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A Start | B Intro | C Staff functions | D Waiter function | E Word lists |
F Notes, Bibliog, App | Short waiter study

Dr Klaus Bung
68 Brantfell Road
Blackburn BB1-8DL
w: www.dynamic-language-learning-dr-bung.com
contact info img

© 1973 and 2010 Klaus Bung

Klaus Bung:
The Foreign Language Needs
of Waiters and Hotel Staff 1
(aka "The long waiter study")
- Part C -

go part D

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3 Staff functions in a small hotel

3.1 Introduction

The brief to investigate the linguistic needs of 'a waiter with associated functions' may have been prompted by the, now evidently false, assumption that the investigation of the needs of a waiter in his central role alone would be too trivial a task.

Or it may have been prompted by the desire to obtain an example of the interrelation of slightly divergent tasks. As this study will show, such an example can also be provided on the basis of the various operations of the waiter in his central function without bringing in any 'associated functions'.

Finally, this part of the brief may have been an attempt to ensure that the linguistic specification be given at a very elementary level, since a person carrying out so many functions in their linguistic aspects is likely to be of very limited competence unless he is a fully-fledged linguist.

In any event, different priorities for learning would have to be established for

  1. a waiter with the associated function of receptionist and
  2. a receptionist with the associated function of a waiter

The brief to investigate a 'waiter with associated functions' is in fact equivalent to a brief demanding that the linguistic needs of several persons specialising in these functions be analysed. The results of such an investigation in respect of needs (but not of learning priorities) would be the same. The investigation of several employees would not lead to a specification of greater competence since, in any case, we have to subdivide any higher-level competence into its constituent parts and relate them to various aspects of the jobs to be carried out.

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In deciding what are 'associated functions', I have restricted the waiter's area of activity to a radius of 20 yards around the hotel. Anything he may do outside this radius is deemed to be irrelevant for this study.

Figure 3: List of hotel staff functions

    geographical area
F1 waiter, serving food; barman / barmaid; room service inside hotel
F2 receptionist inside
F3 porter carrying luggage from car in front of hotel to rooms inside outside and inside
F4 dealing with correspondence inside
F5 telephonist inside
F6 giving information about entertainments, shopping facilities, ... inside

We can now ask about each of these functions whether it is essential for the running of the hotel.

F6, 'information service', would be an asset for attracting and retaining guests but the hotel can function without it. Moreover the linguistic skills that can be required for this service can be very great and the service might therefore be expensive.

F3, 'porter's service', is not essential as a general institution, and hotels of the type under investigation here can do without it. It may, however, be essential in special cases, i.e. when the guest is very old, weak, sick or rich. In such cases, a non-specialist member of staff, e.g. the waiter, may carry out this function.

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The other functions are essential.

The waiter's 'central' function, that of serving food / drinks / tobacco products to the guests (F1), is one of the essential functions for the hotel. All other functions are non-central from his point of view.

F4, 'correspondence', is distinguished from the other functions by not being 'live', i.e. the person dealing with correspondence can take more time over deciphering in-coming letters and composing outgoing letters than he could in carrying out the remaining functions.

Figure 4 classifies the six hotel functions by assigning a vector to each of them.

  1. The first component of each vector (denoted by E) determines whether the function is essential. It assumes the value 2 if the function is essential. It assumes the value 1 if the function becomes essential only in exceptional circumstances. Otherwise it assumes the value 0.
  2. The second component (denoted by C) assumes the value 2 if the function is central for the waiter and the value 0 if it is not.
  3. The third component (denoted by L) assumes the value 2 if the function is 'live' and the value 0 if it is not.

Figure 4: Classification of six hotel functions

        E   C   L

Fl      2   2   2
F2      2   0   2
F3      1   0   2
F4      2   0   0
F5      2   0   2
F6      0   O   2

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Only F2 (receptionist) and F5 (telephonist) are assigned the same vector (2,0,2). All other functions differ from each other in respect of the chosen variables.

3.2 More detailed description of hotel functions

I shall now give a comparatively coarse break-down of the various functions. This break-down is intended to illustrate a possible approach. The sub-functions listed are likely to be incomplete. Lack of time did not permit me to make the necessary checks for completeness.

The degree of incompleteness of the break-down can be estimated by the reader if he compares the coarse analysis of Fl that follows immediately and the more detailed analysis of the same function given in Section 4 of this paper. A more detailed analysis of the other functions may reveal similar complexities.

