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Marcel Danesi: Il cervello in aula! Neurolinguistica e didattica delle lingue.

Marcel Danesi. Il cervello in aula! Neurolinguistica e didattica delle lingue. Seconda edizione. Perugia: Guerra Edizioni, 2015.

Renowned Italianist, semiotician, and linguist, Marcel Danesi, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Toronto, has provided the Italian teaching community with a completely revised and updated version of the original edition of his 1998 textbook Il cervello in aula! In the nearly two decades since its original publication, Danesi takes into account the significant body of research on neurolinguistics and pedagogy, much of it his own, that has appeared since 1998. A comparison of the first and second editions reveals an expansion from five to seven chapters with three entirely new chapters (4, 6, 7) and major revisions to the remaining four (1, 2, 3, 5). The second edition constitutes an entirely new book in terms of content and coverage of the major advances in neurolinguistics and pedagogy during the past two decades. This book features both theoretical and practical applications for the classroom.

In his prefatory statement, Danesi points out that children have the ability to acquire a first language with no formal instruction. With the passage of time, language acquisition becomes more difficult, especially after the so-called critical age hypothesis, the age (11-14) at which second-language acquisition becomes more difficult. A basic question then becomes, how do linguists and researchers provide a pedagogical context for such acquisition after pubescence? Danesi responds that an effective strategy is to take into account the basic structure of the brain. The second edition is a crystallization of Danesi's continuing research including numerous scholarly books and articles into this important topic. In this sense, it represents a mature and critical analysis of the research on second-language acquisition during the past half century.

Chapter 1 ("La didattica delle lingue moderne") notes that the term glottodidattica was introduced by the late distinguished Italian psycholinguist Renzo Titone. On the one hand, the Italian expression refers to instructional activities, i.e., language teaching or language pedagogy. On the other hand, it signifies scientific research, i.e., applied linguistics or second-language acquisition. In this chapter, the author provides a historical review of the major methods (grammar-translation, the direct method, the audio-lingual method, communicative approaches, cognitive approach, affective methods, the proficiency movement) for teaching second languages. Danesi then discusses the most recent trends in second-language acquisition such as a more personalized instructional experience moderated by the ever-expanding computer-mediated universe (Internet, blogs, etc.).

The second chapter ("Il cervello umano e l'apprendimento delle lingue") delves into the essential thesis of the book, namely, that knowledge of the human brain and its functions constitutes a key to successful second language education. Danesi focuses on five important concepts: 1) the structure of the human brain and its various functions; 2) neurolinguistics (the branch of neuroscience that focuses on the relationship between the brain and language); 3) hemispheric complementarity (the role of the right and left hemispheres of the brain for specific functions); 4) cerebral plasticity (the ability of the brain to redistribute functions in case of brain lesions); and 5) the critical age hypothesis (the age at which second-language acquisition becomes more difficult--a theory originated by Wilder Penfield and Lamar Roberts (Speech and Brain Mechanisms, Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1959) and popularized by Eric Lenneberg (The Biological Foundations of Language, New York: Wiley, 1967), and one that has undergone modification to account for additional factors.

In the next chapter ("La neurolinguistica applicata"), Danesi expounds on applied neurolinguistics. He notes that the two hemispheres of the brain have differentiated functions. In the case of the left hemisphere, there are L-mode functions (phonology, morphology, syntax, literal meaning, sentence-level meaning), while in the right hemisphere, there are R-mode functions (control of prosodic features at discourse level, connotative meaning, determination of sentence type, figurative language). In the rest of this chapter, Danesi offers a critical analysis of four approaches to language acquisition that take into account the application of neurolinguistics to language pedagogy: 1) Total Physical Response (James J. Asher); 2) Suggestopedia (Georgi Lozanov); 3) the Natural Approach (Stephen Krashen); and 4) Universal Grammar (Noam Chomsky).

Chapter 4 ("La visione bimodale") reviews briefly previous research on modality, and then he sketches a model of the tripartite process of bimodality: 1) R-Mode (stimuli and tasks); 2) L-Mode (formalization of the new input; and 3) Bi-Mode (the resulting spontaneous and automatic utilization of the new input). The procedures to be followed in Danesi's bimodal model include a series of stages): 1) focalization (formal focused activities including repetition and review); 2) contextualization (activities that focus on the use of language in context, role-play and simulation); 3) conceptualization (use of language applied to cultural and metaphoric concepts such as love and friendship); and 4) personalization (adaptation of activities best suited the strengths of individual students).

In the fifth chapter ("La fluenza concettuale"), Danesi discusses in detail his notion of conceptual fluency, originally developed by him in the 1980s, and based on the work of George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (Metaphors We Live By, Chicago: U Chicago P, 1980). Conceptual fluency constitutes the ability to communicate authentically in a second language by using the cultural and conceptual concepts of the other language and culture. Danesi provides abundant systematic examples of conceptual fluency. Lastly, he also employs a revamped version of contrastive analysis to demonstrate the predictable pitfalls of students engaged in second-language acquisition.

Chapter 6 ("Il cervello in aula") provides an overview of the three competencies: 1) Linguistic (phonology, morphology, syntax, lexico-semantic, and orthography); 2) communicative competence (pragmatic, strategic, and stylistic); and 3) conceptual competence (metaphoric, cultural, and reflexive). Danesi then presents a wide variety of classroom activities designed to stimulate and develop these competencies.

In the final chapter ("La bimodalita nell'era dell'Internet") is one of the most relevant for today's teacher and student because it illustrates how to utilize contemporary technology from a bimodal perspective. The new technology enhances motivation, facilitates experiential learning, offers a student-centered approach, and allows for personal learning styles through the web's flexibility. The Internet, properly used, presents the teacher with additional pedagogical resources for both teachers and students alike (the integration of external materials that enhance content in a textbook, e.g., cultural content, grammatical enrichment, and so forth). Danesi also discusses the ubiquitous use "netlingo", or cyberspeak, which is now a staple part of every student's linguistic repertoire.

Danesi systematized the use of "pedagogical graphics" (diagrams, charts, tables, graphics, lines), a term he introduced in his now classic article ("Pedagogical Graphics in Second-Language Teaching," The Canadian Modern Language Review 40: 73-81, 1983). These pedagogical techniques permeate this book. The second edition of Il cervello in aula! provides the scholar and student alike with an excellent resource on the most current research in second-language pedagogy from the now dominant paradigm of neurolinguistics. Anyone familiar with Danesi's writing style knows that his written presentations are always clear, easily comprehensible, and orderly. As a result, the reader is able to comprehend and retain complex notions quite easily. A very useful glossary and a comprehensive bibliography complement this excellent textbook. This book belongs in the personal library of every teacher of Italian.

Frank Nuessel

University of Louisville
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Author:Nuessel, Frank
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Date:Mar 22, 2016
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