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Klaus Bung:
The specification of objectives in a
language learning system for adults
Section 4

Note written on 2010-05-4

The long version

Two versions of this paper are in existence, referred to here as "the long version" and "the short version". The long versiion had restricted circulation and was the basis of the discussion by the Committee of Experts. It contained sections 1 to 4. The short version, more widely circulated, was derived from the long version by removing Section 4, shortening the table of contents to reflect this, removing a paragraph in the Introduction and making some minor changes on p 2, and by changing the page numbers of the Bibliography. On p 38 of the short version a reference to a non-existing Section 4 has remained by mistake. Some of the remarks about choice of vocabulary below and above T-level in the short version make more sense with reference to Section 4, i.e. in the long version. -- end of note


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Fax of table of contents


1 Introduction 2

2 A model for the specification of objectives 3

3 General problems concerning the specification of objectives 13
3.1 Introduction 13
3.2 The general relation of recommended precedence 13
3.21 Arguments for and against a general ordering relation 16
3.3 The general relation of necessary precedence 20
3.4 Catering for general purpose learners 22
3.5 Learners with largely predictable needs 24
3.6 The relation of actual precedence 28
3.7 Note on future research 29
3.8 Units 30
3.9 The T-level boundary 36
3.10 Special purpose languages and technical vocabularies 37

4.1 Minimal specimen units for waiters 39
4.2 Selection of van-Eli-words for a maximal waiter unit
      below the T-level boundary 41

Bibliography 59

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Fax of long version page 2

1 Introduction

This study is the result of a brief from the Council of Europe which instructed me

  1. 'to prepare a model for the operational specification of adult language learning objectives in terms of communication situations, taking into consideration the situational, notional and linguistic criteria' developed by Richterich 1972, Wilkins 1972 and van Ek 1972
  2. 'to exemplify this model by detailed specification of the content of the threshold level of competence in English'

In response to this brief, I submitted first my paper 'The input-output relation in language behaviour' (Bung 1973a). The present study completes the task.

Section 2 of the study presents, in compact form, the model ultimately arrived at. At this point I wish to express my gratitude to John L M Trim for his contribution to the development of the model, which is the result of an intensive collaboration.

Section 3 of the study discusses the more general problems connected with the specification of objectives within the system and with the concepts envisaged by the Committee of Experts set up by the Council of Europe to develop a unit-credit system for adult language learning.

Section 4 contains an exemplification of the model by specifying typical communication situations in which a waiter may find himself and assigning to each the linguistic skills required for minimal communication. In addition, Part 3 contains a lexical specification for a waiter requiring maximal communication efficiency below the T-level boundary as drawn by van Ek 1972.

This study should be read in conjunction with my paper 'The foreign language needs of waiters and hotel staff' (Bung 1973b) and the considerably larger study of the same title (Bung 1973c) on which it is based.

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Figure 18 represents the characteristic form of the general precedence relation with a T-level boundary drawn in. Certain technical vocabularies have been placed above the T-level boundary. It is evident that, in principle, a learner can start above the T-level boundary provided the necessary teaching materials or informants are available. Similarly a course could start with material situated above the T-level boundary unless external steps (not necessarily commendable) are taken to discourage such courses.

There are two basic alternative approaches for the treatment of special purpose languages:

1. The T-level boundary is drawn in such a way that all material that is of no interest to the learner below the T-level boundary appears above the boundary. In that case, the so-called common core (the subject matter that is considered to be important for all learners at a certain stage of development) is, below the T-level boundary, identical with the T-level content itself. This approach makes for a simple system. Yet it does not imply that no provision for special purpose learners can be made below the T-level boundary. Such provision can be made by assigning to each type of learner or each learner need worthy of special consideration a subset of the total subject matter positioned below the T-level boundary. For the waiter's needs this has been done in the vocabulary part of a specimen unit which is intended to be as rich as possible and yet remain below the T-level boundary as drawn by van Ek 1972 (see Figure 18). This specimen appears in Section 4 of this paper.

