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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
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© 1973 and 2010 Klaus Bung

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

go to part D

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5 Potential word lists for Op 7: Understanding an order for food &c

In establishing a word list, I have confined myself to nouns denoting food, drink, tobacco and the waiter. I have omitted the utensils (fork, spoon, light (match) &c) from consideration. I have not tried to propose a definite list of words which should be known to the waiter but confined myself to investigating, in part, the nature and the adequacy of a sample of the existing word lists.

Let us discuss the composition of the word list of Figure 37.

The first column, marked c1, places a '1' against every word that occurs in van Ek's list of nouns IIg, 'Shopping and meals' (1972, p 24-26).

Food words which are missing in the 'Shopping and meals' list but seem relevant for Op 7 can sometimes be found in other parts of van Ek's list. These are 'oil' and 'water'. They are marked '1' in c2 (EE = van Ek elsewhere). It may facilitate future specifications of learning units by certain fairly formal procedures of selection if a revised version of van Ek's specification repeated words which belong to different categories. Thus one could be sure of finding all food words under the heading 'Shopping and meals' or 'foods'. A more economical approach may be the construction of matrices for such classificatory purposes.

Note that van Ek has 'orange' and 'sweet' as adjectives but not as nouns.

All words which occur anywhere in van Ek, i.e. the union of sets EF and EE, are marked '1' in c7.

5.1 Towards formal procedures for establishing learning units

Van Ek's list was not written as a basis for 'special purpose languages' but to establish a common core of words and grammatical rules that should be known by anyone learning a foreign language, (// this sentence continues on page 92)

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Figure 37: List of nouns relevant for Op 7

EF   van Ek food list

D     degree of difficulty

  1. difficult
  2. very difficult
EE   van Ek elsewhere PS   Penguin Spanish
BG   BASIC general E     van Ek anywhere
BI     BASIC international    B     BASIC anywhere
------------------------ ---------- ---------- ---------- ---------- ---------- ---------- ---------- ----------
apple 0 0 1 0 0 1 0 1
bar 0 0 0 1 2 1 0 1
beef 0 0 0 1 2 1 0 1
beer 1 0 0 1 0 1 1 1
berry 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 1
bread 1 0 1 0 0 1 1 1
butter 1 0 1 0 0 1 1 1
café 0 0 0 1 0 1 0 1
cake 0 0 1 0 0 1 0 1
champagne 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 1
cheese 1 0 1 0 0 1 1 1
chicken 1 0 0 0 0 1 1 0
chocolate 1 0 0 1 0 1 1 1
cigar 1 0 0 0 0 1 1 0
cigarette 1 0 0 1 0 1 1 1
cocktail 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 1
coffee 1 0 0 1 1 1 1 1
cognac 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 1
cream 1 0 0 0 0 1 1 0
cup 1 0 1 0 0 1 1 1
dessert 1 0 0 0 0 1 1 0
drink 1 0 1 0 0 0 1 1
egg 1 0 1 0 0 1 1 1
fish    1 0 1 0 0 1 1 1

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Figure 37 continued

------------------------ ---------- ---------- ---------- ---------- ---------- ---------- ---------- ----------
food 1 0 1 0 0 1 1 1
fruit 1 0 1 0 0 1 1 1
glass 1 0 1 0 0 1 1 1
ice-cream 1 0 0 0 0 1 1 0
jelly 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 1
liqueur 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 1
macaroni 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 1
meal 1 0 1 0 0 1 1 1
milk 1 0 1 0 0 1 1 1
mineral water 1 0 0 0 0 1 1 0
nut 0 0 1 0 0 1 0 1
oil 0 1 1 0 0 1 1 1
olive 0 0 0 1 2 1 0 1
omelette 0 0 0 1 1 0 0 1
orange 0 0 1 0 0 1 0 1
pastry 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 0
potato 1 0 1 0 0 1 1 1
restaurant 1 0 0 1 0 1 1 1
rice 1 0 1 0 0 1 1 1
roll (bread roll) l 0 1 0 0 1 1 1
rum 0 0 0 1 2 2 0 1
salad 1 0 0 1 2 1 1 1
salt 1 0 1 0 0 1 1 1
sandwich 1 0 0 0 0 1 1 0
sardine 0 0 0 1 1 0 0 1
soup 1 0 1 0 0 1 1 1
sugar 1 0 1 0 0 1 1 1
sweet 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 1
tea 1 0 0 1 1 1 1 1
vanilla   0 0 0 1 2 0 0 1

