Teachers as Mediators in the Foreign Language Classroom

Teachers as Mediators in the Foreign Language Classroom

This month we are publishing
Teachers as Mediators in the Foreign Language Classroom by Michelle Kohler. In this post, Michelle discusses the background to the book and how she became interested in this topic.

I have been curious since my own teacher education about the nature of teaching and learning, and mediation, perpetually trying to hone my practice, helping students to genuinely make sense of what they are learning. For many, learning a language is largely a utilitarian pursuit with the goal being to develop the skills to communicate with native speakers. During my years teaching secondary school students, I began to question communicative language teaching as I saw more students resist what they perceived as pseudo-communication and irrelevant language learning, and express a desire for a more meaningful and personal language learning experience.

For me, intercultural language teaching and learning offered a new approach: starting with an integrated view of language and culture that attends more deeply to language, meaning and interpretation. It made sense to me since it positions the student as central and transformed by their language learning, something that resonated with my own experience as a language learner and as an educator. Coupled with my perennial interest in mediation, I wondered how language teachers might practically enact such an approach.

This book then is the result of my curiosity about the interface between theory and practice, and in particular the mediatory role of the language teacher. It is presented through the cases of three language teachers who, through a participatory action research approach, reveal their thinking, practice, reflections and changing understandings over time.

I have been particularly influenced by the notions of a bilingual/intercultural speaker (Byram & Zarate; Kramsch), languaculture (Risager), static and dynamic culture (Liddicoat), intraculturality (Papademetre & Scarino), symbolic competence (Kramsch) and more recently, critical intercultural citizenship (Byram). I have tried to expand the concept of mediation, taking into consideration the perspective of language teaching (where it has been largely viewed as a translation skill) and sociocultural learning theory using ideas such as the zone of proximal development and scaffolding (Vygotsky, Lantolf, Wells).

In the world of (language) education, many claims are made about the humanistic benefits of language learning for students and society more broadly. This book opens up the world of classroom language teaching and goes some way to revealing just how language teachers can and do enable their students to learn new ways of being. It highlights the complexity of language teachers’ work, of the highly personalized nature of intercultural language teaching and learning, and its transformative power for students and teachers.

For further information, please contact:
Dr Michelle Kohler
Lecturer, Indonesian and Languages Education
School of Humanities and Creative Arts, and School of Education
Faculty of Education, Humanities and Law
Flinders University
Email: michelle.kohler@flinders.edu.au

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