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Review of  Second Language Teaching

Reviewer: Stacia Ann Levy
Book Title: Second Language Teaching
Book Author: Marcel Danesi
Publisher: Kluwer
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Issue Number: 15.1666

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Date: Mon, 24 May 2004 08:45:13 -0700
From: Stacia Levy
Subject: Second Language Teaching: A view from the right side of the brain

Author: Danesi, Marcel
Title: Second Language Teaching
Subtitle: A view from the right side of the brain
Series: Topics in Language and Linguistics
Year: 2003
Publisher: Kluwer Academic Publishers

Stacia Levy, University of the Pacific

This book, written for language teachers, proposes a method of using
both hemispheres of the brain to address the ''second language teaching
dilemma,'' or the high failure rate of those who attempt to acquire a
second language. The book begins with a thorough review of the history
of second language teaching methods and their weaknesses and
advantages. The author also introduces some key concepts in language
acquisition study, such as the acquisition/learning dichotomy and the
critical period hypothesis. The author then addresses the structure of
the human brain, cerebral dominance theory, and neurolinguistic
language teaching methods. This discussion is technical, avoiding the
''popular science'' aspect that has makes up so much of the literature on
hemisphere dominance theory. The author himself notes this tendency in
the literature, pointing out that research on the way the brain
processes information shows that the two hemispheres compliment each
other. He prefers the terms ''right mode'' and ''left mode,'' recognizing
that while the brain hemispheres may be specialized for certain
functions, it is only in tandem with the other hemisphere. The most
effective teaching is ''intermodal'' and ''flows'' from the right
hemisphere, which is more effective in assimilating new information
through experiential tasks and then to the left hemisphere, which
relates the new learning to old through analysis. The last chapters of
the book are devoted to specific strategies to develop ''intermodal''
language learning through different strategies.

Chapter 1 serves to introduce the ''Second Language Teaching Dilemma''
(SLT Dilemma), or the apparent ineffectiveness of classroom instruction
on second language acquisition and the search for the perfect ''method''
to address this. Among methods reviewed are grammar-translation, audio-
lingual, cognitive-code, and communicative language teaching. The
author also addresses key issues such as language acquisition versus
learning and the critical period hypothesis. At the end, the author
briefly touches on language educators' growing interest in the

Chapter 2 is devoted to the analysis of the human brain and its
relation to language learning. The structure and functions of the brain
is described. Cerebral dominance theory is also introduced as well as
complementary hemisphericity theory, which supports the notion that
both hemispheres are needed working in tandem on any task. Also
discussed are the ''neurolinguistic methods,'' such as suggestopedia and
the natural approach, language teaching methods that draw on the

Chapter 3 introduces the notion of ''modal flow,'' the belief that
language learning should flow from the right hemisphere, domain of
experiential learning to the left hemisphere, which involves more
analytical learning.

Chapter 4 is devoted to the notion of ''conceptual'' competence and
metaphor as related to second language acquisition (SLA).

Chapter 5 is taken up by a ''repertoire of techniques'' for second
language teaching (SLT).

The book has an extensive glossary of terms common to SLA.

I began reading the book with a certain amount of skepticism because of
my dislike for the simplistic terms ''right brained'' and ''left-brained''
but found that the author's treatment of the topic thorough and he
acknowledges these terms as more or less metaphors for two types of
processing that, together, provide for powerful learning. By beginning
with a review of second language acquisition methods and key concerns
in the profession, the author locates hemisphericity theory within this
tradition and as integral rather than, as it might be viewed, as
peripheral. The discussion of the brain and its structure is thorough
without being overly technical. And by ending with a ''repertoire of
techniques'' that promote intermodal learning, the author shows
application for the theory dealt with in the earlier chapters.

The author does, in chapter 4, after reviewing the literature on second
language teaching and the brain, go on an extended foray into metaphor
study and the notion of ''conceptual competence,'' which an understanding
of a culture's common metaphors expressed through language: for
example, English speakers tend to speak of time in terms of money:
spending time, saving time, etc. Understanding this about the language
is ''conceptual competence,'' which is key to second language
acquisition, according to the author. This supposed overriding
importance of conceptual competence seems to me something of a stretch.
Lack of cultural competence may lead to some unidiomatic speech (e.g.
''I lost all my time,'' instead of ''I wasted all my time.'') but that it
is so important to language learning seems unsupported. In addition,
this chapter on metaphor and conceptual competence (titled ''Fine Tuning
the Brain''), while interesting, seems only tangentially related to the
main topic of hemisphericity. In the last chapter of the book, the
author presents a long list of different language teaching techniques:
analytical ''left-mode'' techniques such as minimal contrasts and
corrections. Other techniques are experiential and ''right-mode,'' such
as problem-solving and cloze. Still other techniques are ''intermodal,''
such as personalization techniques (e.g. discussing questions such as
''Do you prefer living in an apartment or a house?'')

Some of these I found a bit puzzling, such as why cloze would be right
mode yet sentence completions intermodal. The author then goes on to
give suggestions for organizing a curriculum of these techniques
according to ''the modal flow principle,'' with learning flowing from the
r-mode to the l-mode if a task is new because the r-mode provides the
needed context and experiential learning and the l-mode the structure
and analysis.

Despite some minor concerns, I found this a valuable book, especially
for applied linguists who are not new to the profession but may want to
explore and develop some new techniques. While I don't necessarily see
''conceptual competence'' or the ''modal flow principle'' as solving the
second language teaching dilemma, the author nevertheless presents a
thorough and compelling case.
Stacia Levy has recently completed her dissertation in corpus
linguistics at the University of the Pacific in California and
discussed the results at the American Association of Applied Linguists
in Portland, Oregon. She is currently working at University of the

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