Multilingual co-teaching is time consuming, but well worth the time!

Written by Anne Duplouy, Juha Eskelinen, Riikka Keto-Timonen, and Hanna Koivula


Universities and their teaching staff are required to internationalize their teaching in order to future proof themselves and their graduates. In the future, the world, and the Finnish society especially, will need more professionals who can co-operatively tackle complex, multi-disciplinary problems using good communication and language skills (Jalkanen 2017; Räsänen and Taalas 2010). The classic teaching format often puts the workload on single university teachers, however, teamwork in multilingual settings is increasingly observed. The expected benefits from co-teaching, or teaching in teams, are however still rarely obvious to anyone.

The student perspective

Who, as a student, has not felt lost during their first lectures provided in a foreign language? The average reading speed in a non-native language is slower (Frazer 2007), as we struggle for understanding both the content of a text and the structure of the new language. Using two (or more) teachers and languages during classes could then appear as another challenge doomed to reduce chances of a successful learning experience. But in fact, multilingual teaching has more than one potential advantage:

    • Multilingual teaching in multi-lingual learning groups increases the feeling of belonging to a community, which has been shown to improve peer collaboration, cooperation and learning outcome in students (Krulatz & Iversen 2019).
    • Multilingual teaching supports the development of the students’ ability to work in an international setting, raise their awareness of the diversity around them, and the challenges associated to it. Students that attend multilingual studies through Erasmus+ Exchange programs find participation “enriching academically, socially, personally, and in terms of the development of employability” (Erasmus 2019). There is high demand in Finland for people who can work with the multilingual communities or sectors of their own profession, further suggesting that students with international experience could be favoured during recruitment. In certain fields, such as medicine, the ability to communicate in both native and foreign languages is an important working life skill (Hull 2016), and multilingual teaching will support learning of professional terminology in several languages.

The institutional perspective

It is a common conception that a course organized by two teachers would increase the costs (in time and money) allocated to the course for the institution. It implies the institution will have to provide for two salaries for the same amount taught by one teacher. But does it really? A multilingual course involving teachers of different background and experience, does not necessarily increase general teaching costs:

    • Multilingual teaching improves students’ academic performance (Rubio-Alcalá et al. 2019) and if a student receives guidance in a familiar language, the student is more likely to complete the course and thus speed up the graduation as well.
    • Multilingual teaching could also be implemented as a joint virtual teaching of two different universities at two different countries and the connections between teachers could give rise to new research collaboration. A wide range of multilingual courses can also attract more tuition fee paying international students to the university.

Universities are committed to internationalization but many stakeholders still consider that universities have important role in preserving national language (Soler et al. 2018). Multilingual teaching would support both of these goals.

The teacher perspective

In co-teaching, teachers need to coordinate the content and practical work for their course. This coordination requires proper planning and frequent communication both before and during the course. But here again, what can at first appear as a tiring, ambitious and time demanding work task, is more likely to become, with a bit of organization, a pleasant, enriching and time-saving experience:

    • Co-ordination and planning are time well spent. In a multilingual team, teachers can teach in their native language, which they are fluent in. With this strategy, new staff can integrate more easily into a programme when part of a co-teaching team working on a course content.
    • Academia also relies heavily on individuals and there is seldom a plan for shorter or longer absences that would prevent a sudden loss of teaching quality and learning opportunities. Co-teaching increases the resilience of a programme. When multiple teachers are involved, they can take over from each other for short absences, e.g. sick leave or attending a conference. Through interaction and shared experience skills and methods can be shared and learned as we observe a colleague in action (Nonaka 1994: 19). Similarly, when a colleague retires, their tacit knowledge on a topic could fully disappear, while a co-teacher could retain some if not all of it in the programme.
    • Other Important benefits of co-teaching include labour division and peer-support. One teacher might excel as a coordinator, another masters Moodle or is a video wiz. Additionally, the equitable repartition of co-teaching tasks can enable efficient use of the time for each member, which can be redirected towards research, or other intensive tasks during a busy semester.

So why not challenge yourself?

Universities embrace the culture of experimentation in research, maybe teaching should reflect it too. The next time a new course is planned, or the structure of a program is revamped, give it a go, and suggest the creation of a teaching team, which will use the available languages. The lessons that will be learned from such experimentation might just lead to greater good for all parties involved.


Erasmus+ higher education impact study (2019). Publications Office of the EU. []

Fraser, C. (2007). Reading rate in L1 Mandarin Chinese and L2 English across five reading tasks. The Modern Language Journal, 91: 372–394.

Hull, M. (2016) Medical language proficiency: A discussion of interprofessional language competencies and potential for patient risk. International Journal of Nursing Studies, 54: 158-172.

Jalkanen, J. (2017). Monikielistä pedagogiikkaa yliopiston viestintä- ja kieliopinnoissa [Multilingual pedagogy in university level language and communication teaching]. Kieli, koulutus ja yhteiskunta, 8(5).


Krulatz, A. & Iversen, J. (2019) Building inclusive language classroom spaces through multilingual writing practices for newly-arrived students in Norway. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research 64: 372-388.

