Towards a new model of communicative competence in higher education
Current research suggests that the existing models of communicative competence (CC) fail to reflect the communicative practices in multilingual contexts. A multilingual understanding of CC is especially needed for applied linguistic research and professional work in linguistically diverse higher educational (HE) settings such as English-medium instruction (EMI) programs in geographical regions where English is not a dominant language. The question arises: How to expand or refine the current communicative competence models in order to account for multilingual mediation in communication? Based on a cross-cultural comparative ethnography, this project seeks to expand the current conceptualizations of the communicative competence construct and theorize the enrichment of current theoretical frameworks.

A multilingual understanding of CC is presently sorely missing for applied linguistic research and professional work not the least because a growing number of higher educational (HE) settings include and cater for linguistically diverse student and lecturer groups due to the internationalization of HE, which has led to unprecedented student, lecturer, and researcher mobility. While framed as EMI, HE educational practices draw on multilingual resources -- student and lecturer communication practices can thus not be expected to be the same as is the case in monolingual English educational settings for which CC models had originally been developed.

Research in this area tends to be localized suggesting that contextual variation leads to incomparable language use practices. Therefore, this project focuses on a cross-contextual analysis of the EMI language use domain in three university contexts University of Copenhagen, University of Vienna, and Chalmers University of Technology. These three contexts are comparable regarding EMI implementation local communication norm development, English language proficiency levels, and the increased focus on the national languages (Danish, German, and Swedish) in the national or institutional language policies.

People and speech bubbles. Image by Studiostock




How is the communicative competence of multilingual students and lecturers in natural science English medium instruction programs conceptualized and enacted across three different university settings?

  • What tasks and activities are used in EMI science courses? How do students engage with tasks and activities?
  • What communicative abilities are needed to engage with tasks and activities, i.e., the language use domains, represented in the EMI classroom across the three university settings?
  • What aspects of communicative competence do assignments in the EMI courses across the three university contexts require?
  • How is effective communication in EMI perceived and reflected in introspective stimulated recall interviews with students and lecturers across the three university settings?







The project will enrich the ongoing theorization of the CC construct in the internationalized HE by offering a theoretical model grounded in the premise of multilingualism. Such a model will be applicable in the design of empirical research that investigates the facets of communication in HE.

The societal impact of the project lies in its potential to guide the development and/or practical implementation of parallel language policies by informing the development of programmatic, curricular, and classroom-based solutions with intention to enhance teaching and learning.



Once available, select publications will be linked here.













Slobodanka Dimova, University of Copenhagen (PI)
Joyce Kling, Lund University
Sanne Larsen, University of Copenhagen
Hans Malmström, Chalmers University of Technology
Ute Smit, University of Vienna

Post doctoral fellow (position open for applications)
PhD fellow (position open for applications)









John Airey, Stockholm University/Uppsala University
Emma Dafouz, Complutence University Madrid
Anne Holmen, University of Copenhagen
David Lasagabaster, University of the Basque Country




Project leader

Professor Slobodanka DimovaContact professor and vice director Slobodanka Dimova with any questions about the project.

Supported by

Independant Research Fund Denmark logo

Towards a New Model of Communicative Competence in Multilingual Higher Education has received a four-year research grant from Independent Research Fund Denmark.

Project: Towards a New Model of Communicative Competence in Multilingual Higher Education  
Period: August 2023 - July 2027.


Photo of Sanne LarsenContact tenure track assistant professor Sanne Larsen with questions about the project.

Researchers from University of Copenhagen

Name Title Job responsibilities Phone E-mail
Sanne Larsen Assistant Professor - Tenure Track +4535328448 E-mail
Slobodanka Dimova Professor Vice director +4535328173 E-mail

Researchers from partner universities

Name Title Institution E-mail
Joyce Kling Senior lecturer, associate professor Lund University E-mail
Hans Malmström Professor Chalmers University of Technology


Ute Smit Professor University of Vienna