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ServSafe tests for ESL speakers

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I paid for my employees to take ServSafe, but told them if they didn’t study and failed they’d have to pay to take it again on their own. One employee, whose English is pretty good, failed—but he said if he took it in Spanish, he would have passed. He said the trainer we used should have told him he could take the exam in Spanish, and that I should pay for a retest in Spanish. Is he right? 

– Chef, Casual Dining, Philadelphia


ServSafe from the National Restaurant Association is just one of many safe food handler certifications, but it is probably the most well known and widely accepted. According to ServSafe, the materials for the manager certification are available in English, Spanish, Chinese and Korean, with printed exams available in all of those languages, plus Japanese and Canadian French. Even for native speakers, the exam is pretty challenging and employees definitely need to study.

I agree that the trainer should have let the students know that they have option to take the exam in a language they prefer from that list of six available. The exam may have changed, but the tests—last I saw them—were printed with the English and translation side by side. For English language learners, I always recommend they ask for the exam in their native language so that they would have the advantage of a bilingual exam, with two ways to look at the question if they got stuck on one. All of that said, it’s not a huge secret what languages the exam is available in—it’s right on the ServSafe website, and it isn’t hard to find the book in multiple languages from online sellers. I’m guessing your trainer saw that your bilingual employee was doing just fine in English, but that shouldn’t be their assumption to make.

As often happens in the questions I get for this column, the main problem is lack of communication.

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