Nonaka, I. (1994). A Dynamic Theory of Organizational Knowledge Creation. The Organization Science, Vol. 5, No. 1: 14-37

Rubio-Alcalá, F.D., Arco-Tirado, J.L., Fernández-Martín, F.D., López-Lechuga, R., Barrios, E. & Pavón-Vázquez, V. (2019) A systematic review on evidences supporting quality indicators of bilingual, plurilingual and multilingual programs in higher education. Educucational Research Review. 27: 191-204.

Räsänen, A. & Taalas, P. (2010). Työelämässä ei pärjää ilman monipuolisia kommunikointi- ja kulttuuritaitoja – miten Jyväskylän yliopiston kielikeskus vastaa näihin haasteisiin? Kieli, koulutus ja yhteiskunta, 1(8). Saatavilla:

Soler, J., Björkman, B. & Kuteeva, M. (2018) University language policies in Estonia and Sweden: exploring the interplay between English and national languages in higher education. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 39: 29-43.

Uncovering the reasons for internationalisation of education at UH 

Written by the group Punavihreät

Promoting internationalisation of education has been one of the main goals of UH during the past years and to serve this purpose the University has renewed its Master’s and doctoral programmes. This has led to large-scale curriculum reforms, but at the same time there has been surprisingly little discussion about the reasons why internationalisation of education is important at UH.

We made a search to uncover these reasons. First, we learned that UH has no separate unit or action plan for international affairs, but integrates internationalisation into all its operations, including teaching. For example, the European Association for International Education EAIE granted the UH with an award for its efforts in mainstreaming internationalisation in 2013.1

We also learned that UH is a part of a unique alliance, UNA Europa, which consists of eight European universities. The aim of the alliance is to create a university of Europe, with initiatives seeking to broaden collaboration between the members. Collaboration consists of for example future joint Bachelor and Doctorate degrees. This again dates back to the Bologna process in 1999 when European education systems were transformed to be more comparable.2

Internationalisation can also be seen as an integral a part of UH’s language policy. It is stated that by formulating a policy, UH meets the challenges that internationalisation brings. By strengthening the role of English, UH is expected to become an attractive destination to both international students as well teachers and researchers.3

Furthermore, UH has published a global impact brochure that includes goals for internationalisation as a global university 2017-2020.4 The brochure frames internationalisation as a task and positive challenge for everyone at UH and provides some reasons for internationalisation of education. These reasons are in line with the goals set for internationalisation by the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture.The reasons given were that the internationalisation of education

(1) improves student experience and provide opportunities for innovative learning,

(2) brings together people from different backgrounds to enrich teaching and learning,

(3) offers attractive employability skills needed in the global job markets,

(4) attracts the best students from all over the world,

(5) enhances UH global profile.

To sum up, the efforts taken strive to the idea of not only UH but also Finland to become more attracting internationally in general. It should be noted that internationalisation itself is not a goal, but it is a means to increase quality.

However, these reasons provide no answer to “how” questions we had in mind: How does internationalisation of education enrich teaching and learning, attract the best students, improve experiences or enhance the UH’s profile? Can UH reach these goals just by focusing on quantitative results, i.e. having an increasing number of students from abroad and sending our students abroad?

It also seems that what is missing is reciprocity. Finland has a world-renowned education system. Should we also be focusing on what Finland has to offer instead of becoming more international, more “European”?


1 University of Helsinki/News/News and press releases: University awar­ded for in­ter­na­tion­al­isa­tion.

2 UNA Europa.

3 Helsingin yliopiston kieliperiaatteet.

4 University of Helsinki: Global impact brochure.

5 Opetus- ja kulttuuriministeriö. Yhteistyössä maailman parasta. Suomalaisen korkeakoulutuksen ja tutkimuksen kansainvälisyyden edistämisen linjaukset 2017–2025.


The topics of the group works

The participants of the university pedagogy course YA2 Internationalisation and collaborative environment in higher education (5 cr) will write blog posts as a part of their group work.

A total of 31 academics participates in the course and they work in seven groups for deepening their knowledge and understanding of the challenges of internationalisation, multilingualism and diversity in higher education. At the first ZOOM -meeting 15th September, the groups have agreed the name for their group and selected the following topics / themes for their further study:

The benefits of cultural diversity to group dynamics and research output is studied by the group Anonymous Dinosaurs.

Homogenious diversity – Formal or informal perspectives and practices in groupwork is studied by the group The Kontula-Gårdsbacka Team.

Internationalizing education at UH – why? is studied by the group Punavihreät.

Ryhmätyön mahdollisuudet ja haasteet kansainvälisessä oppimisympäristössä – teemaa tutkii ryhmä Rennosti kolmella kielellä.

International collaboration for online education is researched by the group ICOE – International Collaboration for Online Education.

The group YA2-IntegratingEquality decided to investigate following topics:  (1) Equal in the teaching work load, and (2) Integrating internationalization in teaching: pros & cons.

The group INSUS: Internationalizing sustainability has decided to focus on the following research question: What challenges does the international environment propose to sustainability education?

The blog posts will be published in language chosen by the group. The first posts will be published at beginning of October 2020.