Dr. Lin, the Director of IHRD, wanted to dispel the myth that only those who speak excellent English can be a great EMI teacher.
In Taiwanese higher education, EMI (English Mediated Instruction) has not only become a trendy term, it has also served as an anxiety trigger for local teachers. One of the factors that contribute to their anxiety is the lack of confidence in using English to teach academic subjects.
Local teachers tend to think they are not qualified to adopt EMI in classes because they do not have an excellent command of English and they often speak with an accent. However, is “speaking English like a native speaker” a must-have for a great EMI teacher? Yi-Chun Lin, the Director of the Graduate Institute of International Human Resource Development (IHRD) at National Taiwan Normal University (NTNU), gave her insight into this matter during an interview.
“EMI is more than speaking English fluently with a native-like accent, it also focuses on using the appropriate teaching method.” said Dr. Lin, who earned a Ph.D. at The Ohio State University and has taught HRD in English for 13 years. For the 2021-22 academic year, she organized four courses: Seminar on Human Resource (I) & (II), Special Topics on Human Resources for Small Business, and Special Topics on Employee Psychology and Career Development.
Dr. Lin would like to dispel the myth that only those who speak excellent English can be a great EMI teacher. Working as an educator for over a decade, she found that what students value are the interaction and communication in the classroom. Despite having a class taught in a non-native language, student engagement will increase when students play a robust role in discussing what they are learning.
“Delivering lectures in fluent English and with a native-like accent is not the only way to pass on knowledge in EMI classes. Students also grasp new concepts and gain knowledge by engaging in well-designed classroom activities,” said Dr. Lin.
Before EMI is widely discussed in Taiwanese higher education, IHRD has already turned the government’s vision of “transforming Taiwan into a bilingual nation by 2030” into reality. Since the early 2000s, IHRD has started offering a postgraduate IHRD program that is taught fully in English, with the aim of nurturing a new generation of dedicated human resource professionals who are able to thrive in a globalized world.
One of the key reasons that IHRD stays years ahead of other graduate institutes in Taiwan is because of the make-up of its student body. Each year, IHRD seeks to enroll a full-time class of about 30 students (half local, half international students). Last year, students from 13 countries enrolled in the Fall semester of 2021.
In order to increase positive interactions between students from different countries in a multicultural classroom, professors in IHRD require local students to collaborate with international peers on group projects, which means each group must be made up of half local and half international students.
Dr. Lu, the Assistant Professor of IHRD, underlined the importance of creating an inclusive learning environment in EMI classes during the interview.
“Local students tend to be introverted and shy in class, because they think their English skills are not as good as international students,” said Cheng-Chieh Lu, the Assistant Professor of IHRD who received his PhD at Washington State University.
When asked about the strategy to help students communicate with peers from multicultural backgrounds with confidence, Dr. Lu underlined the importance of creating an inclusive learning environment. “The point is to make students believe that their ideas will not be laughed at or mocked,” said Dr. Lu. “They are always free to speak whatever is on their minds.”
Dr. Lu started his EMI teaching career after joining the IHRD faculty in 2016. It took him around one semester to adapt to EMI teaching. “Once I started to teach in English, I soon got used to it, and in the second semester, I knew exactly what to say in class,” said Dr. Lu.
For the 2021-22 academic year, Dr. Lu is teaching six courses, including International Management, Research Methods in Human Resource Development, Studies in Human Resource Recruiting and Selection, Thesis Writing, Special Topics on Human Resource for International Service Industries and Special Topics on Human Resources in Asia Pacific.
For teachers who strive to improve English speaking skills, Dr. Lu advised them to take advantage of online resources. “Watching lecturers who teach academic courses in English online can be a great help for local teachers,” said Dr. Lu. “Another way to advance your English is through watching TV series. After spending one to two hours watching American sitcoms, you may speak English more fluently in the class the next day.”
Asked if he has suggestion on designing EMI classes, Dr. Lu noted the importance of creating engaging classroom activities, “It’s nearly impossible for students to stay focused in class if the teacher talked non-stop for three hours in English,” he said, suggesting that teachers should allow students to take a moment to reflect on what they have learned, “To help students stay engaged in the classroom, teachers can design activities to facilitate group discussions in the last hour of class, such as asking students to analyze cases by applying knowledge and skills gained in class.”
Using English to teach academic subjects can be challenging, but it is nothing like attempting to square the circle. In the face of the Bilingual Nation 2030 Policy, it is a chance for teachers to take stock of their teaching methods and to upgrade their curriculum. As teachers get rid of the idea that only those who speak excellent English can be a great EMI teacher, they will feel encouraged to try new teaching approaches and to develop unique teaching strategies for their EMI classes.