EMI, the golden ticket to academic success

English at Maastricht University / Friday, May 3rd, 2019
A personal experience with the English Medium Instruction (EMI) at Maastricht University (UM)

The EMI approach has become a common example of how non-English speaking countries adjust their higher educational institutions to the globalization progress of the academic sphere. In the case of UM, students experience English not only as language, but as a mandatory academic tool for their future study career (Wilkinson, 2012, p. 3). For many students, this is quite challenging due to their language origin which, in most cases, is not English. In this article, I will discuss my personal experiences with EMI at UM by examining whether the English language changed my view on academics, politics and myself.

When I first came to Maastricht, my English skills were rather poor, and I could barely even speak English in a proper academic tone. As being a German, the educational system in Germany indeed provided English lessons until the 12th grade, but they suddenly seemed useless to me, compared to Maastricht standards. However, this did not stop me from enrolling into the BA ES program. I personally think the language barrier is one of the easiest to overcome if you are willing to leave your mother tongue in second place. The reasons for UM to introduce EMI is shared by many other higher educational institutions who strive for more international prominence. All of the universities that use EMI are driven by economic, political and social forces that allow them a better place in the educational competition. Furthermore, EMI evolved through matters of convenience, because it is in accordance with the principles of Lingua Franca, namely English. One example of this is the provision of useful sources that are mostly written in English, due to the fact that the publishing of journals, articles, and other literature is done in English.

The first weeks of being a student at UM were difficult and certainly not the easiest of my life. Unlike some other students, I had little to no experience with the English language as an academic tool. Hence, it was a constant struggle with comparing my own standards with standards from other students which caused a strong urge to compete. Until today, I am not sure whether those feelings of panic and stress during my first weeks helped me integrate more into the academic climate of UM. Another important factor that I experienced with EMI at UM was Problem Based Learning (PBL). The effectiveness of PBL somehow grew with my language progress and gave me more incentive to pursue for a higher level of academic English. At the beginning, PBL seemed like an unfair concept that only relied on the English skills of the students within a tutorial group. Unlike other native speakers in my group, I had troubles expressing myself in English in a proper way, which resulted in a poor participation on my part. Hence, some students had an advantage within the PBL sessions, simply because of their English skills.    

Consequences of EMI thus cannot be ignored since they are an essential part of studying at UM. According to Wilkinson, the loss of domain for the mother tongue (L1) is one of the disantvantages when it comes to EMI (2012, p. 11). The issue often reveals itself to the fullest when students return to their home country during holidays or when they graduated from UM. I realized my academic deficits regarding my mother tongue very recently when I applied for an internship in Germany. My academic tone was below average and I found myself unable to write a proper application in German. Three years of dedication to the English language somehow lowered my level of academic German which left me in the same position I was in during my first weeks at UM coping with EMI. While focusing on integrating into academic English, I somehow disintegrated from academic German.

EMI is thus not a guarantee nor a golden ticket to academic success if you decide to continue your study career on a national level. However, it also provides an opportunity to decide. Before coming to UM, I had no second academic language in my skills rapporteur that I could access. Although my German language skills are rusty and partly disabled from all the English influence, I do prefer having a choice to be academically successful on an international level (2012, p. 19). Finally, it can be argued that EMI offers academic success under international circumstances. Moreover, once you acquired a certain level of academic speaking and writing in either your mother tounge or another language, the skill always remains subconsciously present and can be accessed through dedication and your inner will to re-learn some of the skills already learned.


Wilkinson, Robert (2012), English Medium Instruction at a Dutch University: Challenges and Pitfalls. In: Aintzane Doiz, David Lasagabaster and Juan Manuel Sierra (eds.), English-Medium Instruction at Universities. Global Challenges. Multilingual Matters, 3-24

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