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Readers' Review : Language, Culture and the Embodied Mind by Joseph Shaules

This book presents a neurocognitive approach to language and culture learning. According to the book, language acquisition involves deep learning, which engages the learner at multiple levels of the self. It also involves dynamic skills, that is, learning complex skills at the level of the intuitive mind where the whole is equal to more than the total of its parts. Hence, it takes an integrated view of language and culture learning.

To be honest, when I started reading the book, I braced myself for difficult stuff, half of which I would not understand. However, it turned out to be a remarkably simple and engaging read. The primary reason was that despite being based on research findings; the book is grounded in real life. It was quite relatable. I had a series of “That’s exactly what happened in my classroom!” and “Aha, now it makes sense!” moments! The author says, “If this work provides food for thought to practicing teachers – something that allows them to look at their work in new ways, it would have achieved its purpose.” In my opinion, that purpose was achieved.

If I had to single out one thing that I found most useful in the book, it was the way it dealt with the challenges a language learner faces. As a teacher and trainer in this field, I have seen learner motivation plateau after an initial surge of enthusiasm and effort. I have been through moments of anger and frustration where I have felt that the learner’s effort was far lower than mine. This book helped me understand what blocks the learner and creates obstacles (also termed ‘resistance’) in the learner’s mind.

It is not just proficiency levels that learners have to cope with, because this journey is not psychologically neutral. It involves a deep-rooted process of change and adjustment. Language acquisition seeps deeper and deeper into one’s consciousness, causing a lot of internal upheavals that are neither obvious nor addressed in the classroom. While the book is not a manual or handbook that prescribes readymade solutions, it does provide instead a scaffolding in the form of the Developmental Model of Linguagculture Learning (DMLL) which stands on solid empirical grounds.

Intuitive, and easy to follow, DMLL provides a pedagogical roadmap, that educators can use, not just to map learner progression but also, to empower learners and make them autonomous so that they can take charge of their learning journey. The objective of the book is not to provide ready-to-use classroom activities but make teachers look afresh at their context. Personally, when I reflected on the “focus on experiential learning, emotional engagement, trial and error, community, intuitive insight and experimentation” in the context of Indian classrooms, a lot got unpacked. Once the unpacking process begins, one can use DMLL to find solutions specific to immediate contexts.

The flexibility the book offers readers makes the reading process smooth. The book is divided into three Parts: which can be read sequentially or independently. Each Part and Chapter is preceded by an ‘Abstract’ that can help the reader decide what one would like to focus on.

It is a book for trainers and teachers who want to look more deeply into self-development or understand their students better or just refresh their minds.

Dolon Gupta is a Communication Consultant and Coach specializing in the field of Business Communication, Intercultural Management and Soft Skills with experience in academic institutes and corporate houses. She serves on Governing Committees of professional bodies and on the Board of Studies of Universities. She is actively engaged in writing for publications and journals & speaking at international forums. She is Co-Founder of BCFAI. Learn more about her on the BCFAI website and LinkedIn.

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