Improve Communication with Spanish-Speaking Employees


Communication. If you don’t have it, you’re jeopardizing the success of your restaurant. Not efficiently “getting your point across” can lead to loss of productivity, safety issues, hygiene concerns, staffing problems and let’s not forget poor morale.

I’ve been teaching English as a Second Language (E.S.L.) classes for 15 years and I’ve seen so many common themes when teaching my students with Limited English Proficiency (L.E.P.).

Managers are appreciative of the job their employees are doing but they want to be able to connect better on a personal and professional level. That might be communicating something as simple as “Good job today” or “How’s your family doing?” in the employee’s target language. And when it comes to the actual job, what impact would be made if you were understood when talking about cleaning, food prep, hiring & scheduling … all aspects of your restaurant that need to run smoothly for it to be profitable.

Don’t feel as if you have to master your employees’ language. That’s simply not necessary. I recommend that you take the time to learn some key phrases in Spanish or whatever the target language is (as well as having your employees do all they can to learn English). But with all that being said, there are techniques you can implement today to help close the communication gap at your restaurant.

How to Improve Communication with LEP Employees

Here are some ideas to improve communication in your restaurant:

Communicate to the main idea. Keep phrases and sentences as simple as possible. Don’t’ use broken English. Think of at least one other way to rephrase what you want to say.

Avoid asking “yes/no” questions or asking “Do you understand?” Remember to ask “wh-” questions or open-ended questions to check comprehension. Instead of asking, “Did you talk to your supervisor?” ask, “Who did you talk to?” In place of, “Do you work tomorrow?” you could say, “When are you free / off this week?” The point is to ask a question in a way to elicit a specific response and not just a “yes/no” answer.

When they are speaking to you:

  • Invite them to speak slowly.
  • Give them time to communicate.

Ask yourself:

  • Am I doing all I can to be understood? SHOW them what you want.
  • Am I trying to learn about my employees both personally and culturally?

Please don’t:

  • Assume that a lack of English proficiency indicates a lack of intelligence.
  • Assume that inability to express thoughts clearly means LEP workers can’t understand you.

This guest article was contributed by Ed Rosheim, Owner and President of Workplace Languages.

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