Ecoles thématiques CNRS / CNRS Summer Schools

Enaction et sciences cognitives / Enaction and Cognitive Science

Ecole 2007 : du 7 au 17 septembre 2007 - Fréjus (France)


Rosa Volpe

Status University teacher          
University / Laboratory Université de Perpignan Via Domitia
Laboratory website  
Personnal website  
Special information(s)

Im-signes et didactique cognitive en « situation d'ancrage ». Apprendre une langue étrangère autrement. Revue : Studi Italiani di Linguistica Teorica e Applicata (SILTA), Rome, Italie. (to appear, 2007).

Last April 30 th , I have sent a proposal to the European Council's European Center for Modern Languages in Graz, to participate to the EMPOWERING LANGUAGE PROFESSIONALS call for proposals for the period 2008-2011.

Our project, which involves an international team whose members' are from Italy, Poland, and France aims at the development of learner's autonomy by involving him/her to becoming aware of his/her emotions, attitude, learning styles and strategies during the learning process. Our approach, based on situated cognition and anchored instruction, aims at the development of the learner's cognitive flexibility with respect to the structure of the target language from exposure to film segments in the original version (no subtitles!) The title of our project is: EMOTION, MOTIVATION, COGNITION and CREATIVITY in L2: CREATIVE FEELINGS IN SECOND LANGUAGE ACQUISITION. Our project's acronym is: EMC2 . In fact, learners are also encouraged to « produce » their own short clips.

Upon completion of my Ph.D. studies, I received a post-doctorate scholarship from the McDONNEL FOUNDATION within the program COGNITIVE STUDIES FOR EDUCATIONAL PRACTICES allowing me to spend two years at the LEARNING TECHNOLOGY CENTER, at Peabody College, at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, USA carrying out a research project, under the supervision of John Bransford, on situated cognition, and anchored instruction aiming at the development of comprehension and production skills in second and foreign language acquisition. At the end of my two-year post-doctorate I accepted a position to lead and direct an innovative program based on self-paced learning within the Spanish department at the College of the Holy Cross. In 1997, serious family reasons in Italy motivated me to quit my job to return to Europe, however it was only in 2000 that I finally made it back to Italy. I returned to the USA in 2003, to finally make up my mind, in 2005, to live in France

Research theme

I am working on a theoretical framework for second language acquisition based on Van Lier's ecological approach inspired by Gibson. Helping language learners to become aware of their personal involvement is the first step to guide them acquiring a higher level of autonomy in tackling the transfer of complex knowledge to new situations; as when training foreign language beginners to build comprehension skills from watching, for instance, a film segment in its original version (VOLPE, 2007). Our learning model expands the notion of content into including visual context from watching film segments in the target language to set the stage for situated cognition and anchored instruction to be carried out. The film's written scripts are being used to carry out linguistic analysis practices aiming at developing comprehension and production skills by enhancing the learner's "cognitive flexibility" about the structure of the target language.

Key words: learner's autonomy; cognitive flexibility, situated learning; comprehension and production skills.

Video and experimental material

Videos  : I have some video clips from an experiment which I ran in 1994 at the university of   Vanderbilt in the USA with beginning language learners of Italian while working with the concepts of : noun phrase, and verb phrase during the linguistic analysis of the film's written script from the CDROM lesson based on film segments from Ettore Scola's We all loved each other so much . This study explored (1) whether first-semester, first-year college students of Italian could and would understand film narrative, (2) if and how, the comprehension of the film narrative would affect their written production . The first experimental probe consisted in a comprehension task. The results suggested that the Anchored Learning Group performed better than the Basic-Skills Learning Group in the comprehension of the two film segments. The second experimental probe consisted in a production task and showed that compared to the Basic-Skills Learning Group, the written production of the Anchored Learning Group reflected far better the structure of the narrative discourse they had been exposed to. Moreover the structure of their written discourse was closer to the structure of the discourse of the target language narrative. T his approach also motivated students to make their own « short-film production», which would also be available for watching.

Experimental demonstration  : While at the LEARNING TECHNOLOGY CENTER I developed interactive CDROM lessons based on film narrative to test my research hypotheses. I will be happy to run an experimental demonstration with one of these CDROM lessons. The theoretical framework of this approach was issued from Fillmore's research on "cognitive scenes," triggering the development of comprehension skills. Moreover, language production having been defined as a projection of internal language (Waltz, 1989) I wanted to also try to understand how, by bringing visual input into the foreign language classroom, the formation of the film's cognitive scenes could become an anchor helping learners to move from comprehension to production.   The relationship between perception, meaning and language structure has been analyzed in particular to show that what we see is translated into what we say (Jackendoff, 1987). Jackendoff has posited the need for a set of "correspondence rules" from which we would first translate acoustic and visual information into meanings to obtain language understanding; then we would translate these meanings into messages by making use of the vocal tract to produce speech.   These rules would thus explain the way in which the mind reconstructs "what is out there in the world" by transforming visual information (visual meanings) into linguistic expressions (linguistic meanings). With this respect, Schlesinger (1977) described production as a process that derives the meanings of sentences from the level of 'cognitive structures'. According to him these structures contain information that is much more dense and detailed than what appears from their actual production in utterances.   Moreover, these cognitive structures are realized on a non-linguistic level.   These pre-linguistic structures are fundamentally important in the comprehension and production of sentence meaning in natural language (Osgood, 1980).