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English used as a medium of instruction in universities: the growing trend

Professor Jennifer Jenkins interviews Professor Anna Mauranen about trends in the academic use of English.
PROFESSOR JENNIFER JENKINS: I’d like to know why you decided to focus on Academic ELF rather than other kinds of ELF context and use, when you started researching ELF.
PROFESSOR ANNA MAURANEN: It seemed like the obvious choice at the time, because this was early days in ELF. And I was working on academic discourses anyway. But I thought but if you start looking at a new and controversial topic like ELF, it would be a good idea to start with something where that is quite sophisticated. That is, you’re not just like tourist English, or something “me Tarzan you Jane” but actually something that requires a lot of academic sophistication in argumentation, and things like that. So I thought it would be a good starting point to start with something demanding in ELF that people can manage successfully.
PROFESSOR JENNIFER JENKINS: So Anna, why did you decide to start with spoken Academic ELF?
PROFESSOR ANNA MAURANEN: First of all, because spoken discourse is a lot less research than written discourse, especially in academia and in universities, or university settings. But secondly, also because if you think of how languages change and develop, change usually starts from the less standardized spoken practice. So spoken discourse is not as norm-ridden as written discourse. So it’s more interesting if you want to see how language is used differently, how it’s used in new ways, to start from speech.
PROFESSOR JENNIFER JENKINS: And Anna, what are the most interesting things that you found from your first corpus, the ELFA corpus?
PROFESSOR ANNA MAURANEN: I think the most interesting things for me were the regularities that you find in English as a lingua franca. You find things that are highly variable, which is what you would expect, because you find that with second language speakers anyway. But then you also find things that are common, that people always do, that repeat themselves. And I think that’s absolutely fascinating and how they accommodate to each other, which is very similar to your earlier work and also how they pick up new things and then they spread. And they do certain things similarly across events, across speaker groups, across language backgrounds.
PROFESSOR JENNIFER JENKINS: So Anna, can you tell us a bit about your second corpus, the WrELFA corpus?
PROFESSOR ANNA MAURANEN: Yes. I thought that the obvious thing would after spoken language, to tackle the recent, problematic written norm. Because I started hearing at conferences the people were saying, yes, of course you can get away with that. Of course they understand each other in spoken language. But you couldn’t possibly write it. So I thought that, OK. This is a challenge. So I need to collect a written corpus and see how different it actually is. But it was difficult to collect a written corpus of high stakes academic discourse that was unedited. So I ended up collecting very interesting data in the end, like examiners, pre-examiners statements on PhD’s theses, for example. Because they are very long where I come from.
So that’s a lot of data. That’s very important. But it’s not edited by anybody else. And then we also had research blogs, for example, and finally, unedited versions of people’s academic research papers.
PROFESSOR JENNIFER JENKINS: And finally, I’m interested to know how you see the future of academic ELF, and also bearing in mind that we’ve just heard today that the UK is leaving the EU, I’m wondering also whether you think that might have any influence on academic ELF in the future.
PROFESSOR ANNA MAURANEN: Yes. I think academic ELF is changing really fast. The norms are really crumbling, as we knew them. Because a number of prestigious academic journals have stopped requiring native speaker brokering in their texts, because they think that they want to go for the best research, not for the best English. And I think that’s been really, really interesting. And it’s only been noticeable in the last few years. And I think that if these prestigious journals take the lead, others will follow. Because obviously, everybody is really interested in research results and high quality argumentation, and academic reasoning, rather than top quality English. And I think the EU is a particularly interesting case now.
Because there aren’t any native speaker gatekeepers in the EU to speak of even now. I think that it’s very interesting to see what really happens to English. Because I expect it to continue being used in the EU as the lingua franca, but with even fewer ties to native speakers of English. So it will start living a freer life of its own.
PROFESSOR JENNIFER JENKINS: So I thank you very much, Anna. This has been really interesting.

In this video, Jennifer Jenkins interviews Anna Mauranen, from the University of Helskinki, about the use of English as a lingua franca in universities.

Jennifer and Anna are pioneers of the study of ELF (English as a lingua franca) and have been called ‘mothers of ELF.’ Anna describes her interest in academic ELF use and her ground-breaking work analysing spoken and written language in the ELFA and WrELFA corpuses.

The interview took place on 24th June 2016 and so also touches on the impact on English of the UK’s exit from the EU.

If you are interested in this topic, you may be interested in another of our free courses English as a Medium of Instruction for Academics.

What do you think of the trend for universities around the world to offer courses through the medium of English? What are the advantages and disadvantages of doing this?
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