Each sub-function (except those of F6) will be specified in the following form:

  1. A descriptive label in non-linguistic terms
  2. A medium-conversion vector (Bung 1973)
  3. The labels R and / or P, depending on whether the skill is receptive or productive
  4. Labels for the sentence types (cf van Ek 1972, p 69) which may occur
  5. Examples of the sentence types

3.21 Extension of the medium-conversion model

The term 'medium-conversion' has been adopted as a descriptive adjective of the model of Bung 1973 and its vectors. The term refers to the fact that most of the vectors describe the conversion of a message from one medium into another. The term does not do justice to the fact that some (but only very few?) vectors describe

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conversions from a medium into meaning or non-verbal actions, or from meaning or non-verbal actions into meaning. However, I cannot propose any more characteristic term.

Bung 1973 was able to describe conversations only in terms of independent receptive and productive phases; e.g. the receptive phase was described as a vector from Group 18, 'Target language into meaning', and the subsequent productive phase was described by an independent vector from Group 2, 'Meaning into target language'. The fact that the meaning generated for the reply is, as a rule, not semantically independent from the meaning received was not accounted for.

To enable us to specify conversations in a more realistic manner, we introduce an additional element into Figure 1 of Bung 1973. We label it '31' and connect it with '18' in such a manner that the following additional arrows are introduced:
18 ---> 31
31 ---> 18
No other elements or arrows are added to, or deleted from, Figure 1 of Bung 1973.

31 denotes the following process: 'Establish the semantically appropriate response to an instruction, question, provocative assertion, ...'. The introduction of 31 must be regarded as a stop-gap measure inasmuch as 31 differs from all the other elements in the diagram by denoting a process rather than a set of utterances, meanings or actions. I shall continue to search for a better solution. Meanwhile 31 enables us to assign medium-conversion vectors to conversations in respect of the behaviour of any one partner.

We make the simplifying assumption that any phase of a conversation is an act of communication between two people, a transmitter and a receiver, playing complementary roles and exchanging their roles at the end of each phase or passing their role on to a third person. The model therefore does not deal with the situation described by Freund 1972, p 165, as follows:

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'Es gibt keine auf Dialektarabisch geführte Diskussion zwischen zwei Gesprächspartnern inmitten Dritter, die schweigend zuhören würden; denn die Ausrichtung des Gespräches ist eine andere: es verläuft nicht von Person A zu Person B oder umgekehrt, sondern es stellt sich eine Art Wortakkord ein, den alle Sprechenden and Hörenden gleichzeitig produzieren, aufnehmen and auch sofort wieder weitergeben. - Ich berühre hier mein Eingangsargument, daß verschiedene Sprachen auch unterschiedliche Kommunikationsmerkmale aufweisen'.

(English translation, by Klaus Bung, added on 2010-05-31: "A discussion in dialect Arabic between two partners in the midst of others who would listen silently is something that does not exist since the polarity of the conversation is different: it does not run from person A to person B or vice versa, but what develops is a kind of verbal chord, which all speakers and listeners simultaneously produce, perceive and immediately pass on. - This touches on my initial argument, namely that different languages also have differing characteristics of communication." - end of note).

In order to indicate the unusual status of 31 in the medium-conversion model, 31, when occurring in a vector, will be denoted by the letter 'a' (mnemonic: 'appropriate').

When assigning medium-conversion vectors to the hotel staff functions, we shall often ignore the detailed processes of conversion and specify only the first and the last component of the vector. Moreover, we shall ignore the function of 'information reduction' and the distinction between clear and unclear inputs; all inputs will be treated as equally clear and unclear.

Let us now abstract further from the medium-conversion model and denote any vector of Group 18, 'Target into meaning', by the letter R ('receptive') and any vector of Group 2, 'Meaning into target', by the letter P ('productive'). Let us further ignore the difference between target language and source language, thus bringing further groups of vectors under the cover or R and P. R now denotes a receptive process and P a productive process. We retain 'a' for the process of finding an associated / appropriate meaning that may yield a response to a message received. We then have the basic elements for the setting up of a general model of conversations in terms of listeners and speakers. This will be fully developed elsewhere.

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3.22 Coarse analysis of six hotel functions

3.221 Function 1: Waiter

This function will be analysed in more detail in Section 4 below. Here only a very coarse analysis is given. The contrast between this analysis and the one presented below will enable readers to estimate the kind of information and the amount of detail which a more detailed analysis of Functions 2 to 6 would yield.

3.221.1 F1a: Understanding an order and bringing food &c

MC-vector (medium-conversion vector): (3,30). Depending on the linguistic setting, MC(3,30) may be realised by MC(10,30) or MC(11,30) &c. These vectors describe the usual events in a restaurant.

