Over the years, the term mediation has worn many hats.
You may have encountered it in conflict resolution contexts, as the effort to intervene between two parties; or you may be familiar with the term as the action of interpreting content. But in ELT, mediation has come to signify a new way of relating to and interacting with the other—be it a text, a person, or a culture.
What is mediation in the ESL class, then?
Mediation has been assigned to a whole new meaning in EFL and ESL; in a nutshell, the concept is at play when the teacher is charged with the role of teaching and modeling not only language skills but, essentially, efficient communication.
According to the CEFR, mediation occurs every time someone...
‘...acts as a social agent who creates bridges and helps to construct or convey meaning, sometimes within the same language, sometimes from one language to another’
It becomes evident, then, that mediation can be either monolingual (intralinguistic mediation) or bilingual (interlinguistic mediation). To further pin the concept down, the CEFR specifies that mediation can take the following forms:
1. Mediating a text:
Text mediation covers mediation both to others and to one’s self. When mediating to others, the mediator conveys messages found in a text to lift linguistic, cultural, or other barriers, either by translating or by adapting a text. On the other hand, when mediating for one’s self, mediation includes and can be broken down to note taking, expressing reactions to content, and producing criticism.
More specifically, students are efficient mediators when they are able to:
► Relay specific information
► Explain data in speech and in writing
► Process texts
► Translate a written text
► Take notes
► Express a personal response to creative texts
► Analyse and criticise creative texts
2. Mediating a concept:
Mediating concepts refers to the process of facilitating access to knowledge and concepts, relevant to the topic studied in the lesson. As mediators of concepts, teachers and students are asked to construct, co-construct, and elaborate on the topics studied.
Mediating concepts is an invaluable skill and goes beyond language-learning: by mediating concepts, students are able to identify patterns, explore correlational relationships, and draw conclusions. At the same time, they develop their language skills as they negotiate the concept at hand and co-construct its traits and properties.
According to the CEFR descriptors, concepts are mediated when students:
► Collaborate in a group
► Facilitate collaborative interaction within a group
► Collaborate to construct meaning
► Lead group work
► Manage interaction
► Engage in conceptual talk
3. Mediating communication:
The aim of mediating communication is to facilitate understanding and to shape successful communication between learners of different individual, sociocultural, sociolinguistic or intellectual backgrounds. As such, a student can act as a mediator within a group in order to help peers with different language or cultural backgrounds understand each other efficiently. Mediating communication evolves to mean developing a safe space within which interlocutors communicate and/or collaborate without inhibitions.
Mediating communication includes the following key instances:
► using questions and showing interest to promote understanding of cultural norms and perspectives between speakers;
► demonstrating sensitivity to and respect for different sociocultural and sociolinguistic perspectives and norms;
► anticipating, dealing with and/or repairing misunderstandings arising from sociocultural and sociolinguistic differences.
It is worth mentioning that a mediator does not act like a translator or interpreter: mediators are free to alter the original content or to produce their own text all together, choosing which register and tone to use, and even which meanings to pass over, bearing a specific audience in mind.
Mediation, furthermore, is not another skill to add to the existing four. Rather, mediation is a way of exploiting speaking, reading, writing, and listening in order to create efficient bridges and connections between learners.
Why shall I teach mediation?
Particularly in English Language Teaching, mediation is not just a buzzword—it is a necessity, dictated by real-world needs. As current demands refigure the skill combinations we need, building relationships, empathizing, and understanding receive renewed significance in the marketplace and our interactions beyond our work life.
As a result, teaching and modeling mediation is teaching and modeling efficiency, empathy, and awareness.