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Mediation skills in the English language classroom

We all have to take information, understand it and then explain it to others. Although it may be second nature to many, it takes a unique set of skills to pull this off successfully. Perhaps you’re at university and your lecturer has asked you to look at an English research paper and summarise it to your study group in your home language. Or maybe you’re at work and you have taken a detailed safety brief that you have to relay back to colleagues. Other common examples that require these skills include explaining a timetable to a new class or just passing on the latest gossip!

A key skill for language learners

Taking information, summarising it and passing it on is an example of what linguists call mediation, and it is a key skill for language learners at all levels. It’s the subject of the latest Cambridge Paper in ELT, ‘Mediation: What it is, how to teach it and how to assess it’, which looks at some of the best strategies teachers can use to teach and assess mediation skills and have a lot of fun in the process.

Delia Kidd, Insight Application Manager, was part of the team that worked on the paper.Mediation is a fundamental skill that we use in our everyday lives and it’s essential for students who want to learn English for the real world,” she says. “We see great examples in the workplace, where employees are asked to take some complex information and then explain it to colleagues who are not experts. Another example could be young children taking on mediation roles when they’re on holiday by translating for their parents in restaurants.”

The research paper follows a trend which is seeing the approach to teaching languages going beyond the traditional four skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening to that of four modes of communication: reception, production, interaction and mediation. The recognition of mediation as a key skill for learning languages was given a further boost in 2020 when the Council of Europe published the Companion Volume for the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). The CEFR is the international standard of language ability and the Companion Volume includes a greater focus on mediation skills for teaching and learning.

The good news for teachers is, if they’re teaching real-life communication skills in the classroom, they’re probably already covering mediation skills,’” Kidd points out. “However, we’d recommend teachers can take this one step further by developing effective strategies for the classroom.”

How can teachers develop these strategies? A good starting point is to look at what mediation activities actually are. The CEFR describes them as:

·       mediating a text, such as relaying specific information;

·       mediating concepts, such as communicating in a group;

·       mediating communication, such as acting as an intermediary in informal situations.

Teachers can then turn these ideas into practical classroom activities. For example, students can watch English-speaking news and films, and then summarise the important points in English or their own language to the rest of the class.

Mediation and Cambridge English

Graham Seed, Senior Research Manager at Cambridge, was the author of the paper. He says mediation has been a big part of the Cambridge approach for several years.At Cambridge, our courses already contain tasks aimed at teaching and developing mediation skills in the English language classroom. This is because we believe that practising mediation skills can really help to boost a learner’s confidence, as they are practising the English skills they will need for real-life communicative contexts in further education or work.”

The paper also gives guidelines for assessing mediation skills in the classroom. It advises teachers use relevant mediation scales and descriptors found in the 2020 Companion Volume of the CEFR for their learners’ contexts. This will help teachers to decide which areas they should focus on when developing a checklist for classroom assessment.

Want to learn more? The Cambridge Paper in ELT ‘Mediation: what it is, how to teach it and how to assess it’ is published by Cambridge University Press & Assessment.

Image courtesy of Cambridge University Press & Assessment
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