Daniela Melis. Pronti ... Via!.
Daniela Melis. Pronti ... Via!. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007.
Pronti ... Via! is an innovative first-year language textbook that makes the use of Italian its primary focus. In the introductory notes to the Instructor, recommended reading for all language teachers who wish to reflect on their intended goals and actual results in the L2 classroom, the author provides a comprehensive explanation of the text's pedagogical framework. Based on the Natural Approach as championed by Stephen Krashen and Tracy D. Terrell in The Natural A roach: Language Acquisition in the Classroom (Oxford and San Francisco: Pergamon/Alemany Press, 1983), the author summarizes Krashen and Terrell's five overlapping hypotheses that inspired her approach to language instruction, the acquisition-learning hypothesis, the natural order hypothesis, the monitor hypothesis, the input hypothesis and the affective-filter hypothesis, and illustrates their application to Pronti ... Via!.
Language acquisition, the production of communicative skills, rather than language learning, the manipulation of formal features, is the primary goal of this text. As the author states in the introduction, "the primary objective of class time is to practice useful vocabulary in meaningful, communicative contexts" (p. xxi). Nevertheless, the study of grammar is an essential part of the textbook, albeit in separate and independent sections for each thematic unit.
The text, which is intended for the college level in either a two-semester or three-quarter system (but could also be used effectively at the high school level), consists of eleven chapters plus one intermediary review chapter, each divided into three separate color-coded sections. The white pages serve as the main focus of the text in the classroom (the so-called 'activity book'). Students are responsible for the grammatical structures in the green pages (the 'grammar handbook') and the vocabulary in the yellow pages (the 'mini-dictionary') on their own. With this innovative format, the author intends to demonstrate good language teaching practices as summarized by the ACTFL Standards for Foreign Language Learning task force in 10 words: "knowing how, when, and why to say what to whom" (p. xix). The green pages treat how and the yellow pages provide what. The white pages stress why, whom and when through the communicative approach.
The text also adheres to the interdisciplinary approach by paying tribute to the five C's of foreign language education identified by the ACTFL task force-Communication, Cultures, Connections, Comparisons, and Communities. The choice of readings for the eleven thematic units (in the white pages) is quite eclectic ranging from astronomy and geography to history and sociology. Most selections are interesting and appropriate, with the exception of "Le regioni climatiche della Terra" in chapter 4, a reading that does not offer much exciting input to stimulate classroom discussion in my opinion. On the other hand, "Un'italiana famosa in tutto il mondo: Maria Montessori" in chapter 7, is an excellent choice that illustrates both the 'natural approach' to learning as well as the passato remoto which is introduced in the green pages of this chapter.
The author's novel approach to the study of grammar encourages students to become independent learners. Students are expected to internalize the formal grammar rules by means of written homework assigned in connection with the green pages which are visibly separated from the content-based activities in the white pages, so as not to interrupt communication. Two excellent features stand out in the green pages: the author's clear and simple explanations of English grammar before presenting the corresponding Italian structures and her use of contextualized bilingual examples. For example, the author treats all present tense verb conjugations at once in chapter 2 following a concise introduction to the concept of 'verb' in English (infinitive vs. conjugation, tense vs. mood, transitive/intransitive/de-transitive verbs, etc.). In chapter 7, to illustrate past tense contrasts, the author provides fully contextualized examples in both Italian and English and suggests that students read the English version first to comprehend the specific nature of the actions before noting the tense distinctions in Italian.
However, because the author is concerned with the primacy of meaning, the green pages as a whole are rather unbalanced and some chapters may require much more time than others when instructors plan their syllabus. The author devotes approximately twenty pages to the study of grammar in chapters that deal with verb tenses--chapter 2 (presente), chapter 5 (passato prossimo), and chapter 7 (imperfetto vs. passato prossimo, passato remoto)--while other chapters consist of seven to nine pages for the green sections. The choice of grammatical structures included in each chapter serves a functional purpose---to signify meaning rather than form. Thus, double pronouns are presented in chapter 11 but articulated prepositions are relegated to appendix status (Appendix B). Similarly, under the rubric of 'making comparisons' the author deals with the relative superlative structure but there is no mention of the variant comparative forms (di, che, di quel che, di quanto), presumably because grammatical distinctions rather than semantic ones define these forms. On the other hand, it should be noted that accuracy is emphasized in the grammar exercises in the green pages as well as in the final exercise in each chapter of the Workbook entitled "Qual e la risposta corretta?"
The textbook includes a number of appendices, some unique to this text such as "Verbs in -isco" and "Verbs that express reciprocal actions" that are welcome additions. "Numbers" seems superfluous since the same information has already appeared twice in chapter 2 (p. 40 in the green pages and p. 54 in the yellow pages). "Verbs with irregular past participles" is a normal inclusion but there is no mention of "Verbs that require essere in compound tenses" that instructors have come to expect in an elementary textbook. The customary ancillary materials enhance the program: an annotated instructor's edition, electronic test bank, laboratory audio program, student workbook (Quaderno degli esercizi), overhead transparencies and a CD-ROM.
The complete program is quite impressive because of the vast number and range of content-based activities, both oral and written, located in the white pages but instructors must allow ample class time for students to prepare appropriate answers, whether individually or in pairs, and students must bave already studied the respective grammar structures beforehand in order for the method to be successful. For this reason, the program is most suitable for an entry-level curriculum with 4-5 class meetings per week rather than 2-3 contact hours.
PATRICIA DI SILVIO