Communication difficulties can, however, sometimes be overcome if orders are given in writing. While it may be more difficult for the waiter to write English (with its complex orthography) intelligibly than to speak it intelligibly, it may be easier for him to understand correctly written English than to understand correctly spoken English. This may be especially true of the so-called international words (see the Sánchez test in Section 5.31 below).

If written communication of orders is also permitted, the appropriate MC-vector for F1a is (1,30), which may be realised by MC(3,30) or MC(2,30).

This function can be purely receptive and hence very easy, especially if handled through the graphic medium.

The sentence types à la van Ek will be labelled

I imperative
A assertion
Q question
W words and fixed phrases, sentence fragments, i.e. the

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phrase-book approach ('Beer, please.' - 'A glass of wine, please.') (Note 1)

In brief:

F1a: Understanding order and bringing food


R   I A Q W

3.2212 F1b: Explaining what a certain dish is and how it is made


MC(3, 28, 18, a, 18, 28, 3)
   ---------     ---------
       R             P

receptive: understanding request for information

Q What is X?
A We would like to know what is X.
I Tell us how you prepare X.

productive: stating constituents and procedures

A X is made of Y, which we treat as follows
W A kind of ...

In brief

R   Q A I  
P   A W    

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3.221.3 F1c: Exploring the guests' general wishes / inclinations before making suggestions

Which MC-vector is appropriate depends on how the operation is triggered off (see trigger analysis in Section 4.2 below). If the trigger is verbal (i.e. the guests use verbal signals to attract the waiter's attention and invite him to explore their tastes),

MC(3, 28, 18, a, 18, 28,11)
   ---------     ---------
       R             P

which may be applied repeatedly

If the trigger is non-verbal (e.g. the waiter has observed that the previous operation is completed, or the guests call the waiter by non-verbal signals), the above vector is preceded by

MC(30, 18, 28, 11)

Q Can you advise us? Can you make suggestions?
W Waiter!
I Advise us please.
A I would like you to advise me.
Q What kind of food do you prefer? Do you like X?
W Some kind of fish? Something hot?

In brief:

R   Q W I A
P   Q W    

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3.221.4 F1d: Suggesting foods

MC(18, 28, 11)

The various triggers are contained in the operations preceding F1d.

I Take X.
A X is best, is not good today. You can take X.
Q Why don't you take X?
W X.

In brief:

P   Q W I A

3.222 Function 2: Receptionist

The assignment of MC-vectors has now been exemplified and will not be persued in functions 2 and 3.

3.222.1 F2a: Letting of rooms

3.222.11 F2aa: Understanding questions

Rooms available?
What kinds of room?
What price?
For how long?

R   Q      

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3.222.12 F2ab: Replying

P   A W    

3.222.13 F2ac: Showing rooms

This is the bathroom.
Here are the switches.
There is something tricky about this switch.
Here is a live wire.
You have to kick this door 3 inches above the keyhole.

P   A W    

3.222.14 F2ad: Ascertaining guest's wishes

Can I help you?
How long are you going to stay?
With bath?

P   Q      
R   A W    

3.222.15 F2ae: Understanding orders

Please give us a room for ...
We want a room ...
A room, please.

R   I A W  

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3.222.16 F2af: Taking money

We would like the bill.
We are going to leave.
How much do we owe you?

R   Q W I A

(Handing over the bill.): non-verbal
You have to pay ...
This charge is for your telephone calls.

P   W I A  

3.222.2 F2b: Passport &c

3.222.21 F2ba: Passport and registration

Requesting passport and signature on registration form

P   Q W I A

3.222.22 F2bb: Requesting details from passport

Issued where? When? ...

P   Q W    

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This operation may be necessary or convenient in the case of non-English passports (presuming that the receptionist knows only his native language and English). Instead of having to be able to read the passport, he may then elicit this information verbally. Most passports will, of course, have English and French translations.

3.222.23 F2bc: Explaining details of registration form

(In case the guest is to fill it in himself)

P   W I A  

3.222.24 F2bd: Reading an English-language passport

R   W      

This is an unusual skill in the framework of this study because it deals with *** written language *** and is moreover confined to *** receptive *** skills and to a *** finite list *** of words and expressions.

Moreover, a non-linguistic skill should also enter a learning unit for this skill, namely the receptionist should have information about the likely lay-out of a passport or possess a heuristic procedure enabling him to spot quickly those places in the passport where he can read the information he needs.

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3.222.3 F2c: Explaining eating arrangements and meal times

We serve breakfast from ... to ...
Breakfast is always included.

P   A W    

3.223 Function 3: Porter

There seems to be very little linguistic knowledge required of a porter in his function as a porter. Perhaps the only words peculiar to his function and not included in the other functions may be 'suitcase, bag, luggage, ...'. If he is consulted on matters concerning the hotel, he can refer to the person under whose function I have listed the giving of such information.