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------------------------ ---------- ---------- ---------- ---------- ---------- ---------- ---------- ----------
vegetables 1 0 0 0 0 1 1 0
vodka 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 1
waiter 1 0 0 0 0 1 1 0
water 0 1 1 0 0 1 1 1
whisky 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 1
wine   1 0 1 0 0 1 1 1

whatever his purpose or his job. The notion that the unit-credit system might cater for special job interests *** even below T-level *** only occurred in discussions after the completion of van Ek's list.

It can therefore not be taken for granted that van Ek's list provides a suitable basis for the selection of words needed in the present study. Nevertheless I shall treat the list *** as if *** it had been compiled with special purpose languages in mind. Any shortcomings thus brought to light will then give an indication of how the lists ought to be revised if they are to serve for all aspects of the unit-credit system in the future.

It is accepted that we cannot establish specifications for all linguistic job-interests that might occur at some time or other. We are therefore trying to provide the instruments which will facilitate the specification of learning units. Van Ek's list (and the same goes for Wilkins 1972 and Richterich 1972) are such instruments and *** may *** therefore have to be re-designed in the light of any difficulties arising during our first tentative applications. It is therefore important to bring to light as many of these difficulties as possible. It seems to me that the main purpose of case studies, like the present, is to test the adequacy of van Ek, Wilkins and Richterich and to develop general procedures by means of which

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learning units can be specified on the basis of revised versions of their studies.

Van Ek, Wilkins and Richterich ought to be so constructed that it is possible to specify a learning unit by selecting from Richterich a specification of an operational learner's need. Much of the analysis of the waiter's activities which is found in the present paper is similar in character (if not in form) to the kind of information Richterich offers for consideration. To any operational need that has thus been specified, a ***sub***set of the rules specified in van Ek and Wilkins should be assigned. Van Ek and Wilkins should be so constructed that nothing has to be added to them ad hoc, even for special purpose languages, since it is easier to devise formal procedures for deriving subsets from given supersets rather than for increasing the contents of a given set.

5.2 Van Ek's word list

Here are some examples of dishes not included in van Ek's list: pudding, steak, sherbet (US), hamburger, hot dog, frankfurter, potato crisps, tomatoes, beans, juice, onion, lamb, mutton, pork, beef, jelly, orange, lemon, apple, pear, (fish and) chips.

Van Ek, by omitting these words from his list, asserts implicitly that 'common core' learners (e.g. the imaginary tourist) need not know these words in order to 'get by' in the foreign country. It is irrelevant here whether this assertion is right or wrong. Let us assume that it is right. Then the technical question arises whether the waiter needs to learn at least some of them in his special-purpose learning unit 'in order to get by', i.e. whether there are some words in the system which are placed below T-level for the waiter and above T-level for the common-core learner.

I feel strongly that this should not be done: If a word is placed below T-level for one category of learner, it should be there for all categories of learners. Otherwise the structure of the system will become too complicated.

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If the words not listed by van Ek are indeed so very important for the waiter, then they should either be brought into the list covering the area below T-level, or the waiter has the simple remedy of moving up to a learning unit above T-level and acquiring the additional words there, even before tackling other learning units below T-level.

The first alternative is not harmful to common-core learners since even the area below T-level is not to be treated in a monolithic way: there will be partial orders of learning sequences below T-level not only for special-purpose languages but even for common-core learners. Therefore a larger number of words below the, fairly arbitrary!, T-level need not frighten a common-core learner.

