Understanding the revolutionary character of L2 development in the ZPD

Why levels of mediation matter


  • James P. Lantolf The Pennsylvania State University
  • Lindsey Kurtz The Pennsylvania State University
  • Olesya Kisselev The Pennsylvania State University




learner responsiveness, mediation, regulatory scale, self-regulation, zone of proximal development


The Zone of Proximal Development has been one of the most misunderstood features of Sociocultural Theory. It has been inappropriately equated with Krashen’s i+1 and with the concept of ‘scaffolding’. Based on an empirical study where learners seemed to require the same degree of explicit mediation at two different points in time, Erlam, et al. (2013) have questioned Aljaafreh and Lantolf’s (1994) regulatory scale and have instead supported a one-size-fits-all use of explicit mediation. This article provides a theoretical and empirical counter argument to Erlam, et al.’s (2013) proposal. Given Vygotsky’s (1987) claim that development is revolutionary, on theoretical grounds alone, we would not expect that because at time 1 a learner required explicit mediation at time 2 that same learner would require less explicit (or more implicit) mediation to recognize and correct use of an inappropriate L2 feature. We also present empirical evidence from a close analysis of Aljaafreh’s (1992) dissertation that supplements the data considered in Lantolf and Aljaafreh (1995), which showed that even when mediation regresses from more implicit to more explicit levels on the regulatory scale, it does not regress to the beginning of the process where mediation is maximally explicit. Progress, overall, is forward, even if it requires some backtracking.

Author Biographies

James P. Lantolf, The Pennsylvania State University

James P. Lantolf is Ph.D., Linguistics, The Pennsylvania State University. His areas of specialization are: Sociocultural Theory; Second Language Acquisition; and Cultural-historical Psychology.

Lindsey Kurtz, The Pennsylvania State University

Lindsey Kurtz has a BA in English Literature, Creative Writing, Loras College, Dubuque, IA, 2008; and an M.A., TESL/Applied Linguistics, Iowa State University.

Olesya Kisselev, The Pennsylvania State University

Olesya Kissalev is B.A, M.A., Philology and Methods of Teaching Foreign Languages, at Buryat State University, Russia and MA, TESOL, Portland State University, Portland, Oregon. Before coming to Penn State, Olesya was an instructor and curriculum- and materials-developer in the Russian Flagship Program at Portland State University. Olesya’s research interests include corpus linguistics and discourse analysis, especially as they apply to the study of second language and heritage language acquisition.


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How to Cite

Lantolf, J. P., Kurtz, L., & Kisselev, O. (2017). Understanding the revolutionary character of L2 development in the ZPD: Why levels of mediation matter. Language and Sociocultural Theory, 3(2), 153–171. https://doi.org/10.1558/lst.v3i2.32867