foreign language learning in Rijeka and its environs: an overview and our goals

Authors: Dr Branka Drljača Margić and Dr Irena Vodopija-Krstanović

Published on 6 June 2014


In Rijeka and its environs foreign languages are learned from an early age. Some day care centres offer early learning of English and Italian, for children as young as four, whereas some offer English as an elective activity, typically twice a week. In addition, several nurseries and kindergartens in Rijeka have full-day programmes in Italian for members of the Italian ethnic minority. An overview of language learning programmes offered by the Rijeka Day Care Centre can be found here.

Primary schools teach a foreign language from the first grade, adding another, optional one in the fourth grade, with most pupils choosing the second foreign language as an elective. Every child thus has the opportunity to learn foreign languages as part of his/her compulsory, free education. Foreign language teachers possess the necessary linguistic and pedagogical knowledge and skills, acquired through formal education. Most schools teach English as the first foreign language, with some offering German as an alternative. Italian is the most commonly taught second foreign language, followed by German, English, French, Spanish, Slovenian and Macedonian. An overview of compulsory and elective foreign language teaching offered in City of Rijeka primary schools can be found here.

The teaching of foreign languages continues, in compulsory and elective courses, in secondary school and at university. In addition, the University of Rijeka philological departments – the Department of English, the Department of German, and the Department of Italian – offer modern languages degree courses, taught entirely in the respective languages. Foreign languages are also learned in language schools, catering to students of all ages. Senior citizens can also learn foreign languages on courses provided at the Pensioners Association and taught by volunteers who are students of the aforementioned philological departments.

Our goals are to further raise the awareness of the value of foreign language learning, to point out that foreign languages can – with an appropriate approach – be successfully learned at any age, and to encourage foreign language learning in non-formal settings, for example through tandem learning. We will give language learning support through an individualised approach to those who need it, focusing on socially vulnerable groups. We will also endeavour to acquaint the community at large with the insights of second language acquisition research and relate these insights to foreign language teaching practice in schools.



Bilingualism Matters was founded by Professor Antonella Sorace at the University of Edinburgh.


Bilingualism Matters@Rijeka has been established within the „Advancing the European Multilingual Experience (AThEME)” project.


This project has received funding from the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under grant agreement no. 613465.