European Journal of Language Policy

EMI, international visibility and competitiveness

A corpus-assisted discourse study of Spanish higher education internationalisation plans

European Journal of Language Policy (2021), 13, (2), 201–222.


One of the main goals of Spanish higher education is the consolidation of an internationalised university system through international visibility, attractiveness, competitiveness and collaboration. As the literature reports, English plays a relevant role in internationalisation strategies, so this paper examines the relationship between internationalisation and English in institutional documents. Corpus linguistics and critical discourse analysis were used to identify language-related strategies and interpret the language beliefs underlying the promotion of English in the Spanish university context. Results showed that the main language-related strategy was English-medium instruction (EMI) because it promotes the international visibility of universities and helps local students improve their foreign language competence. Measures to support bilingual education were found regarding language training and accreditation. Furthermore, the discourses of globalisation, excellence and employability support the position of English as the international language. Therefore, the introduction of English as another working language in the universities’ linguistic repertoire is widely accepted, although institutional support and constant language training measures are considered essential for the success of internationalisation goals.

Este artículo examina la relación entre la internacionalizacion y el inglés en documentos institucionales ya que uno de los objetivos principales de la educación superior española es la consolidación de un sistema universitario internacionalmente visible, atractivo, competitivo y colaborativo, y como detalla la literatura, el inglés juega un papel relevante en la internacionalización. Para ello se emplearon técnicas de lingüística de corpus y análisis crítico del discurso para identificar estrategias de internacionalización relacionadas con las lenguas y a su vez interpretar los matices que subyacen a las ideologías lingüísticas dentro del contexto español. Los resultados muestran que la estrategia principal es la docencia EMI porque promueve el atractivo internacional de las universidades y permite a los estudiantes locales mejorar su competencia lingüística. Para apoyar la educación bilingüe se han encontrado principalmente iniciativas relacionadas con la formación y acreditación lingüística. Además, el papel del inglés como la lengua internacional se apoya en discursos de globalización, excelencia y empleabilidad. De este modo, la presencia del inglés como lengua de trabajo en las universidades españolas es ampliamente aceptada aunque se considera esencial la existencia de un mayor apoyo institucional y medidas de formación para el éxito de la internacionalización.

Access Token
If you have private access to this content, please log in with your username and password here


Airey, J., Lauridsen, K.M., Räsänen, A., Salö, L. and Schwach, V. (2017) ‘The Expansion of English-Medium Instruction in the Nordic Countries: Can Top-Down University Language Policies Encourage Bottom-Up Disciplinary Literacy Goals?’, Higher Education 73: 561-76. Google Scholar

Anthony, L. (2020) ‘AntConc (Version 3.5.9)’, Laurence Anthony’s Website, Waseda University, Tokyo. Available at: (accessed 13 July 2021). Google Scholar

Bazo, P., Centellas, A., Dafouz, E., Fernández, A., González, D. and Pavón, V. (2017) Documento marco de política lingüística para la internacionalización del sistema universitario español. Madrid: Conferencia de Rectores de Universidades Españolas (CRUE). Google Scholar

Coleman, J.A. (2006) ‘English-medium Teaching in European Higher Education’, Language Teaching 39: 1-14. Google Scholar

Corcoran, J.N., Englander, K. and Muresan, L-M. (eds) (2019) Pedagogies and Policies for Publishing Research in English. Local Initiatives Supporting International Scholars. New York: Routledge. Google Scholar

Dafouz, E. (2021) ‘Repositioning English-Medium Instruction in a Broader International Agenda: Insights from a Survey on Teacher Professional Development’, Alicante Journal of English Studies 34: 15-38. Google Scholar

de Wit, H., Hunter, F., Howard, L. and Egron-Polak, E. (2015) Internationalisation of Higher Education. Brussels: European Union. Google Scholar

Dimova, S., Hultgren, A.K. and Jensen, C. (eds) (2015) English-Medium Instruction in European Higher Education. Berlin: De Gruyter. Google Scholar

Elliott, N., Vila, F.X. and Gilabert, R. (2018) ‘The Presentation of Catalan Universities’ Linguistic Reality to a Transnational Audience’, European Journal of Language Policy 10: 121-46. Google Scholar

European Commission. (2008) Multilingualism: an Asset for Europe and a Shared Commitment COM(2008) 566 Final. Available at: (accessed 13 October 2021). Google Scholar

European Commission. (2013) European Higher Education in the World COM(2013) 499 Final. Available at: (accessed 13 October 2021). Google Scholar

Fairclough, N. (2003) Analysing Discourse. Textual Analysis for Social Research. Abingdon: Routledge. Google Scholar

Ferguson, G. (2012) ‘English in Language Policy and Management’, in B. Spolsky (ed.), The Cambridge Handbook of Language Policy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 475-98. Google Scholar

