Cross-Language Mediation in Foreign Language Teaching and Testing

4 September 2015

This month we are publishing Cross-Language Mediation in Foreign Language Teaching and Testing by Maria Stathopoulou which examines mediation between languages and the challenges that mediators often face. In this post, Maria outlines the issues explored in the book.

9781783094110Users of two or more languages may mediate in their everyday life, but why are some more successful than others? How do effective mediators (or cross-languagers) achieve specific communication goals? What techniques and language tools do they use? What strategies differentiate successful from less successful mediators? These are some of the questions addressed in this book which sheds new light on the mechanisms of cross-language mediation.

What?

Being concerned with the purposeful relaying of information from one language to another, this book considers mediation as a form of translanguaging, a language practice which involves interplay of linguistic codes. Retaining his/her own identity and participating at the same time in two (or more) cultures, the role of mediator is to make the target audience understand information that otherwise would be impossible for them to understand. The mediator is not considered as a neutral third party but as an active participator in the communicative encounter, and his/her role is socially valuable.

And why?

The research project has generally been motivated by a broader need to contribute towards a multilingual approach to language teaching and testing still dominated by monolingual paradigms. The exploration of the ways in which foreign language learners’ mother tongue(s) could be used constructively for the teaching and learning of languages, and the way to develop skills and effective strategies so as to mediate and translanguage successfully was of no real concern to mainstream English Language Teaching (ELT). As the book draws readers’ attention to the fluid boundaries between languages, current ‘English-only’ policies may be rethought in light of the findings reported.

The ‘mingling-of languages’ idea

This book raises readers’ awareness regarding the ‘mingling-of languages idea’ in teaching and testing, an idea which can actually be realised through mediation activities and which can ultimately promote multilingualism. In a nutshell, based on empirical evidence, this book

  • ultimately stresses the urgent need for foreign language policies to consider cross-language mediation as a fundamental ability that language learners need to develop,
  • advocates the implementation of programmes aiming at the development of translanguaging literacy and
  • concludes by pointing to the role of testing in the effort to support multilingualism.

Who may find this book useful?

As the author of this book, my hope is that it will be used by (in-service and pre-service) teachers, curriculum designers, syllabus and material developers, teacher trainers, language testers, policymakers, but also by future researchers in the field of multilingualism, multilingual testing and foreign language learning as a comprehensive guide to important current language issues.

Dr Maria Stathopoulou, University of Athens
mastathop@enl.uoa.gr

For more information about this title please see our website or the author’s own Facebook page for the book or contact the author at the email address above.


Teachers as Mediators in the Foreign Language Classroom

13 January 2015

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


Young Children as Intercultural Mediators

15 July 2014

One of our latest publications is Young Children as Intercultural Mediators by Zhiyan Guo. Here, Zhiyan tells us a bit more about how she came to write the book.

Young Children as Intercultural MediatorsI am utterly delighted that my book is now published! Tremendous thanks to all Multilingual Matters staff who have been involved in the different stages of the process. The book, as well as the doctoral study it is based on, were inspired by my own experience of living in a different country and being culturally mediated by my daughter, who has been schooled in England since the age of 4. With her being an indispensable channel, I learned about British schooling, social interaction, family relations and much more. During the gap periods between my study and my book, I was still so constantly sparked by the mediating moments that I thought I must share the experience with the wider world. Without her mediation, my acculturation to the new country would not have been so meaningful and interesting, just like those parents being brokered by their children in my book.

In a chat with a colleague who had just moved from Canada to England, I was surprised to know that she unexpectedly experienced differences despite the two countries speaking the same language. In this fast-moving globalised world where migration from one place to another becomes more extensive, how do people coming from non-English and non-European background cope with the ‘bigger’ cultural differences? In the migrant community, how do families survive each day of their life? Do parents still hold an unquestionable authority over their children?

I addressed these questions using real-life examples of interactions in a family’s everyday living in this book, and I concluded on three levels of cultural mediation; assimilative, appropriative and accommodative. Examples of these levels are when the children persuaded their parents to give them pocket money, change the type of food served on dinner table and alter their birthday invitation-sending protocol. Unlike previous studies on children being translators and interpreters explicitly for their parents with inferior English proficiency, the book reveals the implicit/invisible cultural mediation by children to their parents whose English is good enough to work in the mainstream society. With the informal language learning as part of the continuum, I found that children provided immediate and vivid contexts to develop parents’ knowledge of the language and society, from correcting pronunciation to insisting on the appropriate manner to sign off a Christmas card. Even when this process did not involve any conceptual change, it still led to a quantitative accumulation of knowledge, happening spontaneously, ephemerally and frequently in everyday life.

I wanted the children’s voices to be heard as loudly as, if not more than, the adults’, for children themselves were not fully aware of their mediating roles. However, the parents’ authority and the conventional family hierarchy was shifted and challenged, which resulted in altered family power relationships and loosened parental control. In my family this was quickly noticed by my parents who came to visit us from China. I also explored whether child cultural mediation could be conceptualised as work, because, as intercultural communicators and cultural translators, children are positioned in the middle, creating links between the two cultures and making significant contributions to a family’s social and emotional well-being in the new country.

For more information about the book please see our website or contact Dr. Zhiyan Guo at zhiyan.guo@warwick.ac.uk


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