Impediments to EMI and ESP in an Asian Context

Alastair John Graham-Marr

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In recent years, across Asia, the number of programs at the tertiary level that teach English through content has been increasing, and much of the focus has been on EMI (English as Medium of Instruction) classes rather than CLIL or ESP/EAP. However, in many of these Asian contexts, there are often natural impediments that make integrating content and language difficult. Many Asian languages, such as Korean or Japanese, are syllable timed, or mora-timed, and consequently, the sound systems of such languages vary substantially from English. Learners coming from syllable-timed or mora-timed languages often lack a natural understanding of suprasegmental phonology, impeding comprehension. As such, such learners have undeveloped listening skills and have difficulty understand naturally enunciated English. They struggle to comprehend extended streams of connected speech that they would otherwise understand were it written down on paper. And yet, many of these content approaches do not address these issues. Policy makers set goals of introducing integrated content into their curriculum, without identifying the possible problems that might occur. Different learners bring different sets of linguistic difficulties to each teaching context, and the problems associated with phonological interference need to be addressed if integrating content into Asian English classes is going to be successful. Given that many European languages are stressed timed and generally match the phonological rhythms of English, to date such problems have not garnered much attention. This paper presents a preliminary study that was undertaken with second year university students at a Japanese science university, where sheltered content was taught. The paper will outline some of the difficulties that students encountered.

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