|By Patrick Mcgee, Fort Worth
Star-Telegram, TexasMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Aug. 13, 2007 - GRAPEVINE -- Cristina Carranza said she shied away from talking to most people at her job at the Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center.
Originally from Mexico, she could barely speak English.
Now she doesn't hesitate to talk in English to other hotel employees and guests.
"When I started, I didn't understand any words -- just hi, bye and good morning," said Carranza, 35, a maintenance worker.
Gaylord officials said they're seeing a big improvement in employee retention since offering their immigrant workers free English classes two years ago.
Ninety-two percent of the people who take the class stay with the company for at least a year, a strong showing compared to the hotel's 75 percent annual retention rate as of July, according to the company's figures.
Greg Crown, a hotel adviser in the Dallas office of PKF Consulting, said employee turnover is a huge issue for the hospitality industry.
"Any time you can get your turnover rate below 50 percent, you're doing a heck of a good job," he said, adding that hotels often have an annual employee turnover rate of 75 percent.
Carranza said the language classes have deepened her commitment to Gaylord.
"That helped me a lot to stay here because you can grow in this company," Carranza said. "I want to be here until I am old."
The classes also improve relations with customers by having a staff that can better communicate with them, said Brooke Dieterlen, executive director of the Hotel Association of Greater Dallas.
Carlos Morales, the Gaylord training manager who teaches the English classes, said that people who take them are self-starters who realize that language skills are needed to help their careers.
Gaylord spokeswoman Martha Neibling said 25 percent of the 121 employees who have taken the English classes were promoted within a year.
The hotel offers employees two classes, each lasting three months. Morales said learning a new language is difficult, and he makes sure employees are committed before they start the four-hour-a-week program.
"The first question I ask them is 'Do you really want to learn English?'" he said.
During a class Friday, 20 students pored over a written exercise and struggled to pronounce English words. Most of them speak Spanish.
Upset was pronounced OOO-set, and nervous came out ner-bee-us.
Miguel Ventura, 27, originally from El Salvador, said he jumped at the chance to take the class. He said he wants to talk to Americans at the hotel and say things like, "Is everything OK, sir?" and "How are you today, sir?"
Patrick McGee, 817-685-3806 firstname.lastname@example.org
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