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English Course Helps Dining Associates Connect with Residents

Growing Together, a Best of the Best Program to Spotlight created by Brookdale Senior Living, provides interactive language classes to senior living employees, who have as a result credited the program with improved morale and relationships with residents. 

The best dining associates in senior living communities work hard to demonstrate professionalism, courtesy, and dedication. For some associates, proficiency in English is a harder goal to achieve. After years of referring Spanish-speaking associates to community colleges and other outside resources for language acquisition, Brookdale Senior Living has created its own English-as-a-second-language program using its own available technology and resources.

Growing Together is a nine-week course to help Spanish-speaking dining associates feel more confident with their English language skills when interacting with residents, guests, and other associates. The program consists of weekly live interactive classes taught by bilingual dining services managers and chefs, reinforced by a workbook as well as brief video and audio lessons provided online, on DVD, and on CD. “Our associates can practice it, they can look at it, they can watch it,” says Joska J.W. Hajdu, senior vice president of dining services.

The optional program is structured to provide as much support for each student as possible. “We keep the classes very small. When we get to four students, we close the class,” says Hajdu. Each enrollee is assigned a resident mentor. The mentors tutor the associates through role-playing scenarios that allow them to practice basic hospitality English vocabulary and phrases. “It’s so rewarding,” says Hajdu. “We’re enriching lives in a meaningful way, not just of the associates but of the residents.”

Growing Together already has proved a life-changer for many of the 50 associates who have chosen to participate–sometimes twice–since the program started at select communities in February 2010. Many had been in the United States for more than a decade and understood basic English, yet had been afraid of speaking in public until enrolling in Brookdale’s program.

According to Joao DeAbreu, a dining services director at a Brookdale community in Albuquerque who also serves as one of the bilingual instructors, the program provides the right balance of support and privacy to help participants overcome their shyness and nudge them forward. The anonymous nature of taking the course online “is essential for taking fear away for them. It’s more of a psychological tool than a teaching tool,” says DeAbreu. “Rather than seeing some professional actor blabbering away like a TV ad, it’s an actual associate.”

“They feel so good because the company is investing in them and paying for the course, because while they’re in class, they’re also on the clock,” adds DeAbreu. “Once they get involved, they realize they’re making progress and that it really just takes practice.”

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