2. Alternatively, the T-level boundary must be drawn differently for different groups of learners. Thus, for the waiter but not for the taxi driver, the specific food words such as

  • beef, pork, steak, sausage, pudding, ...

will be positioned below the T-level boundary (thus introducing a distinction between common-core and special elements below the T-level boundary).

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4.1 Minimal specimen unit for waiters

The objective consists of 175 words and very few fixed phrases. Some words listed are not among those placed below the T-level boundary by van Ek 1972. Operations for which all linguistic skills specified are receptive are marked 'R' after the operation number. Operations with only productive skills are marked 'P'. Operations associated with productive and receptive skills are marked 'M' (mixed). In these operations, all receptive items are followed by an asterisk (*).

Op 1: P: Refusing to receive closed
Op 2: P: Reception Good morning
Good afternoon
Good evening
Op 3: M: Response to guests demanding attention
Op 4: Exploring guests' wishes
What would you like?
Op 5: P: Suggesting dishes
van Ek food terms:

drink, water, beer, bread, butter, cheese, chicken, chocolate, cigar, cigarette, coffee, cream, cup, a sweet, egg, fish, food, fruit, glass, ice-cream, meal, milk, mineral water, potato, restaurant, rice, (bread) roll, salad, salt, sandwich, soup, sugar, tea, vegetables, wine

More specific catering terms:

apple, pear, strawberry, vanilla, nut, beef, pork,
bacon, veal, fish and chips, cake, brandy, jelly, pudding, sherry, liqueur, macaroni, oil, omelette, orange, rum, vodka, pot, bottle, knife, fork, spoon

Qualifying adjectives and participles:

red, white, strong, weak, fried, boiled, hot, cold, good, fresh, much, little, thin, black, cheap, hard, old, nice, soft, sweet, warm

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Op 6: M: Explaining what a certain dish is:
What is ...?*
it's made of
it's a kind of
Op 7: R:

Understanding orders: same vocabulary as Op 5, plus:

Numbers 1, ..., 25

don't (want)
Op 8: P:

Communicating order to kitchen staff:
same vocabulary as Op 7, but productively

Op 9: P:

Response to complaint about delays

at once

Op 10: P: Ascertaining who has ordered what:
same vocabulary as Op 5, productively
for you?
Op 11: Serving the food:
no language
Op 12: M: Complaints about quality:
Op 13: P: Enquiry about quality:
All right?
Op 14: As Op 12  
Op 15: R: Understanding request for bill:
Op 16: P: Justifying charges: for ...
Op 17: P: Taking money: Thank you
Op 18: P: Seeing guests out: Good bye

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4.2 Selection of van-Ek-words for a maximal waiter unit below the T-level boundary

Each of van Ek's words has been considered with a view to establishing whether it could be useful (receptively or productively) in at least one of the waiter operations analysed in Bung 1973b. These operations are:

Op 1: Refusing to receive guests
Op 2: Receiving guests
Op 3: Response to guests demanding waiter's attention
Op 4: Exploring guests' general wishes
Op 5: Suggesting dishes
Op 6: Explaining what a dish is and how it is made
Op 7: Understanding the order
Op 8: Communicating the order to kitchen staff
Op 9: Response to guests complaining about delays in service
Op 10: Bringing the food and ascertaining who has ordered what
Op 11: Serving the food
Op 12: Response to guests complaining about quality of food
Op 13: Polite enquiry about quality of food
Op 14: Response to guests complaining about quality of food
(14 tends to exclude 12, and vice versa
Op 15: Bringing the bill
Op 16: Justifying charges if queried
Op 17: Taking money, giving change
Op 18: Seeing guests out of the restaurant

In the list that follows, at least one operation has been assigned to each word or phrase. This does not mean that the word could not occur in other operations as well.

Words which may be useful to the waiter in 'general' operations, not included in the 18 central operations, have been marked 'g' ('e.g. advising about parking or telephone facilities).

