ESL works: 5 tips for communicating with your employees who don't speak English

ESL Works, the leading provider of job-focused English training for the US Food industry, is a partner of the #FairKitchens movement.

Here, Rachael Nemeth shares her top tips to help you communicate effectively with team members who don't speak English as their first language.

Ask A Question Differently

Here's a tip we circulate often at ESL Works. Ask more yes/no questions. A question like "Where's Marisol?" might lead to a blank stare. That's because questions with WH at the start require a complex answer: "She's upstairs", "She's in the locker room.", etc. Change these WH-questions into yes/no questions. For example: "Is Marisol upstairs?" (Answer: No). "Is Marisol in the locker room?" (Answer: Yes!). 

Use "Correct" More Often

Chefs say “Right!” or "Oui!" when someone does something correctly. Great to offer positive reinforcement, but your team might not understand that you’re giving them feedback. Try using the word “correct” or “good” with beginning English speakers. These are some of the first words learned in English. So, they will catch on to your feedback more quickly.  

Overheard In The Kitchen 

“That’s sick!”. Hooboy...this is a tricky one to understand if you don't speak English as your first language. “That’s sick!” means something is really awesome. Except your team might think someone is ill. Do you need to stop saying it? No! Slang is a language of familiarity, so keep using it. To make sure you're being inclusive though, explain to your team what phrases like this mean.

Confusing Phrases 101

“Watch the time” vs “What’s the time?”. Your team might know the difference here but don’t be too sure. In order to help distinguish these two phrases, body language won't help because both have to do with time. Use the command “watch the time” with the phrase “be careful” to reinforce meaning. Make the distinction through familiar phrases. 

Asking Questions To Get An Answer:

Do you ever ask “How was your day?” and get the same answer — “good.”? Try to ask it this way to get a more detailed answer: “Was your day good or not good?”. Close up the question and offer a negative answer. Give your team permission to say that their day wasn’t so good. That leads to a healthy dialogue. This works for your team that *does* speak English as a first language too!

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