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.