Greetings (this applies also to Fl, F2 and F5)
Thank you.
(Wait for a tip)
This way please.

P   W      

receptive: orders
Put the suitcase here.
You may put the suitcase here.
Will you put the suitcase here?

R   Q W I A

The porter seems to be the easiest person to teach (i.e. the person with the smallest amount to learn). But if his function is to be carried out by a waiter, then the waiter (if trained for his central

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task, in its linguistic aspects) will have most of the skills required by the porter. If, on the other hand, a man could start as a porter and then take on the 'associated function' of waiter, some of his language skill as a porter will constitute the first stepping stone towards his more complex language skills as a waiter.

3.224 Function 4: Dealing with correspondence

It has been suggested that this is a 'management function' and should therefore not be considered as one of the associated functions of the waiter. However, in a small hotel of the type envisaged, the reasoning that leads to the activities of porter, receptionist, telephonist &c being considered as associated functions of the waiter implies that conventional boundaries between different functions are being weakened, be it the boundaries between different types of staff, between staff and management and between 'functionary' (i.e. someone carrying out a conventional function) and friend. Moreover all staff functions in the hotel can well be interpreted as being basically 'associated functions of the owner', i.e. what is now called 'management functions'. In the Spanish one-star hotel mentioned above, the waiter might be seen washing the hotel owner's car, feeding his baby, watching TV with the family during the evening and would certainly help with correspondence if the owner or his daughters were unable to cope.

Different MC-vectors describe this activity, depending on the linguistic setting.

3.224.1 Language of the reply

The MC-vector may change with the language used in the reply to foreign correspondence. Our brief implies that the in-coming correspondence is in English. The outgoing correspondence may be either in the language of the in-coming letters (the in-language: here English) or in the language of the country in which the hotel is situated (the hotel-language). Usually the former is preferable

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since it pleases the guest and may thus attract customers. But writing letters requires a great deal of competence in the language and the hotel may have nobody who can write intelligible letters. Moreover such letters may constitute legally binding documents and great care has therefore to be taken with formulations.

Since the prospective guest (or someone accessible to him) only needs receptive knowledge of the graphic part of the hotel-language (the type of knowledge that is comparatively easy and common for many languages), it is often safer and more economical for the hotel to send out-going letters in the hotel-language.

However, this is true only if the hotel-language is comparatively common in the country from which the guest is writing. Otherwise the letter in the hotel-language may remain undeciphered and loss of trade will result. The essential criterion is not whether the hotel-language is widely spoken all over the world but whether it is widely spoken in a more limited area - that of the guest. In the case of English and French, their wide distribution over the world implies that they are also likely to be useful in any particular more narrow territory. But the less wide distribution of Swedish or Russian does not imply that hotels in Sweden or the USSR must always use the in-language in their outgoing letters. If, for instance, the guest writes from Denmark or from the GDR respectively, the Swedish or Russian hotel may reply in the hotel-language in spite of its limited distribution over the world as a whole.

The decision in which language to write (and whether it is necessary to get an employee with a specific language or to train him in that language) may be based on the procedure of Figure 5.

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Figure 5 Procedure to determine the best language for a reply in hotel-correspondence

Algorithm, In which language should the hotel reply to an enquiry letter

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Notes and explanations for Figure 5:

  1. The 'in-language' is the language in which the in-coming letter is written.
  2. 'known in the hotel' means: 'Is there a member of staff who knows the language graphically productively?'.
  3. The 'addressee-country' is the country to which the reply is to be addressed. The hotel-owner can make few guesses about the
    ----------------------------------- page 35 -----------------------------------
    languages the recipient knows (except that he is likely to know the in-language). Reference to the addressee-country invites the hotel-owner to estimate to what kind of linguistic skill the addressee may have easy access in the country where he receives the reply.
  4. A 'common language in the addressee-country' is one which is known to many people there graphically receptively.
  5. The 'hotel-language' is the language of the country in which the hotel is situated.
  6. 'C-language': If only one language (the hotel-language) is known in the hotel, the hotel-language is deemed to be the C-language.
  7. If more than one language is known in the hotel, the C-language is that language of those spoken in the hotel that is commonest (as defined under 4) in the addressee-country.
    -------------------- page 36 ----------------------------------------------------
  8. 'Use a translation agency': This is equivalent to using any competent person (including a guest) who is not a member of the hotel staff. Such people may be more expensive, or less reliable or less accessible than own staff. If the frequency of 'translation agency' cases exceeds a certain threshold, the hotel-owner will reduce their frequency by adding to the number of languages 'known in the hotel' by either training existing staff or employing different staff (see Frank and Frank-Böhringer 1968). Acquisition of English would obviously rule out the need for the 'translation agency' once and for all but would not be the best choice if the correspondence is predominantly with countries where, say, Russian or Arabic are more common as second languages than is English.
  9. 'Sufficiently common': What is sufficient depends on the hotel-owner's estimate when he weighs up the effects on his trade of using one language or another and the cost of 'using a translation agency'.

