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Is There Any Water in This Wading Pool?
A Review of Larry Andrews's 2001 Text

Larry Andrews. Mahwah: NJ: Erlbaum, 2001, Pp. xvii + 146. It is difficult to find an appropriate text for an introductory linguistics course for pre-service ESL teachers. Linguistics for L2 Teachers (LLT) is meant to help fill that niche. Andrews observes in the preface that his text is not designed to be a complete curriculum in linguistics but rather to be a foundation from which ESL and bilingual teacher can grow and gain confidence in their teaching (p. xi). Because of an almost complete absence of any important linguistic concepts to help L2 teachers understand how a second language is acquired, the complete absence of any consideration of major concepts in the literature of second language acquisition research, a superficial treatment of those linguistic topics that are presented, this book is completely inadequate for its intended purpose.

LLT has five chapters. Chapter 1, The Basic Features of Language and Communication, considers how human language is different from animal communication and theories on the possible origins of human language. Chapter 2, Words and Dictionaries, considers the meanings of words and what kind of information is contained in dictionaries designed for native speakers of English. Chapter 3, English Use and Usage, begins with a discussion of the ungrammatical utterances of Yoda in Star Wars (i.e. “sick have I become”) and ends by defining what “good English” is. Although Andrews identifies differences between good and bad English, he never introduces the term ungrammatical. Andrews describes Yoda as using “a word order that native English speakers can recognize but do not often employ (p. 38).” Chapter 4, Social Conventions and English Use, considers certain conventionalized conversational routines, especially on the telephone, and the Cooperative Principle. The discussion of the Cooperative Principle is the only useful discussion of an important linguistic concept for second language teachers in the entire text. However, Andrews does not explain how it might be relevant for teaching nor does he apply its implications when he relates an anecdote in the final chapter. A non-native speaker does not understand why a driver says “that was nice” when he is cut off by another driver. Andrews suggest the word nice is changing meaning. A better explanation would have been to refer to an apparent flouting of the need for a speaker to always be truthful. In Chapter 5, American English Variation, begins with five commonly held views of Standard English, and mentions African American English Vernacular, the different status of post-vocalic r in the US and the UK, among other types of variation. Chapter 6, Meaning and Signification, considers word means and Korzybski’s General Semantics.

As the chapter titles indicate, Andrews is essentially describing concepts about language variation which might inform the instruction about language to native speakers. Andrews does not link any of these concepts to decisions which second language teachers have to make. For example, in chapter five, Andrews discusses the nature of African-American English and how it differs from Standard English. No where does he suggest how these differences might influence the teaching decisions ESL teachers make in their classrooms. In chapter five, Andrews notes that languages change over time and place and discusses, in two pages, some of the differences between American and British English. With the status of English as an international language and the fact that there are several important different standard Englishes, these differences raise important questions about whether teachers in the States should correct students who learned British English. Andrews says nothing about this. Andrews never mentions basic linguistic concepts for describing English, such as complementary distribution, count-non-count nouns, inflectional-derivational morphology, open-closed class words, phrasal verbs, pronoun-case system, modal auxiliaries, tense, aspect, time, marked-unmarked structures, etc. For even a pre-introductory linguistics text for second language teachers, it is remarkable that only 11 of the 67 references are related in any way to the study of second language learning. Given its title, it is astonishing that none of the following concepts are mentioned: interlanguage, the critical period hypothesis, Universal Grammar, communicative competence, competence vs. performance, variability, error vs. mistake, focus-on-form, comprehensible input, input- intake.

To demonstrate the absence of serious scholarship in the text and how inadequate it is for its purpose, I consider what Andrews has to say about error correction and dictionaries. In his discussion on error correction in chapter 3, Andrews makes no mention that there is any literature about L2 learner errors or error correction. Nevertheless, Andrews offer two recommendations. First, the teacher’s language should model the language that is appropriate for the community. Andrews does not offer any notion of what he means by “community.” Given what he says about African-American Venacular English in Chapter five, it would seem such a discussion would be in order.

