Interaction sociale, acquisition d'une langue seconde et cognition située


The basic assumption motivating this project is that developing an ability through social interaction is inextricably linked to interactively constructing the social situation itself, to understanding its conventions and interpersonal patterns and to learning to deal with them.

Drawing from two lines of research - the sociocultural approach to mental functioning and the conversation analytic approach to social interaction, this project aims on the one hand at understanding how learners' and experts' (i.e. competent speakers) modes of participating in social activities, of co-constructing the sequential organization of such activities, and of mutually coordinating their participation structures some aspects of second language use and development. It aims on the other hand at reflecting on the nature of a socio-interactional concept of cognition for the study of second language acquisition.

The analyses stress the need to rethink notions such as mediation, task or participation in the light of both, the local and sequential accomplishment of social interaction as well as its sociocultural functioning.

Keywords : second language learning, social interaction, situated cognition, mediation, community of practice, conversation analysis, sociocultural theory

The problem

Abundant empirical evidence has been provided within the sociocultural framework showing that cognitive development hinges not simply on the involvement in social interaction as such, but on particular ways of expert guidance and learner participationit is mediated by social processes. The social, thereby, is not reducible to a mere context in which activities, including their cognitive dimensions, take place, but is an integral part of these activities. Learning a specific content or activity inevitably involves learning to deal with the social situation in which that content or activity is being deployed. As a consequence, what is at stake in a social situation of potential learning are always also the learner's and the expert's ways of dealing with the situation as a social interactional encounter. This embeddedness of cognitive development in collective practices (a) poses the much discussed problem of the relation between social regulation - as manifested in patterns of interaction - and cognitive processes, and (b) invites us to investigate the nature of the relation between activities - be they cognitive, interactional, or mediational - and the social situation. These two issues are at the centre of the analysis undertaken within this project.

The analyses, which mainly deal with social interactions in second language classrooms, stress the fact that patterns of social interaction, tasks and social contexts emerge from locally accomplished socioculturally shaped collaborative activities.

Some objects of study

The social organization of mediation

Part of the project is concerned with the social organization of mediation in learning environments.

It seeks to further articulate the sociocultural notion of mediation in socio-interactional, and specifically ethnomethodological terms. The question addressed is the following: How can we conceive of mediation if we take social interaction not only as a place for the development of a specific cognitive ability, but also as a task to be accomplished and, therefore, a potential object of development itself? Micro-analysis of mediation in communicative second language classroom activities, where the task at hand is the management of interaction itself, are undertaken. The analyses serve as a basis for developing a pluridimensional notion of mediation-in-interaction which accounts for its reciprocity-based, context-sensitive and culture-related nature. It is suggested that processes of mediation-in-interaction can be understood as part of the methods (in the ethnomethodological sense of the term) by which members construct learning environments, tasks, identities and contexts. (cf. Pekarek Doehler, 2002 and 2005; Mondada & Pekarek Doehler, 2000)

The social construction of task

While rich evidence has been provided in developmental research on the impact of socio-interactional factors on cognitive development, little attention has been paid to the ways social interaction and the related coordination of activities and cognitive efforts contribute to creating the task at hand, to defining the problem to be solved and thereby to shaping the very context of learning and development. Micro-analysis of various types of classroom interactions (grammar exercises, communicative activities; basic and advanced level) show how tasks are made relevant and configured throughout courses of joint activities; and that participating in this process of reconfiguration is itself not only part of learning, but also substantial to learning. Furthermore the profoundly interactional nature of tasks is documented, be they monologic or dialogic, formal or communicative. (cf. Mondada & Pekarek Doehler, 2001 and 2004)

The interdependence of competencies

Other analysis lead within this project stress the idea that interaction itself, that is, modes of socially coordinating activities in a way appropriate to becoming a valid participant in a (learning) setting, is a constant object of elaboration. Investigations into classroom interactions on various levels of second language competence show that learning to discuss or defend a position in a second language, to solicit help or even to instruct and many other socioculturally valued (interactional) competencies are objects of development in themselves, while at the same time being contingent with other objects of learning, such as learning to engage in team work or in a collaborative problem-solving task, or simply learning to participate appropriately in classroom interaction or any other type of situation. (cf. Mondada & Pekarek Doehler, 2001 and 2004)

Learning as part of the process of socialization

If we consider that learning is rooted in participating as a social agent in discourse communities (Resnick, 1991) or communities of practice (Lave & Wenger 1991; Mondada & Pekarek Doehler, 2000), then it is necessarily contingent with regard to the process of socialization within these communities. Because interaction is not a mere exchange of comprehensible messages and their negotiation, but is also the means by which self and other are (re)defined, by which social relationships and social realities are constructed, the way learning processes are mediated in the classroom or in other settings is crucially linked to the socialization processes taking place in these same contexts. Analysis of second language interactions in the classroom show that learners' responsibilities with regard to different dimensions of discourse (or, more generally, task accomplishment) are in essence a question of social sharedness and of the learners' positionings as responsible social agents in social activities. Having something to say (or to do) in itself is part of negotiating social relationships and the distribution of rights and duties. It is thereby illustrated that discourse (or task) construction and the construction of identities are two inseparable facets of face-to-face interaction as social practice and as a ground for learning and development. This is a central aspect of instruction and learning as a process of socialization. (cf. Pekarek Doehler, 2002, Mondada & Pekarek Doehler, 2001)

Equipe de projet


  • Mondada, Lorenza & Pekarek Doehler, Simona (2000): "Interaction sociale et cognition située: quels modèles pour la recherche sur l'acquisition des langues?". in: AILE, no. 12, 147-174.
  • Pekarek Doehler, Simona (2000): "Approches interactionnistes de l'acquisition des langues étrangères: concepts, recherches, perspectives". in: AILE, no. 12, 3-26.
  • Mondada, Lorenza & Pekarek Doehler, Simona (2001): "Interactions acquisitionnelles en contexte: perspectives théoriques et enjeux didactiques". Le Français dans le Monde, 107-142.
  • Pekarek Doehler, Simona (2002): "Mediation revisited: the interactive organization of mediation in learning environments", Mind, Culture and Activity, vol. 9/1, 22-42.
  • Pekarek Doehler, Simona (2005): "Etayage et réciprocité: vers une notion interactionelle et socioculturelle des procédés de support dans l'apprentissage langagier", Le français dans le monde, janvier 2005, 85-93. 
  • Mondada, Lorenza & Pekarek Doehler, Simona (2004): "Second language acquisition as situated practice: task accomplishment in French second language classroom". The Modern Language Journal, 88/4, 501-518.