To test out the effects of the procedure of Figure 5, the reader may consider the following constellations (Figure 6).

Figure 6: Examples of languages used in hotel-correspondence

  In-language Hotel-language Other languages known in hotel Reply
Case 1 Swedish Spanish English English
Case 2 German Spanish none Spanish
Case 3 Dutch Arabic French French
Case 4 German (from GDR) Hindi Urdu, Russian Russian
Case 5 Italian Spanish English Spanish
Case 6 French Japanese none
(an unlikely case because of the operation of principle 8 above)
(translation agency)

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3.224.2 MC-vectors and sentence types in hotel-correspondence

We can now assign MC-vectors to these cases. Two types of constellation are distinguished:

  1. those where the reply is given in the hotel-language (cases 2 and 5)
  2. those where the reply is given in some other language (cases 1, 3, 4 and 6)

The MC-vectors for all cases in one type of constellation are identical, except for the languages functioning as target language.

Case 1

MC(2, 28, 18, a, 18, 28, 2)
   ---------     ---------
       R             P
    Swedish       English


Case 2

MC(2, 28, 18, a, 18, 29, 21)
   ---------     ----------
       R             P
    German        Spanish
              (mother tongue)

In the particular case which is the subject of this study, the in-coming letters will be in English.

F4a: receptive
graphic medium only
Rooms available? What price? When?

R   Q I A  

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In a very elementary learning unit, the vocabulary (but not the grammar) can be very restricted. But in-coming letters can be much more complex (in content or style) than the questions listed above suggest. It would be interesting and comparatively easy to assemble a corpus of actual hotel correspondence in order to get a clearer picture of the receptive language requirements.

F4b: productive
Sending out replies: in many cases these can be sent in the hotel-language. When not, the total learning task comprises:

A We have reserved a room ...
W Room reserved, 3 October; price: £2
Q (Getting further information):
Would you like a room overlooking the sea or one without exterior windows?
I Take bus 32 from the airport.

3.224.3 The arrangement of learning units for writing hotel correspondence

A simple example can be given here of how the whole subject matter of productive correspondence may be partitioned to yield separate learning units and how these learning units may be sequenced.

Let us divide the vocabulary into two sections:

S1 Enough for stating availability, price and dates
S2 Additional words to deal with more complex requests; e.g. descriptions of facilities in rooms, description of hotel; availability of babysitters; positions of rooms relative to one another; &c

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These two sections correspond to the category W in the above analyses of 'sentence types' (W = words and fixed phrases only).

The remaining two sentence types of the productive correspondence skills constitute one section each:

S3 A: assertions

S4 Q: questions; ability to elicit additional information from potential guest

A partial order (of the type used in the Delta-Diagram of Bung 1967, ch 6, and Bung 1971; mathematical definition of partial order in Abian 1965 and Harary et al 1965) can be imposed on these four sections to indicate the limits within which the learner can freely determine their sequence.

The arrows used in Figure 7 represent the must-precede relation, i.e.'a ---> b' means 'a must precede b'.

Figure 7: Partial order of productive correspondence sub-skills ('0' means 'begin')


On logical (pedagogical) grounds more freedom could have been given (by postulating
0 ---> 2 instead of 1 ---> 2) but I have preferred to

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simplify the example by only offering choices which are likely to be used.

The three simple orders of Figure 8 are compatible with the partial order of Figure 7, above. Each of these simple orders shows one possible sequence in which a learner might acquire the total skill of productive correspondence. Additional possibilities arise from the fact that the learner may break off each sequence at any point.

Figure 8: Simple orders compatible with Figure 7
(read horizontally)

1, 2, 3, 4
1, 3, 2, 4
1, 3, 4, 2

Distinct stages of competence result from the different combinations of skills that are gradually built up from the sequences in Figure 8. The learner who begins with (1, 2) chooses to extend his vocabulary to cope with a wider range of situations, initially at the expense of grammar (and hence aesthetic and logical quality).

The learner who starts with (1, 3, 4) is at the opposite extreme. He learns as much grammar as possible (within the limits of the correspondence task) with a minimum vocabulary. Thus he is able to cope increasingly well with a very small set of situations. Only when, at the very end, he adds Section 2, does he enlarge his range of situations.