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1 Verbs

1a Verbs denoting activities not primarily involving interpersonal contacts

  may occur at least in operation
boil (tr.) 6
break (tr.) 12
bring 7
bring back 7
burn 12
change (tr.) 17
clean 12
close 1
correct 16
cut 6
do 1
dress 1
drink 4
dry 12
eat 4
fetch 7
fill (tr.) 6
find g
follow 2
get out, leave 18
get up, rise, stand up g
go g
hurry, make haste 3, 7
include 16
keep 17
leave, start (of persons) 15
listen 7
look 12
make (cause to exist) 6
open (tr.) 1
park g
put, place, set 11

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send 7
smoke 6
stop (tr.) g
take (take s.t. away ***from*** a place 6
think 6
touch 11
translate 6
try, attempt 7, 9
use 6
wait 1, 9
wash 12
work 9

1b Verbs denoting activities primarily involving interpersonal contacts

accept 12
advise, recommend 5
ask, request 1, 7
buy 7
call (cry to s.o., summon) 9, 12, 14, 16
call (give name) 5
describe 6
explain 6
give, hand to 7
help 6
insure 7
pay 15
pronounce 6
repeat (say again) g
sell 7
serve 1, 6
show (tr.) 6
speak, talk g
spend (money) 4
telephone g

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tell (story, information) 6
thank 17

1c Verbs denoting volition not primarily involving interpersonal contacts

choose 5
decide 5
intend 5
prefer 5
want, desire, wish 7

1d Verbs denoting volition primarily involving interpersonal contacts

agree g
let, allow, permit 7

1e Verbs denoting perception

see 6

1f Verbs denoting attitude towards something or someone

believe 6
forget g
hope 13
know 6
like 4



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need 4
remember 6
suppose 6
understand g

1g Verbs denoting events or occurrences

become 12
burn (intr.) 6
get, receive 7
smell (intr.) 12

taste (intr.)


1h Verbs denoting state or condition

have, possess, own 7
mean (signify) 6
seem g
be wrong 16

2 Nouns

2a Persons and personal data

adult 1
age 1
baby 1
child 1
daughter 10
father 10
friend 10
gentleman 10
girl 10
husband 10

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lady 10
madam (term of address) g
man (male) 10
Miss 10
mother 10
Mr 10
Mrs 10
name g
sir (term of address) g
sister 10
son 10
wife 10
woman 10

2b Travel, traffic, holidays

baggage g
suitcase g
taxi g
telephone g
tip 17
train 7
underground, tube 7

2c Body and health

ache, pain g
head g
hunger g
medicine g
thirst g
tooth g

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2d Time

afternoon 1
o'clock 1
evening 1
hour 1
quarter of an hour 1
minute 1
week 1
weekday 1
weekend 1

2e Place and buildings

corner 2
river 6
sea 6
valley 6

2f Home and furniture

"bathroom" (= WC) g
chair g
door g
entrance 2
heating g
kitchen 7
lavatory g
table 2
wall 2
window 2

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2g Shopping and meals

beer 7
bread 7
butter 7
cheese 7
chicken 7
chocolate 7
cigar 7
cigarette 7
coffee 7
cream 7
cup 7
dessert 7
dinner 7
drink 7
egg 7
fish 7
food 7
fruit 7
glass (object) 7
ice-cream 7
lunch 7
meal 7
meat 7
milk 7
mineral water 7
pastry 7
potato 7
rice 7
roll (bread roll) 7
salad 7
salt 7
sandwich 7
soup 7
sugar 7

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tea 7
tobacco 7
vegetables 7
waiter 3
wine 7

2h Finance

bill 17
change 17
small change 17
cheque 17
money 16
pay 17
price 16

2k Clothing

coat 18
glasses g
hat 18
jacket 18

2-L Material

oil 7
paper 7
plastic 7

2m Concrete

animal 1
bag g
bottle 7

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box 7
camera g
fire 9
ice 7
insect 12
match (G.: Streichholz) 7
newspaper 7
pen 7
pencil 7
plant 6
radio g
seat 1, 2
television g
thing g
tree 6
umbrella g
watch (timepiece) g
word g

2n Abstract

advice 5
answer g
condition, situation, state 12
dance g
heat g
information 6
inquiry 6
job g
language g
love 7
message g
mistake 12
noise g
opinion g