Halbach, A. and Lázaro, A. (2015) La acreditación del nivel de lengua inglesa en las universidades españolas: actualización 2015. Available at: (accessed 12 July 2021). Google Scholar

House, J. (2003) ‘English As a Lingua Franca: a Threat to Multilingualism?’, Journal of Sociolinguistics 7: 556-78. Google Scholar

Jones, E. (2020) ‘The Role of Languages in Transformational Internationalisation’, in A. Bocanegra-Valle (ed.), Applied Linguistics and Knowledge Transfer. Employability, Internationalisation and Social Challenges. Bern: Peter With, 135-58. Google Scholar

Knight, J. (2004) ‘Internationalization Remodeled: Definition, Approaches, and Rationales’, Journal of Studies in International Education 8: 5-31. Google Scholar

Lanvers, U. (2018) ‘Public Debates of the Englishization of Education in Germany: a Critical Discourse Analysis’, European Journal of Language Policy 10: 39-76. Google Scholar

Liddicoat, A.J. (2016) ‘Language Planning in Universities: Teaching, Research and Administration’, Current Issues in Language Planning 17: 231-41. Google Scholar

Lillis, T. and Curry, M.J. (2010) Academic Writing in a Global Context: the Politics and Practices of Publishing in English. Abingdon: Routledge. Google Scholar

Linn, A. (ed.) (2016) Investigating English in Europe: Contexts and Agendas. Berlin: De Gruyter. Google Scholar

Maringe, F. and Foskett, N. (eds) (2010) Globalization and Internationalization in Higher Education. Theoretical, Strategic and Management Perspectives. London: Continuum. Google Scholar

MECD (Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte) (2016) Datos y cifras del sistema universitario español. Curso 2015-2016. Madrid: Secretaría General Técnica Subdirección General de Documentación y Publicaciones. Google Scholar

MECD (Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte) (2014) Estrategia para la Internacionalización de las Universidades Españolas 2015-2020. Available at: (accessed 13 October 2021). Google Scholar

Pérez-Llantada, C. (2018) ‘Bringing into Focus Multilingual Realities: Faculty Perceptions of Academic Languages on Campus’, Lingua 212: 30-43. Google Scholar

Plo Alastrué, R. and Pérez-Llantada, C. (eds) (2015) English as a Scientific and Research Language. Berlin: De Gruyter. Google Scholar

Ramos-García, A.M. and Pavón Vázquez, V. (2018) ‘The Linguistic Internationalization of Higher Education: A Study on the Presence of Language Policies and Bilingual Studies in Spanish Universities’, Porta Linguarum Monográfico III: 31-46. Google Scholar

Rumbley, L.E. and Howard, L. (2014) ‘Soaring Spain: A Dream Deferred?’, International Higher Education 74: 12-14. Google Scholar

SEPIE (Spanish Service for the Internationalisation of Education) (2017) The Internationalisation of Higher Education in Spain. Madrid: SEPIE. Google Scholar

Soler, J. and Gallego-Balsà, L. (2019) The Sociolinguistics of Higher Education. Language Policy and Internationalisation in Catalonia. Cham: Palgrave MacMillan. Google Scholar

Soler-Carbonell, J. (2016) ‘English in the Language Ecology of Europe’, in A. Linn (ed.), Investigating English in Europe: Contexts and Agendas. Berlin: De Gruyter, 53-58. Google Scholar

Soler-Carbonell, J. and Gallego-Balsà, L. (2016) ‘The Internationalisation of Higher Education in Two Different Contexts: Catalan and Estonian Sociolinguistic Perspectives’, Language, Culture and Curriculum 29: 40-55. Google Scholar

Spolsky, B. (2009) Language Management. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Google Scholar

Stein, S.R. (2013) A Discourse Analysis of University Internationalization Planning Documents. Master’s thesis. Ohio: The Ohio State University. Google Scholar

Sursock, A. (2015) Trends 2015: Learning and Teaching in European Universities. Brussels: European University Association. Google Scholar

Vessey, R. (2017) ‘Corpus Approaches to Language Ideology’, Applied Linguistics 38: 277-96. Google Scholar

Villares, R. (2019) ‘The Convergence Between Internationalisation and Language Policy in Higher Education: a Discursive Analysis of Language Implications for Internationally Engaged Universities’. PhD thesis. Zaragoza: University of Zaragoza. Google Scholar

Villares, R. (2020) ‘The Challenges and Opportunities of Multilingual Academia: Spanish Scholars’ Language Choice for Research and Teaching Practices’, Synergy 16: 131-56. Google Scholar

Wächter, B. and Maiworm, F. (2014) English-Taught Programmes in European Higher Education: The State of Play in 2014. Bonn: Lemmens. Google Scholar

If you have private access to this content, please log in with your username and password here


Author details

Villares, Rosana