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Washington State University
Carson College of Business Fall 2017 - Dividend

ESL Preparation Study Speaks to Hospitality Industry Leaders

By Sue McMurray

Mark Beattie, clinical assistant professor of hospitality business management, realized years ago that English proficiency can literally be a matter of life and death for some entry level employees in the hospitality workforce.

Early in his career while working as a food service director, one of Beattie’s responsibilities included being part of a safety investigation team. In this role, he faced the difficult task of inspecting an incident in which two dishwashers in his district tragically lost their lives by mixing ammonia and bleach together while cleaning floors. Because they couldn’t read the warning labels in English, they accidently created a fatal, toxic gas.

“I reflect upon this situation often,” says Beattie. “It’s an extreme example of what can happen and one we hope to prevent in the future by having a clear understanding  of what English language skills are necessary in the hospitality workplace.”


This and other English proficiency challenges Beattie encountered in his career inspired him to develop a research study with colleagues Chan Beattie, a program specialist for the Volunteer Literacy Program at Everett Community College, and Jenni Sandstrom. Sandstrom, a hospitality business management clinical assistant professor, spent 25 years as a hotel operator and regional leader before joining the Carson College faculty.

As a hotelier, Sandstrom recalls facing barriers related to hospitality employees’ English language skills. She often taught large guest service training courses where as many as nine languages were spoken by attendees. She had resources to hire interpreters and translators to convey information but says many select service hotels don’t have this capacity.

“This research will help us identify what we can do to help hospitality workers with limited English achieve their dreams,” says Sandstrom.


The study examines vocational preparation and methods hospitality managers use to teach English language learner (ELL) workers on-the-job. The researchers are assessing individuals’ understanding of language used in pre-employment processes, for example job applications, interviews, and benefits explanations. They are also assessing on-the-job training skills such as safety and sanitation, time cards, workplace culture, customer service, conflict management, and other general workplace vocabulary.

Over the last several months, the researchers conducted focus groups with ESL instructors, hotel managers, and ELL employees from select- and limited- service hotels in the Pacific Northwest. Their goal is to determine the gaps that exist between the levels of English workers know prior to entering the hospitality sector and what they need to know to be successful and advance within their organizations.

“Results of this study will help inform ESL instructors interested in creating a vocational preparation curriculum for the hospitality industry—something that has not been closely examined in this field,” says Beattie, “and operators will benefit from closer alignment with employee needs.”

The researchers plan to publish the study by the end of 2017.

From left, Dr. Mark Beattie, WSU; Michael Wijangco and Shannon Swanson-Myers, both of Courtyard by Marriott – Everett.