How to… improve communication

05 April 2012
How to… improve communication

"Do you speak English?" must be the most common question asked at hotel front desks, restaurants and cafés all over the world. When you consider that hundreds of millions of people speak English, it's no wonder that it's the first language which people turn to.

Employers in the hospitality sector will have witnessed non-native, English-speaking staff and customers communicating in English on countless occasions. For this reason, it's really useful for you to know that your non-native, English-speaking staff have a good command of English.

When employing those who need to use English in their jobs, there are a number of tips that will help you ensure they have the right level of English language ability.

Set standards
Firstly, you can set a minimum entry benchmark of language proficiency for new staff that is in line with international standards. The Council of Europe's Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) is a good place to start as it's one of the most commonly used systems to describe different levels of language ability.

The CEFR is made up of three groups: A (basic speaker), B (independent speaker) and C (proficient speaker). The scale ranges from A1 for beginners to C2 for those who have mastered a language.

How much English do they really need?
When setting a minimum English language level for new staff, ask yourself: "How linguistically demanding is the role?" You can then set an appropriate minimum language ability level for that particular role in line with the CEFR.

You can also refer to the "Can Do" statements, which were developed by a group of experts called the Association of Language Testers in Europe. These useful statements describe what language users can typically do with the language at different levels and in different contexts (see box).

Existing staff
It can also be useful to measure the English language skills of staff who are already employed in your organisation. This can be achieved with a benchmarking project, assessing the standards required for different jobs.

If someone's knowledge of English falls short of the required standard, you may then wish to provide extra learning support. In this case, it is important to choose programmes that provide a series of attainable goals targeting the minimum acceptable level required. It's important to remember that successful language learning is not just about knowing grammar and vocabulary, it's about knowing how to communicate in real-life situations.

Celebrate diversity
It is equally important to recognise the role multilingualism plays in the hospitality sector.

The hospitality industry attracts staff from all over the world who can often speak one or more languages in addition to English. It is this diversity that is helping to develop a truly multilingual sector and this is something that should be celebrated.

As hospitality employers, you'll know that when a member of staff can speak English along with another language this adds to the valuable skill set you can call upon.

Jonathan Deer is from the University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations

Establishing language levels

Anyone who is likely to come into contact with the public should have at least level B1 of the Council of Europe's Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). For staff whose role involves extensive communication with the public, then a level B2 or C1 is what you should be looking for.

Probably the easiest way to be sure of this is to ask for evidence in the form of an internationally recognised qualification, such as Cambridge English: Preliminary (B1), First (B2), Advanced (C1), or IELTS, which covers a range of levels.

There is also the Cambridge Business Language Testing Service (BULATS), which is a system of tests and courses developed to specifically assess language ability for the workplace. BULATS provides an on-demand way of assessing language skills across a range of CEFR levels.

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