Skip to content
Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton June 9, 2022

Native peers as mediators and experts in language learning in Higher Education

  • Suvi Kotkavuori EMAIL logo , Kaisa Hahl and Raili Hilden


This qualitative study explores how native peers as teaching assistants can support language learning in Higher Education. The data of five semi-structured group interviews of 15 teaching assistants in total were analysed thematically. The results indicate that the assistants embraced multiple roles during the programme and within the lessons. However, in the role of a peer student who collaborated on an equal level with the learners, they could best facilitate learning and communication. As native speakers, they complemented the teacher’s expertise by their regional and up-to-date cultural and linguistic knowledge. This article supports a wide view of mediation adopted by the CEFR Companion Volume and focuses on its two mediation activities. The so-called didactic triangle was used to illustrate how native peers mediated between the teacher, the student and the subject to facilitate the language learning process. The assistants acted as mediators in different ways, interculturally and pedagogically. Nevertheless, a few assistants experienced challenges when assisting at lower CEFR levels. Thus, it is essential to discuss roles and expectations as well as the process together with the teachers, the students and the assistants.

Corresponding author: Suvi Kotkavuori, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland, E-mail:


Course assistant programme (CAP) – group interview with the assistants

  1. How did you get involved with CAP? Did you have any particular reasons that made you to apply for it?

  2. How was it to be an authentic element in the class? (finding your place)

  3. Which of the following roles do you recognize having in the language classes:

    1. the teacher’s assistant,

    2. the students’ tutor/adviser,

    3. a peer student?

    4. any other?

  4. The triangle below is often used to define the relation between the three components in a class: the student, the teacher and the subject. Where in the triangle would you place yourself? How would you describe your relationship with

    1. the students

    2. the teacher(s)

    3. the subject

    … and how did these different relations evolve during the process?

  5. Your activities (see logbook) in the class were many: helping in pronunciation, vocabulary, grammar, listening & written comprehension, spoken and written communication, bringing cultural information:

    1. Were there situations in the above-mentioned areas where the teacher turned to ask your advice/opinion? Could you give an example? How often did it happen?

    2. Were there situations in the above-mentioned areas where the students turned to ask your help? Could you give an example? How often did it happen?

    3. Did you get a chance to give your ideas and put them into practice? Any examples?

    4. Did some of the above-mentioned activities happen out-of-classroom? Or without the teacher?

  1. Looking back at the CAP experience, how would you evaluate its importance to the language course? In other words, what would have missed from the teaching–studying–learning process if you were not there?

  2. Is there something you would do differently? Is there something you think that the teachers should consider better?


Adams, William C. 2015. Conducting semi-structured interviews. In Kathryn E. Newcomer, Harry P. Hatry & Joseph S. Wholey (eds.), Handbook of practical program evaluation, 4th edn. 492–505. San Francisco: Jossens-Bas.10.1002/9781119171386.ch19Search in Google Scholar

Biggs, John & Catherine Tang. 2011. Teaching for quality learning at university, 4th edn. Maidenhead: SRHE & Open University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Braun, Virginia & Victoria Clarke. 2006. Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology 3(2). 77–101. in Google Scholar

Council of Europe. 2001. Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. Learning, teaching, assessment. 2001. Strasbourg: Council of Europe. (accessed 19 April 2021).Search in Google Scholar

Council of Europe. 2015. Language, mobility, otherness. The mediation functions of schools. Strasbourg: Council of Europe. (accessed 27 April 2021).Search in Google Scholar

Council of Europe. 2018. Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. Learning, teaching, assessment. Companion Volume. 2018. Strasbourg: Council of Europe. (accessed 19 April 2021).Search in Google Scholar

Fernández Dobao, Ana. 2012. Collaborative dialogue in learner–learner and learner–native speaker interaction. Applied Linguistics 33(3). 229–256.10.1093/applin/ams002Search in Google Scholar

Gazeley, Louise & Edwina Slater. 2019. Deploying teaching assistants to support learning: From models to typologies. Educational Review 71(5). 547–563. in Google Scholar

