Development of Students’ Multilingual Competence in EMI Postgraduate Research Programs

Project: Monitored by Research Administration

Project Details

Grant Program

Faculty Development Competitive Research Grant Program 2018-2020

Project Description

The use of English as a medium of instruction (EMI, i.e., teaching academic subjects in English) is a phenomenon that has increased exponentially in higher education worldwide (e.g., Dearden, 2015; Graddol, 2006; Phillipson, 2001). However, research has not been published on institutional and linguistic supports to develop students’ academic and research skills in EMI in a unique higher education context of a country in Central Asia which has policies at the national and institutional levels to actively promote knowledge of three languages.
The three languages in focus—Kazakh, Russian, and English—have distinct histories in the research context of Kazakhstan, but expectations for their trajectories in education and in the country overall are high. From the late 1800s until 1991, Russian was the language of power and the dominant medium of instruction in primary, secondary, and tertiary levels of education. Since Kazakhstan became an independent country in 1991, Russian has continued to be an official language, a medium of instruction in education, and a language of wider communication and social prestige. However, Kazakh has become the state language and is being promoted or advocated by policymakers and language activists as the main language of government, education, media, and national identity (Dave, 2007; Fierman, 2006; Olcott, 1995; Smagulova, 2006; Sobol, 2003). Nevertheless, individuals across the country, especially in the capital and northern or eastern areas, report limited proficiency in Kazakh. English is neither a native nor a postcolonial language in Kazakhstan, but the president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, has identified English as part of his national development strategy (2007):
Kazakhstan must be perceived in the world as a highly educated country whose population can use three languages. They are: Kazakh as the national language, Russian as the language of interethnic communication, and English as the language of successful integration in the global economy. (n.p.)
Following this announcement, the number of universities offering degree programs in English or as part of a trilingual education model has risen from 2 in 2008 to 42 out of 125 institutions in 2016 (Goodman & Karabassova, under review). This dramatic change for higher education in Kazakhstan in the current era suggests a pressing need to understand ways EMI is being understood and implemented in Kazakhstani university programs, because previous research has shown that success in developing scholars and researchers—in particular, their competence in understanding the purposes and expectations of academic texts—is premised in the success of higher education institutions in socially constructing those goals through policy and practice throughout the institution (Ivanič, 2004; Lillis, 2002; Prior, 2013).
2.1 Project Purpose
Given the research problem described above, this mixed-methods research seeks to understand how students develop multilingual competence in EMI postgraduate research programs in Kazakhstani HEIs. More specifically, this inquiry aims to understand: 1) the extent to which students in Kazakhstani postgraduate research programs are able to develop knowledge and skills for key academic writing and research genres (Bruce, 2008; Swales, 2004) through the medium of English; 2) the processes and pedagogical strategies by which students in these programs are socialized (Duff, 2010, 2012; Ochs & Schieffelin, 2012) to produce knowledge for national and international scientific audiences; 3) the ways in which students are able to transfer (Haim, 2015; Jarvis & Pavlenko, 2008) their academic genre knowledge among three languages (Kazakh, Russian, English); and 4) the ways Kazakhstani universities are working to transform institutional culture to implement EMI as part of broader processes of internationalization (Hudzik, 2011).
The research questions are:
1. How is EMI understood and enacted in postgraduate, research-oriented programs in Kazakhstani higher education institutions (HEIs)?
2. How do learners experience EMI in these programs?
3. How do stakeholders describe the impact of EMI on students’ development of trilingual competencies in these HEIs?
4. Which institutional practices support learners’ experiences and multilingual development in EMI programs in HEIs?
2.2 Scientific Novelty and Significance
The project is novel in its integration and application of research from the perspectives of multilingualism, academic literacies, and internationalization of higher education to an educational and linguistic phenomenon of increasing importance worldwide: EMI in postgraduate higher education. The findings are expected to inform and shape the practice of EMI in HEIs for policymakers, institutional leaders, educators, and for postgraduate students themselves.
2.2.1 The impact of the results on the development of science and technology
