Practicing Mediation Activities for Developing Intercultural Competence

Fatma Nur Kabay & Celile Eren Ökten
Yildiz Technical University, Turkey
fnurkabay@gmail.com
celileokten@gmail.com

Abstract

This study aims to create curiosity about literary texts in order to understand cultural aspects of language. Participatory action research was conducted with B1 level students from an international boarding school in Istanbul. Theoretical framework was based on intuitive text simplifying criteria, including CEFR mediation and plurilingual standards. Mediating a literary text, mediating concepts and mediating communication were taken into account while planning activities. For mediating a text, text simplification for B1 level was adapted for developing linguistic competence. Mediating concepts are closely related to sociolinguistic competence and help to explore cultural usages of target language in fashion, cuisine, local traditions, etc. Finally, mediating communication provides pragmatic competence through real life situations and tasks. Mediation activities conducted within this study enabled students to raise their consciousness and curiosity on learning a foreign language and another culture.

Keywords: Teaching Turkish as a Foreign Language, CEFR, Plurilingualism, Intercultural Competence, Literary Texts, Mediation activities

Why Is Mediation So Important?

The role of mediation in foreign language learning is versatile. It provides a negotiation ground for learners between their own language and the target foreign language and culture. Mediation facilitates communication and cooperation by facing and defusing delicate situations or tensions that may rise. Thus, it helps to improve social and cultural competences as well as plurilingual competence.

The first mediation activity, mediating a text involves passing on the content of a text to which the recipients do not have access, mostly because of linguistic, cultural, semantic or technical barriers. Relaying specific information, processing text, explaining data and translating a text in speech and in writing, taking notes during lectures, meetings, etc., expressing a personal response to creative texts and lastly analysis and criticism of creative texts including literature are the main concepts of mediating a text. (CEFR 2018:107-117.)

The second mediation activity, mediating concepts, refers to the process of facilitating access to information and concepts for learners, especially when they cannot reach directly on their own. Mediating a concept involves two angles that complement each other; development and elaboration of meaning and promoting and facilitating situations that allow conceptual development and change. (CEFR 2018:117-121.)

The third activity, mediating communication, aims to facilitate understanding and to form successful communication between students with different sociocultural, intellectual, sociolinguistic and personal characteristics from the moment they begin their learning process. The scales of mediating communication are facilitating pluricultural space, acting as an intermediary with friends or colleagues in informal situations and facilitating communication in sensitive situations and disagreements. (CEFR 2018:122-125.)

Plurilingual classrooms require mediation activities in order to be able to understand linguistic competence (mediating a text), socio-linguistic competence (mediating concepts) and pragmatic competence (mediating communication). The scale “Facilitating pluricultural space” from CEFR draws attention to activities that intend to interact with different socio-cultural and socio-linguistic perspectives and norms, and to interact with the aim of promoting understanding of cultural perspectives between learners through respecting and eliminating misunderstandings arising from differences. 

Pluriculturality expresses the ability to participate in different cultures by acquiring a number of languages, while interculturalism expresses to experience the others and the variety and to analyze and benefit from this experience. Intercultural competence acquired in this way helps individuals to understand others better, make cognitive and emotional connections between past and future experiences through their differences, mediate between members of different social groups, and question the cultural implications of their groups and environments. Pluriculturality and interculturality may complement each other: the active discovery of one or more other cultures may help develop intercultural competence. The plurilingual and pluricultural group of students has created a natural basis for the use of pluriculturalism and plurilingualism in development of intercultural competence. (Huber & Reynolds, 2014:16)

The participants of this study were the 10th grade students studying in an international boarding school in Istanbul and the method used was action research. In order to ensure the readability of the 10th grade literary book, various activities were developed in line with the mediation criteria and were applied to students. 8 literary genres and activities were prepared for 8 units in the book. The CEFR 2018 mediation activities criteria guided the activities developed, in accordance with the mediation pluricultural class environment and plurilingual criteria. Mediation activities were organized with regard to plurilingual and pluricultural competences.

Activities

Legends and Mediating a Text: Linguistic Competence

Legends are very suitable literary genres to present a multicultural space with interesting and intriguing topics, characters and the extraordinary events they implore. A legend from literature course book, simplified with intuitive method according to B1 level, was submitted as a mediator text. Since the half-woman half-snake figure in the chosen legend has similar versions in many cultures, it allows the comparison of local culture and values. It also allows learners to connect with the target language. In addition, various visualized texts compiled from target culture and learners’ own cultures were used as a mediator text to facilitate comprehension, find similar features of many different cultures, express their point of view and activate critical thinking. Vocabulary knowledge was presented to students through visualization. In accordance with mediating text activity, learners were asked to develop their own visualized material to introduce their hometown legends. The task was to conduct research on the internet and interview their teachers about a song of Turkish legend by taking notes.

Childhood Memory with Mediating Concepts: Sociolinguistic competence

Memoirs can be used to encourage conceptual talk among learners to reach a variety of information about their own cultures, lifestyles and personal experiences. In this activity, as a mediator concept, emotions in the text and childhood memories were prioritized. Visualized conceptual texts, songs and a fictional blog post in learners’ language level were used to facilitate the activity. Sociolinguistic competence learners were asked to narrate a real-life story or a childhood memory, by detailing where it took place, when it happened, who were the participants and what type of event it was. Mediating Communication with “Folk Song”: Pragmatic competence As in the first activity, learners were asked to fill in the blanks, while they were listening to a folk song about family and homesickness. Here, learners were allowed to exchange ideas with each other in order to allow communication with peers (Ur, 2016:37). Homesickness establishes a common ground for these students, since they study and subsequently plan to pursue a career abroad. As a facilitating pluricultural space scales activity, mind mapping was used in order to explore feelings due to homesickness by using questions to promote understanding of cultural norms and perspectives. As a real-life task, learners were asked to write postcards about homesickness to their loved ones to improve their pragmatic competence and as a mediating communication activity.

Mediating Communication with “Folk Song”: Pragmatic competence

As in the first activity, learners were asked to fill in the blanks, while they were listening to a folk song about family and homesickness. Here, learners were allowed to exchange ideas with each other in order to allow communication with peers (Ur, 2016:37). Homesickness establishes a common ground for these students, since they study and subsequently plan to pursue a career abroad. As a facilitating pluricultural space scales activity, mind mapping was used in order to explore feelings due to homesickness by using questions to promote understanding of cultural norms and perspectives. As a real-life task, learners were asked to write postcards about homesickness to their loved ones to improve their pragmatic competence and as a mediating communication activity.

Result and Recommendations

Mediation activities motivate both students and teachers to meet on a common ground of linguistic, socio-linguistic and pragmatic competences of target language using literary texts. Organizing mediation activities, which are related to daily life, enable students to raise their consciousness and curiosity on learning a foreign language and another culture.

References

Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment (CEFR), Companion Volume with New Descriptors (February 2018). Council of Europe. Retrieved from https://rm.coe.int/cefr-companion-volume-with-new-descriptors-2018/1680787989.

Huber, J., Reynolds, C. (January 2004). Developing Intercultural Competence Through Education. Council of Europe Publishing. Retrieved from https://rm.coe.int/16806ae621.

UR, P. (2016). Penny Ur’s 100 Teaching Tips: Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

URN

http://urn.fi/urn:nbn:fi:jamk-issn-2343-0281-45

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