Wyndham Looks to Leap Language Gap

By Maryann Hammers

Jun. 29, 2005

Think your job is tough to navigate? Try doing it when you don’t speak your boss’ language. That’s the situation many hospitality employees are caught in. While hotels have among the most diverse workplaces of any industry, workers who can’t speak English are stuck in the lowest-level, dead-end positions.

    Those are the people whom Dallas-based Wyndham Hotels has in mind for its new self-guiding voluntary education program called “Sed de Saber” (Thirst for Knowledge), launched in April. While just 40 employees are currently participating, with another 40 on a waiting list, the company expects to expand the fledgling program with the goal of eventually boosting morale, retention and customer service and improving the employees’ ability to win promotions.

    The program includes a battery-operated LeapPad portable system from LeapFrog, a company that makes technology-based educational products. The system has interactive modules that incorporate pictures, sounds and activities. The program begins with basic English and advances through tutorials for language used on the job as well as in everyday settings such as the grocery store and doctor’s office, with lessons in how to make an appointment, write a check–even how to call in sick. Employees who took part in the Sed de Saber pilot improved their language skills by 25 percent in just four weeks.

    The cost to Wyndham is $250 per unit. Employees use the units for free, can take them home, work at their own pace and return them when they’ve completed the modules. For the program’s launch, Wyndham purchased 40 units for 18 of the company’s 150 hotels. Of Wyndham’s 22,000 employees, 41 percent are Hispanic, but the company does not track or document their English-speaking ability.

    “Sed de Saber is targeted to those employees who traditionally work in the heart-of-house areas who have limited contact with guests and limited opportunity to practice their English,” says Steven Schuller, vice president of organizational development and staff. “We opted against traditional language programs, such as ESL at a local college, because we’ve found the quality depends on the instructors. We also looked at online programs, but many of our target employees don’t have a home computer.”

To further improve communication among workers and between supervisors and employees, the company has a similar LeapFrog program in the works geared toward teaching Spanish skills to English speakers.

Workforce Management, July 2005, p. 17Subscribe Now!

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