The learner who chooses (1, 3, 2, 4) makes a very reasonable compromise (which might well be adopted by someone who writes a simply ordered (i.e. not only partially ordered; cf Bung 1971) course). The advantage of this compromise is this: The learner of

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(1, 3, 4, 2) may have little opportunity of using the extra grammatical skill (questions) acquired 'by Section 4 because, at that stage, he can only apply it to 'availability, price and dates', situations in which few queries are necessary. Queries are more likely to arise out of more complex requests, for which he also needs the vocabulary of Section 2. Therefore he cannot fully benefit from Section 4 until he has also mastered Section 2.

The compromise learner who has chosen (1, 3, 2, 4) can fully use all his skills the moment he has acquired them, since Section 2 enables him to deal with more complex situations in the 'words-only' mode even before he has acquired Section 4.

The most reasonable choices, then, are shown in Figure 9.

Figure 9: Learning sequences for hotel-correspondence
1, 2, 3, 4
1, 3, 2, 4

Both are *** equally *** acceptable for different purposes and learners. Thus we remain with Figure 10, the partial order (of the must-precede relation) which is compatible with the two recommended simple orders of Figure 9.

Figure 10: Recommended partial order of must-precede relation in productive correspondence skills


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3.225 Function 5: Telephonist

This skill belongs entirely to the acoustic component of the Delta-Diagram (Bung 1967, ch 6). The likely presence of electronic (as well as environmental) noise means that the telephonist must have receptive skills well above those of the other 'functionaries' and that his articulation must be correspondingly superior (cf Bung 1969b and 1974) to compensate for the various types of noise. Moreover, unlike many other functionaries in the hotel, he and his partners in conversation cannot resort to gestures to make themselves understood. On the other hand, his range of situations is more restricted than that of Function 6, 'General information'.

3.225.1 F5a: in-coming telephone calls

3.225.11 F5aa: Rooms available?

MC-vector: (3, 28, 18, a, 18, 28, 11)
            ---------     ----------
                R             P

R   Q      
P   W A I  

3.225.111 Language switching

The change of language in the receptive and productive part of the MC-vector that was characteristic for many situations of the correspondence function (see Section 3.224.1) can occur here (and in all other functions) as well but is perhaps less likely to occur, whereas in correspondence it is accepted practice.

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It may, however, be decided to foster this practice and make more people aware of the possibility (cf Trim 1969). This would be a strong argument in favour of teaching receptive skills not only before, but *** long *** before productive skills and perhaps confining instruction for some learners to receptive skills. This is at present only common in reading courses (and even there many things are usually taught which belong into a productive rather than a receptive course). Some such courses have been developed for acoustic skills (Barrutia 1969). The systematic implementation of such methods would lead to the waiter learning and using the guest's language receptively and the guest doing the same with the waiter's language. The Penguin Spanish Phrase Book (Alvarez and Norman 1965) distinguishes between the phrases the guests may wish to say (productive skill) and those they are likely to hear (receptive skill for the guests) and is thus making a step in the right direction. By reversing the markings for receptive and productive elements in the phrase book, we obtain a potential phrase book for the waiter.

The telephonist's function is of such outstanding difficulty (no recourse to non-verbal signals possible, real-time responses required, noise) that here even more than in correspondence recourse to language switching would be useful if such a convention could be more widely established.

We also have to consider whether the medium-conversion model (Bung 1973) deals adequately with the possibility of language switching or whether the notation used to indicate the different languages in the MC-vectors of Function 4 above can be made more elegant. Note that the original approach of the MC-model assigned distinct vectors to receptive phases and productive phases of a conversation and that therefore no switch of language occurred within any one vector.

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3.225.12 F5ab: Outsider wants to speak to guests

Several MC-vectors are applicable to this situation, depending on the language used by the outside caller and by the guest and on whether or not the guest is in. If neither the guest nor the caller speak in the target language (here: English), the situation is outside our brief. The remaining situations are such that the guest, or the caller or both speak in the target language. Below we shall use the following abbreviations:

C      caller
G      guest
T      hotel telephonist

In Figure 11, if a person speaks in the target language, we assign him a ' 1 ', otherwise we assign him a ' 0 '.

Figure 11: Language combinations handled at hotel telephone switchboard

                  C  G

Situation 1       0  1
Situation 2       1  0
Situation 3       1  1

Let us assume two basic situations of a different type:

  1. The guest is in and the telephonist passes the call from the caller to the guest; we denote this by
  2. The guest is not in and the telephonist speaks back to the caller to take messages &c; we denote this by
    This situation is only of interest to us if the caller speaks in the target language. For the case in which he does not, we have therefore not assigned an MC-vector (although this is quite feasible within the model).

