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Managing bilingual employees: communication strategies for hospitality managers

Mary Dawson (C.N. Hilton College, University of Houston, Houston, Texas, USA)
Juan M. Madera (C.N. Hilton College, University of Houston, Houston, Texas, USA)
Jack A. Neal (C.N. Hilton College, University of Houston, Houston, Texas, USA)

Worldwide Hospitality and Tourism Themes

ISSN: 1755-4217

Article publication date: 30 August 2011




One out of four foodservice employees speaks a foreign language at home. Furthermore, 37 percent of those employees speak limited English. Given this, hospitality managers must find ways to effectively communicate with their employees. This paper seeks to address these issues.


The methodology employed a perspective‐taking manipulation. Participants were placed in the role of an individual that does not speak the native language that is used in the workplace. Groups were measured on performance, quality, and accuracy. Groups were video‐taped to measure frequency of non‐verbal behaviors. Participants were surveyed to measure their levels of positivity.


The results of this study identified effective non‐verbal communication strategies for managers (combination of gestures, demonstrating, and pointing). When the leader used these strategies, the groups were able to complete the recipes faster. Managers who spoke another language expressed a more positive behavior towards the group. The group also expressed more positive behaviors towards each other when they had a second language leader.

Research limitations/implications

A limitation is that data were collected from students and the methodology simulated an environment of limited language proficiency. Although this method has been shown to be effective, the true experiences of what non‐English speaking workers might face include more complex processes.

Practical implications

This research suggests that non‐verbal tools are effective when communication barriers exist. Managers who are multiculturally competent are more efficient in leading employees. Positive feedback must be given even if it is non‐verbal.


This research offers valuable strategies for hospitality managers to communicate with those employees who speak limited English.



Dawson, M., Madera, J.M. and Neal, J.A. (2011), "Managing bilingual employees: communication strategies for hospitality managers", Worldwide Hospitality and Tourism Themes, Vol. 3 No. 4, pp. 319-334.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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