L2 learners strategically and actively engage in their writing tasks while interacting with various available resources, including their learning goals and histories. The current study examined mediated actions in the writing of college-level Korean as a foreign language (KFL) students and re-conceptualized L2 writing strategies from a socio-cognitive perspective, particularly drawing on Engestrom’s (1999) Activity Theory, and the notions of mediation and agency. An important frame of reference was Lei’s study (2008) that examined English as a foreign language (EFL) learners’ writing strategies from the activity theoretical perspective. That study motivated me to explore similar issues in a different context, the KFL context. This qualitative comparative case study looked at the writing engagement of five KFL students taking an intermediate-level Korean course for an entire academic quarter running 10 weeks.
Using various sources of data (e.g., interviews, stimulated recall protocols, process logs, observations, writing autobiography, and students’ writing assignments), I categorized mediated strategies into four broad types and thirteen smaller ones: (1) artifact-mediated (the Internet-, native language (L1)-, and target language (L2)-mediated), (2) rule-mediated (self-constructed rules-, good writing criteria-, plagiarism rule-, and time-mediated), (3) community-mediated (native speaker-, prior experience- (foreign language learning, study-abroad, & L1 writing experiences), classroom community-, and imagined community-mediated), and (4) role-mediated (author- and language learner-mediated) strategies. The findings corroborated the claim that L2 writing is a mediated activity occurring from interactions of learners and environment: the learners’ interactions with the environmental mediators were themselves an important component of L2 writing processes. Also, the study found that the KFL learners’ strategic and agentive selection of the resources was strongly related to the fulfillment of their goals. The multicultural learners’ different goals, including long-term goals, learning histories, and cultural backgrounds (heritage vs. non-heritage) necessarily caused individual differences in terms of mediated actions, engagement with the assigned writing tasks.
The study revealed several mediators that merit our attention within the context of KFL, among which the most important ones that impacted on the KFL learners’ writing processes were the imagined community and plagiarism. The findings imply that the KFL programs will need to provide information regarding communities that learners can possibly participate in and offer systematic instruction on plagiarism, including writing practices with models or paraphrasing or rewriting practices. For this study, Engestrom’s Activity Theory (1999) was useful to explain learners’ social processes interrelated with their cognitive processes, interactions and contradictions between the mediated-strategies, and the learners’ creating processes of mediators. As also revealed in Lei’s study (2008), Activity Theory seems to have considerable value as an analytical tool in the L2 writing context.