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We can now extend Figure 11 above to assign the appropriate MC-vectors. It will be noted that, of the five vectors assigned, three are distinct.

Figure 12: MC-vectors for hotel telephone switchboard activities

tabulation, switchboard activities

The three distinct vectors in Figure 12 remain distinct if we eliminate the string '18,a' from them, and we may refer to them by citing merely their first and last components:
MC (20, 11)
MC (3, 20)
MC (3, 11)

We can apply the group classification of Bung 1973 to these abbreviated vectors to obtain Figure 13 below. We find that they, with the '18,a' eliminated, are implied in the vectors of Bung 1973. Two of these vectors describe translation / interpretation activities, and these are indeed functions which the telephonist could carry out when either the caller or the guest does not speak the target language.

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Figure 13: Potential interpreter roles of telephonist

MC (20, 11) source into target language:
Group 7, implied in MC (20, 3):
'consecutive interpretation'
MC (3, 20)

target into source language:
Group 9, identical with MC (3, 20):
'consecutive interpretation'

MC (3, 11)

target language into target language:
implied in various vectors of type MC (3, 3)
in Groups 3, 4, 5 and 6.

I do not think that the activities resulting from these vectors are likely or important functions of the telephonist but the relevant examples in Bung 1973 should be considered by anyone making a more detailed analysis of the skills of a telephonist.

We now restrict Function 5ab to its central element, that of connecting in-coming calls to guests.


  • understand request for guest and his room number;
  • take messages, especially message to ring back;
  • understand telephone numbers and addresses;
  • special skills:
    • numbers and telephone alphabet in target language;
    • telephone pronunciations of numbers or words that are easily misunderstood, e.g. German 'zwo', 'Juno' and 'Julei' for 'zwei', 'Juni' and 'Juli' respectively

(Note 2010-05-31: "Juli", standard German, is stressed on the first syllable. "Julei", a word which exists in telephone German only, is stressed on the second syllable, to make it contrast with "Juni", which is stressed, like "Juli", on the first syllable.)

R   Q W I A

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speaking to outsider

I A moment please.
Q Which room number?
A He is not in.

Can I give him a message?
(Suggestion that guest rings back (Q, W, I, A))

P   Q W I A

speaking to guest

W A phone call for you.
A I'm putting you through.
P   W A    

3.225.2 F5b: Connect guests' outgoing calls

This differs from F5a not only in the fact that the telephonist's activity is triggered off by the guest rather than an outsider and that the initial communication goes in the opposite direction but also in that the telephonist does not necessarily has to speak to a person outside the hotel, except when connecting to an outside telephone operator (e.g. with certain international calls) or when acting as an interpreter (a comparatively high-powered and rare function that might be better treated in an analysis of the various situations in which an interpreter might find himself). Since we have discussed the potential interpreter function of the telephonist under Function 5a above, we will omit it here from consideration.

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We assume that, if the telephonist talks to an outside person on the guest's behalf, the outside person is always a telephone operator in the country of the hotel and that the telephone operator therefore speaks the hotel-language (i.e.,in our study, the telephonist's native language). The chains of communication which remain after these simplifications are shown in Figure 14.

Figure 14: Chains of communication through telephone switchboard

graph, chains of communication

The symbols A and Z are used to indicate that only the guest (G) can trigger off (A) this function and that usually only the guest brings it to an end (Z) as far as the telephonist (T) is concerned. Each two-headed arrow is an abbreviation for two one-headed arrows pointing in opposite directions. The guest can speak to the telephonist and the telephonist can answer, or report, back. According to instructions or the situational context, the telephonist responds to the guest's request with a non-verbal action (N), e.g. giving him a line or dialling a number for him, or by speaking to an external person (E), e.g. to a post office telephone operator. The external person can speak back to the telephonist and the results or non-results of non-verbal actions can be observed by the telephonist. The telephonist in turn reports messages and observations to the guest.

Figure 14 permits the triple chains of communication shown in Figure 15 below. Two of these do not involve the target language. To each of the others a distinct MC-vector has been assigned. More

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complex communication events can be built up from sequences of these triple chains.

Figure 15: MC-vectors assigned to switchboard chains of communication

Chains MC-vectors
-------------------------- ---------------------------------
G T G 3, 28, 18, a, 18, 28, 11
G T N 3, 28, 18, 30
G T E 3, 28, 18, 29, 20
E T G 20, 29, 18, 28, 11
N T G 30, 18, 28, 11
T E T only native language

no language


The telephonist must understand instructions from guest.