The second alternative is also quite reasonable if we can show that the waiter can at least 'get by' with the words in van Ek's list and still is distinct from the common-core learner because he acquires only a specific subset from the common-core (at least to start with). We shall attempt to do this now.

It is apparent that van Ek has solved the problem of selecting a comparatively small number of words to gain the widest possible coverage of subject matter area by listing, at least in the food-list, almost exclusively generic terms. Thus we have 'fruit' but not 'apples' and 'pears' or 'oranges' and 'lemons'; we have 'meat' but not 'beef' or 'steak'. Oddly enough, we do have 'chicken'.

While this approach does not guarantee that things run smoothly in the restaurant (a customer may not wish to eat pork on any account and might therefore have to forgo meat altogether if he cannot exclude pork specifically or ask for beef specifically), the generic terms are better than nothing and should certainly have precedence over their more specific constituent terms.

Receptive knowledge of generic terms will, of course, only work if the guests use them (which often they might not). In that case, they have to be induced to use them. E.g. a guest orders pork, the waiter does not understand and asks: 'What is pork? A fruit, a drink, a dessert, a kind of rice, a kind of egg, a kind of meat?' Apart from

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linguistic training, the waiter may need some special, non-linguistic, training in how to get the maximum amount of information as quickly as possible with the few words he knows.

If the waiter had learnt the specific terms but not the generic terms, he would not be able to operate with "a kind of" so easily: pork is not 'a kind of steak' or 'a kind of beef'.

The "a kind of" approach works provided the list of generic terms is complete. It should then be possible for the waiter to explain any dish on the menu in terms of 'a kind of'. To test this, I picked up an arbitrary menu (which turned out to be very dull in the range of foods it offered) in the one-star hotel in which I made my observations. It happened to be in four languages (Spanish, English, French, German) and within any one language the dishes were grouped under generic headings: meats, omelettes, rice, pastas and eggs, ices. The menu is reproduced in Figure 38.

Since the menu was translated, the waiter would, in this case, have to outdo the menu in explicitness and accuracy (not easy with only generic terms) or, with respect to the menu, his knowledge of foreign languages would be useless.

Of the generic headings, van Ek does not have 'omelettes' (if this is generic; it might be viewed as 'a kind of egg' or 'a dish made of eggs') and pastas. Spanish menus frequently contain the generic heading 'mariscos' (shell fish) (see under 'tortillas' in Figure 38). The waiter could not explain this as 'a kind of' or 'a dish made of' by any of van Ek's generic terms. This is another instance where the word list is to be determined not only by what is important in the country of the target language but also by what is important in the linguistic setting of the speech act (i.e. what the guests might see and be curious about)(see Note 8, §1, for another example of this phenomenon).

We might anticipate here the waiter's progression beyond T-level in the stages shown in Figure 39, each stage dealing with the same objects (dishes).

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--- page 96 --- --- page 97 ---
Figure 38:
Spanish sample menu (left half)
Figure 38 continued:
Spanish sample menu (right half)
Spanish menu, left half Spanish menu, right half

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Figure 39: Vocabulary required for Op 7 below and above T-level

Below T-level 1 generic terms only (van Ek list):
e.g. 'kind of meat', 'meat dish'
Above T-level 2 description
'meat of pig'; colour of dish ...

3 precise name:
e.g. 'pork'

  4 attributes:
e.g. 'hot/cold'; 'well-done'; 'iced'; ...

5.3 Ogden's BASIC English word lists

Van Ek's vocabulary list contains a total of 749 words (van Ek 1972, p 5) to be mastered productively. Ogden's 'BASIC English' has similar aims as the 'common core below T-level' of the unit-credit system. Ogden's basic word list contains 850 words (Ogden 1968, p 241-365). All words included in that count of 850 are marked '1' in column 3, marked BG (BASIC general), of Figure 37.

It is reasonable to expect both lists, van Ek's and Ogden's, to be similar and, where they are not, to ask why and who was better advised to include or exclude a specific word.

