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The power of mediation

In 2018, the Council of Europe published an extended version of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), introducing a new set of descriptors: in addition to the traditional productive skills of speaking and writing, and the receptive skills of listening and reading, the skills of interaction and mediation were included too.

Interaction refers to speaking and listening together (or in other words, dialogue), but what is the concept of mediation all about, and why is it considered so important today?

The mediation mindset 

To answer that question, we have to change our mindset, from seeing language as a barrier, to understanding it as a facilitator: central to the CEFR idea of mediation is bridge-building and collaboration.

The EU is a pluri-linguistic continent, and the role of English is as a lingua franca: Europeans use English as a functional means of communication, which is why 94% of EU high-school students study English as a foreign language.

This does not mean, however, that 80 million European schoolchildren and tens of millions of EU adults need to learn to speak English like a native: that is neither possible, nor is it a logical objective.

The goal is simply to learn to communicate in English in a reasonably efficient way, combined with common elements of the speakers’ first languages. Code-switching, traditionally considered unacceptable in the EFL classroom, is now considered admissible where it helps understanding.

Mediation: negotiating meaning

In non-linguistic contexts, mediation refers to the negotiated resolution to a conflict. Similarly, linguistic mediation refers to language as a conduit for comprehension and implies negotiating meaning to resolve misunderstanding.

The most obvious example of this would be the translation of two languages, but mediation is actually much more exhaustive: it can refer to any way in which information is re-expressed. Techniques can include explaining a graph, listening and taking notes, asking for clarification or paraphrasing.

You are mediating, for example, when you infer the meaning of an announcement you hear in a foreign language over the PA system at a train station, or make connections to understand a message you read on the information board.

 Inside, or outside of the classroom, mediation refers to facilitating interaction with peers, collaborating to construct meaning and stimulating conceptual thought.

Mediation & media

Mediation is also imperative when using new media. Much of our communication these days happens over the internet, and so effective users of English as a foreign language must be able to communicate online. For example, they need to check their message is clear, and repeat any important information more than once and using alternative words or phrases when it is not.

Mediating across worlds

When speaking to a global audience, it is also important to cultivate intercultural sensitivity. We can achieve this by interacting with literature, analysing our personal reaction to texts, relating our personal experiences to literature and being able to compare and contrast it with other works. When we can justify our opinions about a work and critically evaluate it, we are mediating across worlds.

Local implementation

These are all noble – but perhaps abstract – goals. However, the upshot of the incorporation of mediation into language classes across Europe should be a greater awareness of the need to construct, through language, a more united Europe.

Extra resources for more information download the CEFR Companion Volume 2018.

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