The second recommendation is that the teacher should correct those items with “the greatest social stigma in society” (p. 43). He claims the error in pronoun case (his example sentence is “he gave the book to Tom and I”) is not error with any social stigma. Without any evidence, Andrews asserts “fully 50% of native speakers can’t make this distinction” about pronoun case. There are three observations to make about the example and the unsupported claim. First, there is evidence on how stigmatizing an error the wrong pronoun case is. Hairston (1984) found that people in positions of authority outside the academy found this error very troubling. She labeled the non-standard pronoun case as a status-marking error. Of course, Hairston’s study is evidence that this distinction in pronoun case is recognized by an important segment of the population. Second, in a book for second language teaching, it is odd to discuss a native-speaker error instead of a more typical L2 error. Third, there is an entire literature on L2 errors which Andrews does not even suggest might be consulted. Without even considering error analysis, Andrews could have cited the local and global error distinction made by Dulay and Burt (1972) in the Gooficon or the error gravity studies of Vann, Meyer, and Lorenz (1984), Santos (1988) and Janopolous (1992). They found that errors which most irritated faculty were those errors which most affected comprehension. Such errors had nothing to do with “social stigma.” This review has just made references to three more pieces of research in the field of language second language learning than in all of LLT.

Another example of the shallow nature of the information in LLT is the discussion of dictionaries in chapter 2. According to Andrews, dictionaries are more like history books than law books because they note the meaning, pronunciation, and use of the word at time of publication. Andrews notes the following commonalities found in the most “reputable” (his word) dictionaries: main entry, pronunciation suggestions “typically using an augmented form of the International Phonetic Alphabet,” etymology, definitions, and in “some dictionaries,” usage notes indicating whether a particular pronunciation or definition is “archaic, obsolete, slang or a dialect feature.” Andrews is describing the information found only in dictionaries designed for native speakers.

Given the intended title of the text, it is strange he never mentions bilingual dictionaries or discusses whether L2 learners should use them. In a single paragraph on page 33, Andrews acknowledges that “recently” (his word) publishers have begun to print dictionaries especially designed for second language learners. Andrews notes that learner dictionaries are “very attractive,” “include many more illustrations,” and “include several sentences in each entry showing a word’s possible uses.” It is disappointing that these are the only differences he notes. In fact, there are important differences between a native speaker dictionary and a non-native dictionary. All the learner dictionaries I have examined never provide any etymological history of the word, use a standard version of the IPA, and provide more information about the grammatical properties of the word than can be found in any native speaker dictionary. If a second language teacher compares a learner dictionary to a native speaker dictionary, it becomes clear how much knowledge a learner needs to use a word in a target-like fashion and the inadequacy of native speaker dictionaries for such purposes. Because Andrews does not undertake such a comparison, such a recommendation is not possible. Andrews, however, does have a suggestion about what kind of dictionaries are valuable in the classroom. In one paragraph, he dismisses the limited value of the pocket-sized native-speaker dictionaries with one meaning per entry, and in a subsequent paragraph, he praises the usefulness of the single volume US collegiate desk dictionary because of its portability. It is embarrassing to read such trivial recommendations in a textbook designed to be used at the college level.

At a time when the core disciplinary knowledge of language teacher education is being questioned (Freeman & Johnson, 1998), the publication of LLT is alarming. I assume that LLT under went a normal review process. I do not understand how anyone in the field of second language teacher education could find such a superficial book serves the needs of any pre-service or in-service second language teacher.


Burt, Marina & Kiparsky, Carol. (1972). The Gooficon. Rowley, MA: Newbury House.
Freeman, Donald. and Johnson, Karen. (1998). Reconceptualizing the knowledge-base of language teacher education. TESOL Quarterly, 32, 397-417.
Hairston, Maxine. (1981). Not all errors are created equal: Nonacademic readers in the professions respond to lapses in usage. College English, 43, 794-806.
Janopoulos, Michael. (1992). University faculty tolerance of NS and NNS writing errors: A comparison. Journal of Second Language Writing, 1,109-121.
Santos, Terry. (1988). Professors’ reactions to the academic writing of nonnative-speaking students. TESOL Quarterly, 22, 69-90.
Vann, Roberta, Meyer, Daisy, & Lorenz, Frederick. (1984). Error gravity: A study of faculty opinion of ESL errors. TESOL Quarterly, 18, 427-440.

Review by Bob Yates, Assoc. Professor, English & TESL, Central Missouri State University

2003 ESL MiniConference Online