R   Q W I A

Useful knowledge: numbers, telephone alphabet.

Useful non-linguistic knowledge: telephone facilities, especially in English-speaking countries, e.g. credit card call, reverse charges, personal call, ...


The telephonist may have to explain to guests

  • that they must wait
  • that call is impossible
  • that more information is needed

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P   Q W I A

Obviously more information about these skills should be available from the post offices or telephone organisations of various countries. For information which is not yet in the hands of the telephone organisations, these may be asked to sponsor investigations of the type of this study, within the framework of the unit-credit system. (Note 2)

3.226 Function 6: Giving information about town and country

Receptionists are often approached for this kind of information. Its range is huge and this function will therefore not be investigated in this study. Not even MC-vectors will be assigned.

This is a classical case for the possibility of avoiding language teaching or limiting it by making a great range of leaflets on different topics and in different languages available to all hotels in a town. The linguistic skill of the receptionist can then be reduced to either understanding from key words in a request to which topic the request belongs or to responding to a request which he does not understand by asking the guest whether his query concerns 'entertainments, shopping facilities, sights, ...'. Once the guest has called out the relevant topic in terms the receptionist understands, the receptionist can hand over the appropriate leaflet.

Tree-diagrams (quasi-algorithms) can conveniently be used to ascertain the guest's wishes and identify quickly the leaflet required.

Here is a list of possible subjects of enquiry:

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  • entertainments
  • shopping (vocabularies may vary from place to place in accordance with local specialities)
  • other restaurants
  • sights
  • how to get to places in town
  • how to get to places outside town; air / train; bus timetables
  • calling a doctor; interpreting physical complaints
  • weather information; including skiing facilities

3.3 Summary of surface analysis of hotel functions

To provide the reader with an easy means of weighing up relative complexities, similarities and differences of the different functions in terms of the concepts

  1. productive / receptive
  2. Q, W, I, A

we give here a list of these characteristics as they have been assigned to each hotel function.

I do not claim that the above factors are the only ones to be taken into consideration, but they are the only ones available at this stage of the research. The methods of obtaining more subtle criteria will be exemplified in Section 4 with reference to Function 1.

I also do not give, at this stage, an algorithm for deriving a partial order of learning units out of the list that follows. Such an algorithm would, however, be very useful, if only as a basis for discussion and further research.

Figure 16 below represents the sub-functions in the following form: Each sub-function is represented in its receptive and productive aspect. A vector is assigned to each aspect. If, for a given sub-function, there are no receptive skills or no productive skills, then the zero-vector (i.e. the vector all whose components are zero) is assigned to the aspect in question.

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Figure 16: Survey of sentence types required in hotel functions

Figure 16, Matrix of sentence types

Click on image to make it larger.

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For the remaining aspects, the components of the vectors assume the values 1 and 0 according to the following prescription:

  1. If there are linguistic skills corresponding to both aspects of a sub-function, then c1 = 1 for each aspect.
    Otherwise c1 = 0.
  2. The sentence types, Q, W, I and A, correspond to c2, c3, c4 and c5 respectively. If a sentence type is used in a given aspect, the corresponding component assumes the value 1.
    Otherwise it assumes the value 0.

Obviously the value of c1 is determined by the values of c2 to c5. It has been introduced into Figure 16 above to allow the reader to see at a glance whether a sub-function involves both aspects (receptive / productive) or only one.

For ease of reference, each distinct vector has been assigned an ordinal number ('vector name'). With the help of the vector names, identical vectors can quickly be identified. Figure 16 contains 44 vectors, 15 of which are distinct. The frequency of the different vectors varies (Figure 17).

Figure 17: Frequency of vectors in Figure 16

Vector name Frequency   Vector name Frequency
---------------------- ----------------------   ---------------------- ----------------------
0 13   8 2
1 1   9 1
2 1   10 1
3 1   11 1
4 1   12 2
5 3   13 2
6 2   14 9



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As I have said above, since most of the hotel functions have not yet been thoroughly analysed, I do not wish to make estimates of difficulty on the basis of Figure 16. However, one might try to obtain rough estimates by the following method. In Figure 16, replace each non-zero component (excluding any c1) by a weighted number representing the degree of difficulty of a particular skill in respect of

  1. sentence type (Q, W, I, A)
  2. aspect (respective / productive)
  3. medium (graphic / acoustic)

In the resulting vectors, the sum c2 + c3 + c4 + c5 may be used as an estimate of difficulty for the sub-function in question. I leave the development of this approach to future research.

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Continue with Part D