Mediation with online news and online forums:
Language and culture cannot be separated from each other. When we say that somebody is speaking the same language as we do, we do not only mean that our interlocutor decodes our linguistic signs correctly but rather that he or she shares the same attitudes, views of life, gestures or a similar sense of humour. This allows us as interlocutors to understand hidden messages behind the words, between the lines.
Hence, when learning a new foreign language in class it is very important not only to concentrate on writing or speaking but also on mediation and intercultural competences.
But what exactly are intercultural competences? According to scholars, “Intercultural competence is the ability for successful communication with people and other cultures (…) The bases for a successful intercultural communication are emotional competence, together with intercultural sensitivity.”1 Because of that, intercultural communicative competence belongs to one of the most important goals in the English Kernlehrplan. Intercultural competence is simply the basic ability for any interaction. It is of great importance for students to learn to be open-minded and minimize prejudices when becoming acquainted with a new culture. Later on, they still have the right not to like certain cultural aspects of another country but still, learn to reflect their thoughts and feelings before making hasty negative assumptions about foreign countries or people.
Thaler states that “Mediating comprises all techniques used to transform written or oral texts from one language into another. Both directions are possible, i. e. German into English and from English into German.“2
There are three different types of mediation:
Translation: Here, a written text is to be translated literally.
Interpreting: The speaker gives the gist of oral statements.
- Mediation (transferring, transforming): In that case, oral, written or graphic information is transformed from one language into another (adressaten-, sinn- und situationsgerecht)3
According to Blake, “there are three important technological platforms that provide tools to assist language learning, in order to increase interactivity. Web pages, web-based apps, and network-based communication (…).” (Blake, Brave New Digital, S. 9). Online news portals and online forums are counted among the latter.
Why should I use online news portals and online forums in class?
So, what exactly is the benefit of using online news portals and online forums in class? I think everyone remembers the first English lessons where we as students had to read posed texts in their textbooks, discuss them and later play them out in class.
Later on, with more vocabulary knowledge, grammatical skills and basic intercultural competences, the teacher gave us “real-life” examples of the English language – excerpts of newspaper articles, we read English books, watched American movies or even Youtube-videos. But neither newspaper articles nor a movie provide enough advantages like online news portals or online forums do.
First of all, these platforms provide up-to-date news. That is an advantage itself because the students feel more motivated to deal with a current, relevant topic (in our case, the controversial statements of Donald Trump in regard to his election program) than with a topic that dates back several years (which of course can still be very relevant, especially concerning significant historical events that have shaped the country).
Another advantage is that these websites offer multimodality; students have to deal and analyze videos, images, diagrams etc. and later combine these information to develop a proper point of view. Not only that this multimodality is appreciated by students and the Kernlehrplan Englisch (diskontinuierliche Texte, medial vermittelte Texte)4, online news portals and forums facilitate engagement via Facebook, Twitter, the common section etc. and that again, may increase the attention and motivation of the pupils.
The ne plus ultra of these technological platforms is definitely the authenticity. As simple as it sounds. If a text or its task are not authentic enough, the students will simply lose their interest in less than a minute or will not even start working on the task.
Through choosing an authentic target-language resource – an online news portal or online forum, “students work through the tasks and activities laid out before them and only gradually have recourse to learning the grammar”5 which again is a great benefit.
How can I use online news portals and online forums in classroom?
You can use these platforms as primary sources especially when dealing with the following topics in class:
Political, social and cultural realities
- “American Dream”
Tradition and Change
According to Thaler6 (212), a good mediation task should always be fully authentic. Furthermore, it should also provide pupil’s advancement concerning their communicative and intercultural competences. To achieve such a goal, you can choose two newspaper articles – one in German and one in English. Both texts should deal with a similar topic, in our case, both texts dealt with controversial attitudes towards the current migration policies. The English text can also be a short tweet, Facebook post etc. After commenting on the English source, students are supposed to read the second text in German and highlight the most important information.
Now, the following task should be chosen very skillfully and tactfully. A simple summary or answering of questions would not enhance mediation as a transferring process but rather lead to a translation. In our case, we decided to arrange an authentic situation with the following task:
Coinciding with President Obama’s first official visit to Berlin in June 2013 the US embassy has hosted an international youth conference on US-German relations at the beginning of the 21st century. You have been invited to be on the conference’s panel to present a young German’s point of view. In your opening statement you want to refer to a text by Vernon A. Walters.
Prepare your written script in which you summarize Walters’ views on German cultural and national identity. Where necessary add information which might help to avoid possible misunderstandings (Konstruktionshinweise – Neue Aufgabenformate in den modernen Fremdsprachen 18)
With this homework, the students are required to mediate specific cultural information in a specific context and to a specific addressee (“adressantengerecht und situationsangemessen”).
As a suitable homework, you could make the students write a short comment in the news forum, to state their opinion about certain aspects in the given newspaper article. Additionally, you can increase the authenticity and make the task even more exciting for your students by telling them that they do actually write a real comment that later will, after some editing, be published and posted on the online news forum and will be visible worldwide.
Blake, Robert, J. 2013. Brave New Digital Classroom. Georgetown: GUP.
- Kernlehrplan http://www.schulentwicklung.nrw.de/lehrplaene/upload/lehrplaene_download/gymnasium_g8/gym8_englisch.pdf
Lustig & Koester. Intercultural Competence: Interpersonal Communication Across Cultures. London: Pearson, 2009
Thaler, Engelbert. 2012. Englisch unterrichten: Grundlagen, Kompetenzen, Methoden. Berlin: Cornelsen
1Lustig & Koester. Intercultural Competence: Interpersonal Communication Across Cultures. London: Pearson, 2009, p. 48.
2Thaler, Engelbert. 2012. Englisch unterrichten: Grundlagen, Kompetenzen, Methoden. Berlin: Cornelsen, p. 209
5Blake, Robert, J. 2013. Brave New Digital Classroom. Georgetown: GUP, p. 10
6Thaler, p. 212