Hahl, Kaisa. 2016. Co-constructing meaning and context in international teacher education. Journal of English as Lingua Franca 5(1). 83–105. in Google Scholar

Jackson, Jane. 2020. Introducing language and intercultural communication, 2nd edn. London: Routledge.10.4324/9781003036210Search in Google Scholar

Kansanen, Pertti. 2004. Opetuksen käsitemaailma [The conceptual framework of teaching], 2nd edn. Jyväskylä: PS-kustannus.Search in Google Scholar

Kurhila, Salla & Lari Kotilainen. 2019. Mitä opettajattomuudesta seuraa? Asiantuntijuus vertaisoppijoiden kielenoppimistilanteissa. [Expertise without teacher in the peers’ language learning situations]. In Salla Kurhila, Lari Kotilainen & Jyrki Kalliokoski (eds.), Kielenoppiminen luokan ulkopuolella, 33–60. Tietolipas 262. Helsinki: SKS.Search in Google Scholar

Lantolf, James P. 2000. Introducing sociocultural theory. In James P. Lantolf (ed.), Sociocultural theory and second language learning, 1–26. Oxford: University Press.10.4324/9781315624747-1Search in Google Scholar

Liddicoat, Anthony J. 2014. Pragmatics and intercultural mediation in intercultural language learning. Intercultural Pragmatics 11(2). 259–277. in Google Scholar

Liddicoat, Anthony J. & Angela Scarino. 2013. Intercultural language teaching and learning. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.10.1002/9781118482070Search in Google Scholar

Liebscher, Grit & Tetyana Reichert. 2012. Positioning the expert: Word searches, expertise, and learning opportunities in peer interaction. The Modern Language Journal 96(4). 599–609.10.1111/j.1540-4781.2012.01397.xSearch in Google Scholar

Marková, Ivana, Per Linell, Michèle Grossen & Anne Salazar Orvig. 2007. Dialogue in focus groups: Exploring socially shared knowledge. London: Equinox.Search in Google Scholar

Nurdin, Kevin, Dorothy DeWitt & Anton V. Sukhoverkhov. 2020. Language and culture in the classroom space: The case study of a foreign language assistant in Russia. Tomsk State University Journal 456. 197–204. in Google Scholar

Park, Chris. 2004. The graduate teaching assistant (GTA): Lessons from North American experience. Teaching in Higher Education 9(3). 349–361. in Google Scholar

Poehner, Matthew E. 2009. Both sides of the conversation: The interplay between mediation and learner reciprocity in dynamic assessment. In James Lantolf & Matthew E. Poehner (eds.), Sociocultural theory and the teaching of second languages, 33–56. London: Equinox.Search in Google Scholar

Sulonen, Nina. 2016. Learning with international students – Starting a new language wise course assistant programme. In Tuula Lehtonen & Johanna Vaattovaara (eds.), On advising and counselling in language learning, 6, 45–62. Helsinki: University of Helsinki Language Centre Publications.Search in Google Scholar

Swain, Merrill. 2000. The output hypothesis and beyond: Mediating acquisition through collaborative dialogue. In James Lantolf (ed.), Sociocultural theory and second language learning, 97–114. Oxford: University Press.Search in Google Scholar

The Language Centre Curriculum (KOPS). 2021. (accessed 20 April 2021).Search in Google Scholar

Van Lier, Leo. 2009. Agency in the classroom. In James Lantolf & Matthew Poehner (eds.), Sociocultural theory and the teaching of second languages, 163–186. London: Equinox.Search in Google Scholar

Vygotsky, Leo. 1987 [1986]. Thought and language. Cambridge: MIT Press.Search in Google Scholar

Walsh, Steve. 2011. Exploring classroom discourse. Language in action. New York: Routledge.10.4324/9780203827826Search in Google Scholar

Received: 2021-06-23
Accepted: 2021-10-01
Published Online: 2022-06-09
Published in Print: 2022-05-25

© 2022 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

Downloaded on 4.3.2024 from
Scroll to top button