The ZPD, Second Language Learning, and the Mansposition ~ Transformation Dialectic

Matthew E. Poehner, James P. Lantolf

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) held “great practical significance” for education as it identified how instruction can optimally impact learner development: by aligning mediation not to abilities that have already fully formed but to those that are emerging or “ripening” [30]. Despite being one of the most well-known and influential features of Vygotsky's writings, it has also been subject to critique. For instance, it is [25] suggested that Vygotsky introduced a “methodological paradox” in formulating the ZPD: it endeavors to bring into focus proximal or future psychological functioning by engaging in teaching-learning activity in the present. In their view, this means that direct, empirical study of the ZPD is not possible as it can only be inferred retrospectively, once future abilities have become the new present [25]. Moreover, Valsiner and van der Veer [25] charged that Vygotsky's depiction of the ZPD did not reflect his commitment to dialectical thinking because the concept does not allow for the creation of anything new but implies “mere transposition from the interindividual to the intraindividual domain” [25, p. 48]. Supporting our arguments with examples from research in our field of second language (L2) studies, we propose that attention to changes in the quality of mediation learners require during ZPD activity offers a means of observing the future as the abilities in question shift from ‘ripening' to ‘developed.‘ In this way, future independent performance is brought into the present during dialectical activity wherein tension between learner actual abilities and the demands of the task are resolved through mediator-learner cooperation. We propose this process as a way of realizing ‘the methodological imperative’ that was sought after by Vygotsky [26]. We then consider the importance of the relationship between learner transposition of ideal language features presented through instruction and the development of the ability to creatively manipulate these features in order to shape how others construe objects and events in accordance with the user's personal perspective.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)31-41
Number of pages11
JournalCultural-Historical Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Psychology (miscellaneous)


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