Date of Award

Fall 2009

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Todd A DeMitchell


Second language learning and development is a complex process that is situated in sociocultural settings. Classrooms provide such daily life settings in which language acquisition occurs via social interactions among peers and the instructor as well as other mediated means. The purpose of this research study was to examine the roles of peer interaction in a Chinese as a foreign language (CFL) classroom and how different types of peer interaction affect learners' second language development in a classroom setting, and what roles peer interactions played in such a setting. Based on the sociocultural theory, the study explored the opportunities for learning that occurred during peer interactive work. Data included personal history interviews, language reflection journals, audio and video recordings of CFL learners in pair or group work, and Oral Proficiency Interviews (OPIs). The participants were seven students from different cultural backgrounds in an intermediate Chinese as a foreign language classroom.

Findings indicated that peer interactions played an important role in the Chinese classroom. Mutual assistance in various forms provided various learning opportunities, in which not only the more capable peers assisted less capable peers, but also the reverse situation occurred in different tasks. The study also revealed the changeable nature of peer roles in their interactive routines, in which learners' perspectives and orientation could be changed during peer collaboration process, sometimes dispite of the learners' original goals. However, although task design may affect the degree of a learner's participation, both motivated and less motivated learners benefited from the participation of peer learning activities in which an unmotivated learner might feel impelled to engage in a shared activity.

The findings of this study support the sociocultural view of SLA and point to the benefits of assisted performance in L2 peer interaction. These findings also help broaden the understanding of the role peer interaction plays in a second/foreign language classroom. In addition, the results have both theoretical implications as well as practical implications in second language learning and instruction in the classroom.