Before I’d become a TEFL teacher, I’d been working in the hospitality industry for about ten years. It started when I was fourteen years old and went to work for the local apple orchard/country restaurant near my childhood home. This was a part time gig that all of my six siblings, at one time or another, had undertaken for some extra cash. This career of serving tables and eventually working as a receptionist at hotels continued through my university days and even beyond. In Chicago, I worked at several high end restaurants where I made nearly three hundred dollars a days during peak season.
No matter how good the money got, I was still extremely happy to be finished working at hotels and restaurants. It’s tough work rushing around trying to remember thirty requests at one time and being friendly enough to receive a decent tip. Ironically, perhaps, TEFL has many times brought me back to the hospitality industry. I empathize deeply with these people and am currently teaching several classes dedicated to hospitality professionals. If you find yourself teaching a lot of these fine folk, or have a gig teaching at a restaurant, resort or hotel; here’s what you need to know.
Make it Relevant
This is the most important thing to remember when teaching service professionals. If they are using English in their work and either their employer is paying or they are paying out of their own pocket, they aren’t doing this as a hobby. They have clear needs and goals in their mind and are looking to the teacher to help them. These goals are a lot more tangible than a pensioner who wants to be able to speak to foreigners, or even a student who wants a specific score on their IELTS exam. These people use English in specific situations and need help improving those interactions.
To make it relevant, there are several things that you can/should do. The simplest of these is simply to ask the students. When I do this, I do it in two ways. I hand out a needs analysis questionnaire, which outlines when/how they use English and what skills they need to improve (depending on the level this is sometimes best translated into the students L1). After I have compiled the results, I have a group discussion to clarify and discuss these interactions.
If you are looking for a needs analysis questionnaire to give your hospitality classes, you can gain access by clicking on the button below. You don’t have to do it now, I’ll remind you later once you’ve finished reading the post.
Another method is to shadow the employees. Several resorts that I’ve been employed to teach English at have opted for this. As long as the company is willing to pay the teacher, this is a very effective way to see the difficulties different departments are having. It shows the teacher the language gaps and what needs to be tackled in the classroom.
Talk to Heads of Departments or the Manager Who is Paying for the Program
This is extremely important. Yes, the employees likely have their own goals and motivations for learning. However, if someone else is paying, it’s important that their needs are met as well. Often times the line managers or employers will know where the employees’ language gaps are and where they need their staff to improve.
Likewise, depending on the size of the operation, the restaurant or hotel likely has a mission statement that they’d like you to adhere to. Here are two contrasting examples of mission statements and how it would affect a classroom. One homestay I’ve worked for had a “social accommodation concept” where the focus was on creating a friendly, almost family-like, atmosphere. Due to this, the English goals for the group were social everyday language, not formal English. Also, they needed to be able to have social interactions with the guests, not just make a transaction.
In contrast, a resort that I taught at had the mission statement “service, with anticipation”. After talking to the manager, I came to understand this as the employees at the resort being able to anticipate needs of the clients and to deliver them in a more formal way. This impacted the curriculum for the course dramatically.
Make it Fun and Social
Okay, so this is my advice for any adult class, but it is especially true when teaching in the hospitality industry. If you’ve ever worked in hospitality, you are probably aware of how social your colleagues were. These are, after all, people who talk to strangers for the majority of their day and are often expected to strike up conversation. There’s something very intimate, albeit forced, and showy about it; like working in a theatre troupe.
Occasionally, adults can be a bit reluctant to play games or do role play situations. I’ve definitely encountered individuals like this over the years and had to dress up these necessary classroom tools as “activities” and treat them more seriously than necessary. As service industry professionals are a social bunch, getting them to interact with each other and enjoy their learning is usually not much of a chore. If your lessons are entertaining, and give them a chance to talk and play with each other, it will be a much better experience for everyone involved.
Show Them Their Progress
At the start of this post I discussed finding out the students’ needs and goals. Just as important is showing them how they are reaching these goals. Where a standard textbook test will show them that their English is improving, or at the very least that they’ve learned what was in the book, more is needed to satisfy hospitality classes.
Firstly, you need to show the employer that the students have really improved. They’ll want measurable results, which can be a little tricky. One way is to make a comment card for customers to fill out, which includes language as one of the criteria. Another, is to design a speaking test tailored to how the students use English. Do it once at the beginning of the course and once at the end. I find it useful to record some of these to show to the employer later (yes, of course I ask the student for permission). Doing these things will result in happy clients and more hospitality gigs.
Your other responsibility is to show the individual students that they’ve improved. This can be done a little bit in every lesson by recapping what they learned that day. Also, as you have their goals on paper (assuming you did the needs analysis survey), why not return to it every once in a while to show them how they are getting on.
As promised, this is your reminder to get the needs analysis survey. Sure, you could design your own, but why waste the time? You can gain access to mine by clicking on the button below.