What’s mediation?

An innovative approach to language teaching that complements oral and written communication in the ESL classroom.

When People are unable to communicate

Linguistic mediation is a type of interaction that takes place among people that are unable to communicate, when speakers do not speak the same language, or when speakers do speak the same language, but one of them has wider or more specific knowledge of the common language. According to this differentiation, mediation tasks can be monolingual (intralinguistic mediation) or bilingual (cross-linguistic or interlinguistic mediation).

The Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) states that linguistic mediation activities take up an important place in our societies, and describes mediation activities as either oral or written, specifying different tasks that can be developed as mediation practice, such as translation, interpretation, paraphrasing, summarizing and note-taking (CEFR 2002: 14-15).

There are other communicative tasks included in the linguistic mediation worksheets on our website, like selecting information among various choices, cross-comparison and synthesizing, among others.

The benefits of translation

Translation can be a great ally in the ESL classroom if it is used in well-structured activities that call for an activation of contents that have been previously seen in class. Providing a contextualized task, translation proves highly effective serving a communicative purpose.

It can help prevent the fossilization of mistakes at early stages as students reflect on the influence their mother tongue has on their learning process.

As students become aware of the difference between their mother tongue and their second language, self-correction is activated and soon interference form their mother tongue starts to be anticipated.

Functional language and idiomatic expressions are best practised in a given context, in which students simulate real-life situations to test if they can develop strategies to overcome the limitations they may find outside the classroom.

During mediation activities, students put into practice compensation strategies to make up for limitations in their knowledge of the language. From guessing meaning or defining concepts to using gestures, compensation strategies are key in any mediation practice.

Contrastive analysis between the mother tongue and the second language is seen as a positive practice, as it contributes to reflecting on the way both languages are structured differently.

It is positively valued as a challenge by students, especially oral mediation at higher levels when the situation requires the use of specific vocabulary, idiomatic expressions, and advanced grammar.

Let’s be careful, though…

As Wilkins (1974, 83) puts it, “In deciding how far we are justified in using the learner’s mother tongue, we must remember that the time spent using it is time not spent using the foreign language”.

As MFL teachers, we must always keep sight of our goal, that is, help our students acquire abilities to think in the target language. The ultimate aim of mediation practice is to make students aware of the natural use of the language in both their mother tongue and the L2, to identify language transfer and, thus, be able to prevent and overcome the fossilization of mistakes that it causes.

Despite the fact that we find mediation is a powerful tool for the ESL classroom, we do not advise using translation systematically to introduce grammatical or lexical structures.

Some may argue that mediation can be a very artificial activity, as the contexts created are very detailed, and students are asked to play roles which are different from the ones they have in real life. However, if it weren’t for dramatization and simulation in the classroom, functional language wouldn’t be practiced meaningfully, as if in real life situations.



Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR).

Cantero y De Arriba (2004). Linguistic mediation in language teaching.

Zarate, G. et al. (eds.) (2004): Cultural mediation in language learning and teaching. Strasbourg: Council of Europe Publishing.

Polo, Nuria. Instituto Cervantes de Leeds. Did you have a nice time? Linguistic mediation activities and pedagogical translation at elementary levels and awareness of transfer.

Trovato, Giuseppe. La mediación lingüística como competencia integradora en la didáctica de E/LE: una aproximación a las tareas de mediación oral y escrita.

Wilkins, D.A. (1974). Second-language learning and teaching. London: Edward Arnold.

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