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order, command 7
pleasure g
problem g
quality 12
question 6
room (space) 1
shade, shadow 2
start, beginning 5
surprise g
temperature g
view (G.: Aussicht) 2
way 2
work 3

3 Adjectives

3a Size

big 7
high 7
little, small 7
long 7
short 7
thin 7

3b Colour

black, blue, brown, dark, green, grey, light, orange, red, white, yellow
all 7

3c Quality

afraid g
bad 12
busy (street, etc) 9

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certain, sure g
cheap 7
clean 12
cold 7, 12
dead 12
dear (expensive) 16
different 7
difficult 9
dirty 12
dry 7
easy 9
enough 11
fast 7
fine (beautiful) 13
foreign 7
full 1
glad g
good 7
half 7
hard (solid) 7
hot 7
hungry 4
ill g
important 7
kind 17
last (final) g
late (opp.: early) 9
light (opp.: heavy) 7
necessary 7
next 7
normal 16
old 7
open 1
ordinary 7
pleasant, nice 7
possible 9
ready 9

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real 7
right, correct g
right (opp.: left) 2
same 7
slow 9
simple 7
soft 7
strange 6
strong 7
sweet (opp.: bitter) 7
thirsty 4
warm 7
weak 7
whole 6
wrong 16
young 6

4 Adverbs

4a Place

back 12
downstairs 2
here 2
round, about 6
somewhere g
there g
up (direction) 2
upstairs 2
where? 2

4b Time

again (once again) 7
ago 9

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already 9
before 7
first 7
just 7
later (on), (afterwards) 7
never 7
not yet 9
now 7
once 7
at once 9
so far, as yet 9
soon 7, 9
still 9
then, next 7
at the same time 7
today 5
tonight 5
usually 5
when? 7

4c Manner

also 7
free of charge g
how? 6
straight on 2
together 7

4d Modality

of course g
no 7
not 7
perhaps, maybe 5
rather (G.: gerne, lieber) 5, 7

------------------------- long version page 55 -------------------------------------

yes 7

4e Degree

about (circa) 7
all, quite 7
not at all 7
almost, nearly 7
as ... as 7
hardly 7
at least 7
only 7
rather (G.: ziemlich) 7
too 7, 12
very 7

4f Not included in other categories

so, consequently 7

5 Pronouns

another (additional) 7
nay 4
anything 4
both 7
each 7
everybody 7
everything 7
few 7
a few 7
most 7

------------------------- long version page 56 -------------------------------------

much, many 7
how much 4
no 7
nobody 7
nothing 7
only 7
other 7
several 7
some (a number of) 7
some (quantity) 7
something 4
such (a) 7

6 Conjunctions

after 7
and 7
because, as 7
before 7
but 7
for 7
if (G.: ob) 7
if (G.: wenn) 7
or 7
than 7
that 7
till 6
when 6
where 2
while 6, 7

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7 Prepositions

7a Place

above 6
among 6
by, near, with 2
from 7
inside 6
into 6
on 6
to, towards g
up 2

7b Time

after 7
before 7
during, for 7
from 6
in 6
till 6

7c Not included in other categories

about (concerning) 6
against 7
because of 7
except 7
instead of 7
like 7
of 7
with 7
without 7

------------------------- long version page 58 -------------------------------------

8 Idioms and expressions

and so on g
beg pardon (Fr.: comment?) g
bye-bye, good-bye 18
excuse me g
for example 6
good night (etc.) 18
here you are 11
(be) in a hurry 7
I'd like ... 7
it doesn't matter 7
it's a pity g
look out (G.: Achtung:) g
not ... either 7
out of order g
please (S.V.P.) g
sorry! g
thank you 17
thank you very much 17
that is g
there is / are 5
till tomorrow (etc.) 18
wait a minute 3
what's the matter with ... 12
what's the time g

Note added on 2010-05-09: The bibliography in the short version and in the full version are identical except for the page numbers.

Shortened version Full version
page 39 page 59
page 40 page 60
page 41 page 61

© 1973 and 2010 Klaus Bung