Theoretically, this research has potential to contribute to academic discussions and debates on two important fronts. First and foremost, this inquiry can contribute knowledge to the field of applied linguistics on the relationship of EMI to trilingual competencies for postgraduate research students. Secondly, this research has significant potential for the field of higher education research to add to the growing understanding of the “globalization of internationalization” (Jones & De Wit, 2017), an acknowledgement of the multiple manifestations of higher education internationalization in the world, and that the experience of non-western universities “offer[s] significant learning opportunities” for understanding the transformation of higher education in the current era of globalization (Jones & de Wit, 2017) p. 222).
2.2.2. Expected social and economic impacts
Given the value placed on EMI and the institutions under study for the social and economic development of the country, the findings from this study are expected to help institutional leadership, professors, and policy makers consider ways to fine tune EMI practice within the institutions. Moreover, the study is expected to yield a set of research-informed instruments on EMI, academic skills, and multilingual development that participant institutions can use going forward to continue to self-monitor their implementation of EMI in a multilingual environment. Furthermore, this instrument can be shared with other HEI institutions in Kazakhstan. These self-assessment instruments can help other departments and institutions appropriate or implement EMI more effectively.
2.3. Review of Previous Research
The proposed project builds on the work of four unfunded studies on the development of academic and research skills across languages and contexts in EMI institutions in Kazakhstan (Clementi & Goodman, under review; Goodman, Makoelle, Sparks, Montgomery, Kerimkulova, & Jonbekova, 2017; Karabay, 2017; Prilipko, 2017). The first study is a survey-based study of medical students’ ability to develop doctor-patient communication skills in English and apply that knowledge to live interviews with Russian- and Kazakh-speaking patients in hospitals. The survey also considers the pedagogical strategies students identify that support skills development. The second study has used mixed methods (surveys and focus groups of students and alumni) to understand the development of academic writing and research skills across three languages, and the strategies and processes supporting that development, in a graduate school with EMI and multiple curricular and institutional supports for Academic English development. Preliminary findings from both studies indicate that students develop the target skills in English and Russian comparably well, but development is more variable in Kazakh and is a function of overall Kazakh proficiency. Findings from both studies also indicate that feedback from both peers and professors in multiple languages is essential for development. Prilipko (2017) used a change management framework to interpret perspectives of EMI implementation in a Kazakhstani university. Karabay (2017) explored the language-related academic challenges and institutional supports at an international university. However, this institution may have a culture of student-teacher and teacher-teacher interaction and feedback unique to Kazakhstan. Expanding studies of EMI implementation and multilingual development to other Kazakhstani HEIs will allow the project team to assess the situation across the country and begin to theorize the institutional or programmatic features which are necessary for multilingual academic skills development.
Previous research on EMI in higher education in multilingual contexts worldwide has generally focused on three areas: language variation, language choice, and language challenges (Goodman, under review). Some scholars document linguistic variations or adjustments of non-native teachers and students that support or constrain communication in EMI classrooms (e.g., Dafouz, Núñez & Sancho, 2008; Knapp, 2011; Tsai & Tsou, 2015). Other studies focus on teachers’ and students’ use of multiple languages in EMI programs and classrooms (e.g., Heugh, 2015; Mazak & Carroll, 2017). Finally, studies have shown the challenges of studying in EMI (e.g., Goodman, 2014), including the challenges of acquiring or performing specific academic genres such as presentations (Ding & Stapleton, 2016) or notetaking (Knapp, 2014). However, these studies do not consider the impact of learning these skills in EMI on the development of students’ repertoires in first or second languages.
Conversely, studies of language transfer or cross-linguistic influence that look at transfer of competencies among two languages (e.g., García, 2009; Gonca, 2016) and three languages (Haim, 2015) do not consider the impact of the medium of instruction on development and transfer of competence across languages. Research on language socialization to academic communities is, meanwhile, generally rooted in socialization of international students in English-dominant contexts (Duff, 2010, 2012; Ochs & Schieffelin, 2012; Spack, 2004). In the Kazakhstani context, students are arguably being socialized in a context where English is not a widely spoken language to either a local or global academic imagined community (Anderson, 1991; de Young, 2010; Kanno & Norton, 2003). Finally, research on globalization and internationalization has been conducted in higher education in post-Soviet contexts such as Kazakhstan (e.g., Parmenter, Sparks, Li, Kerimkulova, Ashirbekov, & Jumakulov, 2017; Silova & Niyazov, forthcoming) but has not focused on language issues in internationalization or globalization of higher education.
Effective start/end date3/20/1812/15/21


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