Using the L1 in EMI – New Position Paper from Oxford University Press

On Wednesday this week Oxford University Press launches the latest in its series of ELT position papers: The Role of the First Language in English Medium Instruction. The piece was written by NALDIC Vice-Chair, Hamish Chalmers, in collaboration with an expert panel representing a veritable who’s who of expertise in the education of multilingual learners: Patsy Lightbown and Nina Spada (authors of How Languages are Learned, among countless other influential works), Victoria Murphy (Professor of Applied Linguistics at Oxford and Chair of NALDIC), Eithne Gallagher (experienced educator and EAL consultant, and writer on language inclusive teaching), and David Marsh (co-founder of CLIL).

The document is aimed at policymakers and practitioners working in the broader primary and secondary English Medium Instruction (EMI) sector. This includes international schools, national schools adopting (or aspiring to adopt) EMI models within existing systems, and CLIL model schools. Lessons from the document will, nonetheless, have wider applicability for educators working in all types of classroom where English is the medium of instruction.

The paper describes our understanding of how different languages in the minds of multilingual people work in concert rather than in competition. Applying theory to practice, the paper then looks at research on the pedagogical effects of education that welcomes rather than eschews learners’ first language (L1). Research on bilingual programmes of education is explored, and the effects of programmes that seek to develop competence in both L1 and English concurrently on linguistic and academic development are discussed. The paper also describes research on teaching strategies that leverage the L1 to support learning English in mainstream settings. We also hear about the implications for equality, identity, educational wellbeing, and school engagement of incorporating multilingual learners L1s in their education.

An evidence led paper, The Role of the First Language in English Medium Instruction builds from the theoretical and empirical literature to translate research evidence into implications for policy and practice. The paper describes a variety of models for incorporating L1 into EMI programmes, and suggests what challenges and affordances each might have in different educational contexts. It provides policy makers, school leaders, and classroom teachers working (or aspiring to work) in the sector evidence-informed guidance on school programme design, general classroom approaches, and engagement with parents.

The paper concludes that the most effective EMI programmes are those which robustly and systematically enable multilingual learners to maintain and develop their L1 alongside English. It’s a must read for policy makers and practitioners across the sector and can be downloaded for free here from Wednesday 23rd February. is a publication of NALDIC, the subject association for EAL. Visit to become a member.