Topple the language barrier

Topple the language barrier

Hotels rely on a lot of non-English-speaking staff members—most notably in housekeeping. Obviously, language barriers can cause a variety of problems in the workplace, especially in hospitality, where communication is key. The best strategies in overcoming these issues involve finding common ground and using it as everyone’s reference point, which works in both large- and small-scale ways.

A small-scale example is using colors to differentiate tools and jobs. The Colordentify cloths from ERC Wiping Products does this with color-coded rags that help identify when each rag is used with little need for verbal communication.

“It helps with training,” said Valerie Sweeney, VP of sales and marketing for ERC. “It’s good from management’s point of view to easily check in on staff and check in to make sure they’re using the right products.”

Have certain colors designated for certain tasks, and then to bring it a step further, color-coordinate the rags with the corresponding cleaner bottles. Sweeney said ERC has plans to create a chart with pictures—like a toilet, a sink, a window, etc.—to further illustrate which colors go with which task on property and eliminate any confusion.

And as a more large-scale example, the Wyndham Peachtree Conference Center in Peachtree City, Ga., has created a number system for housekeeping, maintenance and front desk staff to use for common problems that pop up on a daily basis. Helen Simmons, GM of the property, said if a lightbulb is out or a door is broken or any of the other 35 issues they’ve identified within their number system, the housekeeper will dial the desk and relay the corresponding number.

“The operator has Spanish and English versions [of the number system],” she said.

Videos also are effective in training. Diane Barr, VP of learning and development for the Wyndham Hotel Group, said it’s important for the videos to be strictly visual with no narration.

Seeing a task performed on a video “is still challenging if it’s in another language—so this way they’re just watching it and describing it in their own mind,” she said.

Create a common culture
Beyond the everyday work tasks, language differences affect staff on a personal level—feelings of frustration or loneliness. That is why it’s important to infuse group education and staff bonding activities into the work environment.

At the Wyndham Peachtree Conference Center in Peachtree, Ga., there are opportunities to learn everyday.
“Every morning we have a meeting and choose words [for staff to learn],” said Mirna Berglund, the director of rooms. “For example, one week they learn good morning, I need towels, the bathroom is broken—the daily routine.”

Berglund said the meetings last for 15 minutes, sometimes involving role-playing to prepare for certain guest interactions. By the end of the week, everyone tries to show the progress they have made. For a new staff member, Berglund said assimilation could take only two weeks.

Finding commonalities among staff also is important. For example, Diane Barr, VP of learning and development for the Wyndham Hotel Group, suggests a day where staff can express something about who they are.
“Take it out of the classroom and create channels for the associates to interact, and to create that sense of inclusion,” she said. “Bring your favorite dish to work day and see how everybody is different—not just in language.”