We notice, to start with, that Ogden does not use van Ek's 'generic principle'. Ogden, but not van Ek, has:

apple, berry, nut, orange

However, it may be that Ogden's extra words do not so much reflect a different principle of selection as the fact that his list is 10O words longer.

Ogden has 'jelly', which is missing in van Ek and could not easily be described in van Ek's terms because the noun 'sweet' is also missing.

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Perhaps 'a kind of dessert' would do but since 'sweet' is already in van Ek's list as an adjective, it might be considered as an easy noun to replace 'dessert'.

To locate words which occur in van Ek but nowhere in Ogden, compare c7 and c8. Van Ek has:

chicken (queried above!), cigar, cream, dessert, ice-cream, mineral water (surprisingly specific, considering the 'generic principle'), pastry (also surprisingly specific) and sandwich,

all of which are missing in Ogden

5.31 The Sánchez test (Sanchez test): Utility of 'international words'

Ogden also discusses a special category of words, which he calls 'international words', which are not included in his count of 850 general BASIC words but which he includes in his BASIC dictionary (Ogden 1968, p 241-365), set apart by a special mark from the 850 general BASIC words. Due to the discursive nature of Ogden's style, it is difficult to determine what he does and what he does not claim (explicitly or implicitly) for his 'international words'. I shall try to clarify the issue elsewhere. However, I have the impression that Ogden overestimates the intelligibility of these words. He *** seems *** to believe that these words do not have to be learnt specifically (therefore he does not include them in his count of 850 words which *** have *** to be learnt and constitute for him a measure of the ease with which BASIC English can be acquired), but that they are part of the learners' native languages while at the same time being part of English, so that they are available for use in BASIC English.

The food &c words which occur with the marking 'international' in Ogden's list (p 241-365) are marked '1' in column 4 (BI = BASIC international) of Figure 37. They will henceforth be referred to as BI-words.

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María José Sánchez Carrasco, Centro de Orientación, Universidad Laboral, Cheste, Valencia, Spain, is at present investigating the utility of 'international words' and has kindly made the following preliminary results available to me.

A tape-recording of the BI-words was made by a native English speaker with 'standard accent'. Each word was spoken twice. Each utterance was separated from its successor by a pause of 5 seconds.

I quote:

'29 subjects were then chosen. 28 of them were university staff or students. All had some knowledge of French or German (some knew both languages). None had studied English before but all had had certain contacts with the language (e.g. terminology of their subject of study).

I noticed a clear difference between two groups of persons, the high-grade academics and the medium-grade academics. The former obtained a larger percentage of correct answers. I therefore believe that different results would be obtained if the test were applied to subjects from lower cultural levels' (Sánchez: Personal communication).'

The test consisted of an acoustic and a graphic part (in that sequence). In the acoustic part, the tape-recording was played three times. During the first play-back, subjects only listened, during the second play-back they wrote down the Spanish equivalent of what they heard, and during the third play-back they were allowed to make any necessary corrections. They were then given a duplicated list of the same BI-words in their English orthographic form (in the same order in which they had occurred on tape) and were asked to write down the Spanish translation of each word.

The results are shown in Figure 40. In spite of the high calibre of the subjects, which Sánchez has already observed, a fairly large number of incorrect responses were made, especially on the acoustic side. With less educated subjects, such as potential waiters!, worse (// sentence continued on page 102)

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Figure 40: Intelligibility of Ogden's 'international words' in Spain (from M J Sánchez )

29 subjects

Sanchez test

Click here to make the image larger.

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Figure 40 continued

Sanchez, Figure 40 continued

results are to be expected. (Experienced waiters are, of course, likely to have picked up these words!) Every word that is marked 'difficult' on the graphic side is marked at least 'difficult' on the acoustic side as well. On the other hand, there are no 'very difficult' words on the acoustic side which are 'very difficult' on the graphic side.

The words found 'difficult' or 'very difficult' in the acoustic part of the Sánchez test have been marked '1' and '2' respectively in column 5 of Figure 37. All remaining words have been marked '0'. By comparing columns 4 and 5 one can now easily see which 'international words' may, at best, be understood by, at least, a Spaniard who starts his career as a waiter and therefore has not yet picked up these words.

