The role of the first language in English Medium Instruction

Get practical recommendations from our experts for effective EMI and CLIL programmes

Download our free position paper to:

  • Learn the benefits for your students in using their first language as well as English.
  • Discover our experts' advice on how to implement effective EMI and CLIL programmes.
  • Join professional development events and receive exclusive resources for your EMI and CLIL classes.

Interested in EMI and CLIL but have little experience of them? Read our position paper and find inspiration to teach bilingual programmes!

Explore our stories


Bilingual programmes are most strongly associated with success for multilingual learners.

A teacher in one of my courses taught writing skills in English to multilingual secondary school students. She decided to invite students to use their home language in preparing their work, with the understanding that their final paper had to be in English. She was excited to find that the papers were much better than any she had received in the past.

— Cristina, teacher educator


Ensuring that the students' first language is maintained and developed alongside English Medium Instruction is associated with better acquisition of English.

When my children started at the school, I stopped speaking French with them because I thought it was not very good to have two languages, to have all the confusion in their heads. But when I talked to their teacher, she explained to me that it's very important to maintain the mother language... So I restarted talking in French with them all the time, and reading them French stories, and I saw their English also got better.

— Carlotta, parent of multilingual school students


Early and sustained provision of first-language support improves student engagement and motivation in education.

Using Spanish at school helps me understand things. And if I understand things, I can communicate better and get good grades.

— Guillermo, multilingual school student


Programmes that value the students' first language reinforce their identities, support their social and emotional well-being, and empower them for the future.

When I'm reading an English text, I think in Montenegrin and then I know in English. I think it's really good for children link me to use our own language because that makes us feel good.

— Ognien, multilingual school student


Structured use of the first language as a teaching tool can support linguistic and academic development when bilingual programmes are not viable.

At school, my youngest son didn't know any words in English and he cried every day. We were so happy when his teachers made a place and time for my son to relax with his mother language... We started reading a lot every night in our mother tongue, different kinds of books, some stories, geography books, books about different nationalities and peoples, biology, history, everything... After that he could manage everything in English at school. Things started being easy for him.

— Snezana, parent of multilingual school students

Meet our Expert Panel

We collaborate with an Expert Panel of world-leading academics and educators in English Language Teaching. Why does this matter to you? The Expert Panel ensures that research-based support informs our products and services, meeting your needs and the needs of your students in the best possible way.

Eithne Gallagher

Eithne Gallagher

Eithne Gallagher has over 20 years’ experience of teaching in international schools and has twice been chair of the European Council of International Schools ESL & Mother-tongue Committee. She is author of Equal Rights to the Curriculum: Many Languages, One Message (2008), and The Glitterlings (2015), a story-based Early Years programme for international schools and pre-schools. She provides support and consultancy for schools wishing to implement inclusive ESL and mother-tongue policies.

Patsy M. Lightbown

Patsy M. Lightbown

Patsy M. Lightbown is Distinguished Professor Emerita of Concordia University in Montreal. She is co-author of the award-winning book How Languages are Learned (4th edition, 2013) and co-editor of the Oxford Key Concepts for the Language Classroom series. Her book Focus on Content- Based Language Teaching (2014) is the first in the series. Her research has focused on the learning and teaching of additional languages in primary and secondary school classrooms, in contexts of ESL, EFL, and bilingual education, including dual immersion. Her current projects include pro bono consulting with educators in francophone West Africa.

David Marsh

David Marsh

David Marsh is Director of Innovation & Outreach at EduCluster Finland, University of Jyväskylä Group. He has been instrumental in developing processes for improving language learning and bilingual education in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and North America. He co-launched Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) under the auspices of the European Commission in the 1990s. He is author of The CLIL Trajectory (2013) and co-author of Uncovering CLIL (2008), Content and Language Integrated Learning (2010), and Teaching through English in Higher Education (2017).

Victoria A. Murphy

Victoria A. Murphy

Victoria A. Murphy is Professor of Applied Linguistics and Deputy Director of the Department of Education, University of Oxford. She convenes the Applied Linguistics research group, as well as the R.E.A.L. (Research in English as an Additional Language) group. Victoria’s research lies mainly within the field of child second and foreign language learning, vocabulary, and literacy development. She is the author of Second Language Learning in the Early School Years (2014) in the Oxford Applied Linguistics series and the lead editor of Early Childhood Education in English for Speakers of Other Languages (2016).

Nina Spada

Nina Spada

Nina Spada is Professor Emerita in the Language and Literacies Education program at the University of Toronto. She is co-author of the award-winning book How Languages are Learned (4th edition, 2013) and co-editor of the Oxford Key Concepts for the Language Classroom series. As a teacher educator and research consultant, she has contributed to large-scale international projects related to the teaching and learning of second and foreign languages, including those sponsored by the European Commission and the World Bank.

Hamish Chalmers

Hamish Chalmers

Hamish Chalmers is Departmental Lecturer in Applied Linguistics at the University of Oxford. He is also co-vice chair of UK’s National Association for Language Development in the Curriculum (NALDIC). He has extensive experience of teaching students for whom English is an additional language (EAL), including a number of years as Director of EAL at a large international school in Bangkok. His main research interest concerns the incorporation of L1-mediated teaching and learning strategies into mainstream education in linguistically diverse schools.