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
OVERVIEW 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.
SYNOPSIS 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 neurosciences.
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 neurosciences.
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.
CRITICAL EVALUATION 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.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER 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 Pacific.