Note that the difficult words do at times look very similar to their Spanish equivalents but at present only a test can reveal whether they also sound similar (to a Spaniard!) (Figure 41).

The large number of correct answers for English 'café' may also be misleading. Subjects usually translated this by Spanish 'cafe', which has a variety of meanings, including 'coffee' and 'kind of coffee house'. It is doubtful whether those subjects who wrote Spanish 'café' realised that the English word denotes a cheap eating place or, at best, a coffee house. More likely they wrongly believed that it meant 'coffee'. Note that English 'coffee' was a difficult (// sentence continues on page 103, lower half)

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Figure 41: Difficult 'international words' in English and Spanish

Difficult internationa words, Sanchez test

item for them! For such items the testing procedure may have to be refined.

Van Ek does not treat the 'international words' explicitly. As John Trim has pointed out (personal communication), they may have an important role to play in the design of a learning system that aims at maximum communication with minimum learning effort. My critical remarks are not intended to belittle their potential in this respect

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but rather to show that it can only be realised if an *** adequate *** theory for the use of 'international words' is developed.

If we compare columns 7 and 4 in Figure 37, we notice that van Ek's list contains some of Ogden's 'international words', namely 'beer' (which, strangely enough, was easy for the Spanish subjects even though the Spanish equivalent, 'cerveza', is quite different), 'chocolate', 'cigarette', 'coffee', 'restaurant', 'salad' and 'tea'.

The whole problem deserves more research. Obviously any claim that international words can be used without any learning effort (or with little such effort) should be made in a very detailed form (so that it *** can *** be falsified), comprising *** at least *** the following components:

  1. which word
  2. which medium: graphic or acoustic
  3. which mode: receptive or productive
  4. which speaker or which listener (in terms of his native language)

The Sánchez test will shortly be repeated in Italy and the results will appear in an Appendix to this paper.

5.4 The Penguin word list

I return to Figure 37. In column 6, words occurring in Alvarez and Norman 1968 are marked. That book concludes with a general vocabulary list of about 1600 words (p 125-198) and because of the size of this list it is not comparable with van Ek or Ogden. However, it will be interesting to see whether van Ek or Ogden have any words which are not in Alvarez and Norman. This might indicate either an omission on the part of Alvarez and Norman or over-generosity on the part of van Ek or Ogden.

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Words which occur in the general vocabulary list of Alvarez and Norman (p 125-198) are marked '1' in c6 of Figure 37. In addition, Alvarez and Norman have extensive lists of foods which occur under the heading 'The menu' (p 67-76) and which are not included in the general list (p 125-198). The one word in our list which occurs in the 'menu list' but not in the general vocabulary list ('rum') is marked '2' in c6 of Figure 37.

The difference between the general vocabulary list (arranged in the alphabetical order of the English elements of each pair) and the menu list in the Penguin phrase book seems to be that the former contains a proposed productive vocabulary while the latter contains words which are, in the authors' opinion, only needed receptively, namely when the guest tries to decipher a menu.

Note that my word list (Figure 37) is composed of the food &c words in van Ek 1972, in Ogden's (1968) general basic list and in his list of international words. The Penguin words are only treated in as far as they occur in one of these lists.

We compare c6 with c7 and c8 and note that Alvarez and Norman do not have

berry, champagne, cocktail, cognac, drink (as a noun), jelly, liqueur, macaroni, omelette, sardine,

all of which occur either in the general or in the international BASIC list. More interesting for us, Penguin does not have the following words which do occur in van Ek: 'drink' (as a noun) and 'pastry' (queried above). Although Penguin does not have 'champagne', it has, in the 'menu list', 'sparkling wine' (vino espumoso).

Finally we note that Ogden's BASIC general list does not contain our important trigger word 'waiter'. This is only listed as an 'expansion' of the BASIC word list and would be expressed in BASIC by 'man acting as table servant in hotel and so on' (Ogden 1968, p 356) (Note 9).

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Continue in Part F