Synthesis in Second Language Teaching: An Introduction to Languistics


693 pages
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-919950-01-9




Reviewed by Janice Shea

Janice Shea was Head of the Media, Technical, A.V. Equipment Services at Algonquin College, Nepean, Ontario.


Off the record, most language experts will acknowledge that little is really understood about first or second language acquisition. I myself regard with a certain amount of skepticism a volume of close to seven hundred pages whose subtitle reads An Introduction to Languistics.

I read on, however — a second language learner who absorbed (with first class honours) grammar, literature, and linguistics and was unable to hold a conversation. “Immersion” enabled the latter. Moreover, I “learned” the pedagogy of teaching a second language from an inarticulate instructor and a totally impractical collection of theories. Needless to say, my first class of ESL students had an unprepared teacher. A comment on this volume I have earned by my stripes.

Synthesis in Second Language Teaching turns out to be a refreshing compilation of most theories, methods, and complexities associated with second language learning and teaching. The author explores not only how learners learn and teachers teach and theorists theorize in this mysterious activity, he does so with great clarity and understanding. One must suppose that this is based on years of personal learning and teaching. Second language acquisition needs such a voice of common sense and experience. For example, “One of the most harmful factors in a second language program is excessive reliance on textbooks. Textbooks, unfortunately, tend to dominate second language teaching. They are always there, setting an unreasonably fast pace, always open, interfering with the development of the audiolingual skills and reinforcing the wrong notion that the language is what is found in books” (page 201). Also: “Students learn second language pronunciation best by imitating a good guiding and kindly correcting model, not by reading aloud and imitating each other, even if offered some guidance” (page 249). Not that the book lacks faults. Some explanations are too brief, others too lengthy. Bibliographical references are tossed off too easily, obviating the need for explanation at all. The justification for “languistics” and a proposed graduate program therein is gratuitous.

Ideally, the volume would be a course text, and the author himself would lead a class through it. This is, of course, not widely possible. The book will more probably serve as a back-up text to more theoretical treatises, provided that the price doesn’t daunt unduly.


Hammerly, Hector, “Synthesis in Second Language Teaching: An Introduction to Languistics,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 19, 2024,