ESL-friendly Learning: Best Practices for Instructional Designers and Classroom/On-the-Job Trainers

October 10, 2023 | 1677 Views

ESL-friendly Learning: Best Practices for Instructional Designers and Classroom/On-the-Job Trainers

Patrick Yearout, FMP, CHT

Director of Innovation, Recruiting, and Training | Ivar's & Kidd Valley Restaurants

Walk into any bustling hotel or restaurant, and you’re guaranteed to encounter a variety of cultures and languages. The hospitality industry employs staff members from remarkably diverse backgrounds, including many for whom English is not their native tongue. In fact, according to an analysis of government data by the Pew Research Center, 20.2% of employed workers in the accommodation and food services industry were foreign-born.

While language barriers can seem daunting, they should never prevent talented individuals from accessing training programs and professional growth opportunities. With empathy, adaptability, and the right strategies, training designers and facilitators can ensure English as a Second Language (ESL) participants are set up for success and build inclusive, world-class hospitality teams that tap into the unique value provided by immigrants and non-native speakers.

Instructional Designers

Here are 10 techniques for engaging ESL audiences that instructional designers should consider when assembling PowerPoint presentations, videos, or online training modules: 

  1. Limit on-screen text – Break your content into short sentences with bullet points and ample white space.
  2. Incorporate relevant illustrations – Visuals, icons, diagrams, and international symbols can clarify meaning and build connections to the learners’ prior knowledge.
  3. Design simple, intuitive navigation – Make online course menus and site architecture clean and consistent through minimalism. In most cases, less is more.
  4. Enable text enlargement – Ensure text can be resized for improved readability and accessibility.
  5. Use readable font choices – Opt for simple, clean sans-serif typefaces such as Arial or Helvetica (avoid the fancier fonts).
  6. Include audio and video options – Record instructions, translations, or support videos to supplement text if possible.
  7. Add text transcripts – The flip side of #6 is to also provide text versions of any audio or video content.
  8. Limit industry jargon and slang – If you must include them, make sure to define technical terms, specialized vocabulary, and acronyms used by your hotel or restaurant.
  9. Clarify figurative language – In the same vein as #8 above, take the time to decipher any necessary idioms or metaphors that could confuse ESL learners.
  10. Check reading level – Target a maximum sixth-to-eighth grade reading level for your training programs. If you have never used it before, check out the Flesch–Kincaid scale to help assess your word suitability.

Classroom or On-the-Job Trainers

And here are 10 tips for those who facilitate ESL learning, such as classroom or on-the-job trainers: 

  1. Speak clearly – Use simple, direct vocabulary and sentence structure, and avoid slang or references only native speakers would understand.
  2. Be mindful of pace – Moderate your natural speaking pace, allowing brief pauses between ideas and topics. Rushing through points can easily overwhelm ESL participants.
  3. Check frequently for comprehension – Don’t assume nods of the head mean true understanding. Tactfully check in with specific questions about key concepts and allow generous wait time for processing before expecting responses.
  4. Use engaging visual aids – Diagrams, charts, photos, short video clips, and physical props can reinforce learning and reduce reliance on text.
  5. Encourage small group peer interactions – Practice communicating through turn-taking builds confidence, so consider assigning partners to let peers explain concepts to each other.
  6. Allow helpful language references – Encourage the use of translation dictionaries, online translation tools, or other assistive technologies to aid with participants’ real-time comprehension.
  7. Provide transcripts and captions – Displaying written words, transcripts, or captions reinforces verbal instruction and allows learners to see keywords.
  8. Summarize key points frequently – Recapping main takeaways and checking for understanding ensures retention, especially at the end of classes or sections.
  9. Highlight transferable skills – Provide context by relating your training concepts to participants' existing workplace knowledge or activities.
  10. Create an encouraging environment – Never ostracize or embarrass anyone for mistakes, but rather celebrate their progress and participation to build up confidence.

You may look at both these lists and say to yourself, “Of course we do all these things,” or maybe “Well, we do most of them,” but that would be from your perspective as a trainer or training executive. To really understand how well your company is doing, ask your ESL employees what they think, either formally through a survey or informally in conversations when visiting operations, and discover which areas you could do better or other suggestions they might have that are not included on these lists. You can then use this feedback to make the needed enhancements in your programs or with individual instructional designers or facilitators.

Implementing (or improving) ESL-friendly learning will be a smart business strategy that allows for true inclusion at your organization by empowering these trainees to fully contribute their skills, experiences, and perspectives as team members today, and as your future managers and executives down the line.

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