There are many resources available for teaching hotel industry workers vocabulary and how to speak with customers, but a critical element missing is how to teach listening.
In order to communicate effectively, hotel workers first need to know practical listening strategies. Here are some ways to incorporate listening in your English for specific purposes class designed for the hotel industry.
How to Develop Listening Skills in Hotel Industry Class
Like learning any activity in life, you need to learn strategies for how to succeed; listening in a foreign language is no different. In order to prepare your students, teach them different strategies for listening, like listening for word stress, watching facial expressions and gestures, and listening for word groups rather than individual words.
To become better at listening for word stress, practice changing the stress on individual words. For example, take a simple sentence like “I want to check out after 11:00 tomorrow.” Show students how the important information in the sentence gets the most stress, and if we want to emphasize a particular piece of information, we make it even louder. “I want to check out AFTER 11:00 tomorrow” tells us that the customer is very concerned about being able to leave after 11:00, not before. In contrast, “I want to check out after 11:00 TOMORROW” tells us the customer is concerned that the listener may have misunderstood about checking out today rather than tomorrow. To practice this, do an activity where students listen to hear the emphasized word. Give students a notecard, piece of paper, marker, or something they can hold up. Read sentences out loud, and whenever students hear the emphasized word, tell them to raise their notecard. If they hear multiple emphasized words, have them raise their notecard multiple times.
Teach Intonation Patterns
Hotel workers need to interact with guests who likely have a variety of circumstances: some are angry, some have questions, some are feeling guilty because they broke something, and so on. In order to help your students understand the context of a situation more clearly, teach them not only to listen to what words their customers are saying, but how they’re saying those words. Expose students to various intonation patterns and how speakers make their intonation rise and fall to convey mood, intentions, and other information without changing their words. To practice this, give students a very simple sentence, like “I’m fine, thank you.” Next, give each student a different context, for example an angry customer, a tired parent, a confused customer, an impatient boss, a joyful coworker, etc... Have students read the sentence, doing their best to express the context given to them by only changing their intonation. As students read their sentences aloud, the other students will have to compare how the intonation is different and what the differences mean. If your students struggle to manipulate intonation in their speaking, record yourself saying the sentence a number of ways first to have the students practice listening.
Different Varieties of English
Hotels are an accumulation of a variety of cultures, dialects, and accents. In order to be successful, hotel workers will need to be accustomed to listening to many different kinds of English. Your students will be communicating not only with different native speakers who sound different and use different words, but also other nonnative speakers. Therefore, avoid using just one kind of dialect or variety of English in your classroom listening activities. Find various clips on the Internet of people with different accents speaking. Do dictation activities or gap fill activities to expose students to all of the different pronunciation and vocabulary choices of English speakers around the world.
A textbook is a great place to find dialogues and activities to prepare your students, but the best listening experience you can give them would be in a real hotel. Whether your students are taking your class in the country they are going to work in or not, there is likely a hotel nearby that often uses English at its check-in desk. Assign homework to your students or have a field trip where you ask your students to sit in the lobby and listen to real conversations taking place (you may need to ask permission first, especially if you go as a whole class!) Have students practice dictation skills by writing down as much of the conversation as they can to hear authentic conversations they can practice. Encourage them to record conversations (again, ask permission first!) so that they can replay them over and over to learn new phrases, vocabulary items, or ways of discussing something.
Whether it’s the absence of facial gestures, potential distractions, or a bad connection, listening on a telephone can be much more difficult than listening to someone in real life. Even as a native speaker, I often struggle to understand other English speakers on the phone. Since most hotel workers will likely spend a lot of time talking to customers on the phone, make sure that your students are prepared for telephone listening skills. Instead of having a partner warm-up in class where students talk to each other face to face, send half of the class out of the room and call the other students to chat over the phone. Or if students prefer not to give out their number, have partners sit back to back talking to each other to practice communicating without seeing facial expressions. Listening on the telephone takes a lot of practice, so save some time in your curriculum to focus on telephone listening.
Listening with Noise
Hotels are bustling places and are rarely perfectly quiet to give your students optimal listening environments; therefore, your classroom should include some noisy listening to practice. Include some activities where the whole class is talking at once so students can practice ignoring the distractions and focusing on a specific person talking. A good activity for this is a noisy dictation. Pair your students together and have the pairs sit across from each other about 3-5 feet away. Next, give each student a short passage to dictate to their partner; each pair should have different passages. Then, let the pairs all dictate to each other at the same time. Students will have to tune out the other dictations in order to focus on their partner.
Listening is a difficult skill in a foreign language, and it’s something that hotel workers will need daily. Make sure to emphasize listening in your ESP classroom to give students the practice they need!
What are your favorite listening activities?
What are potential listening problems hotel workers might face?