in New York City
English for Specific Purposes
Vicki Hollett and Evan Frendo
November 2, 2010
Nail salons are often owned by highly educated
immigrants whose skills are not valued for jobs in
the United States.
There are over 10,500 licensed nail technicians in
the New York City area, the majority of whom are
immigrants from Korea and China.
New York State licensing requires a 250-hour course
of study plus a written and practical examination.
Employees are under pressure to rotate customers
through quickly while giving customers a feeling
that the experience is relaxing.
This is one of the few times when diverse immigrant
women have intimate social interaction with native
English-speaking American women.
Interaction is made more complicated by physical
M. Kang (2003) found that there are different
expectations depending upon race and social class, and
different language needs to go with them:
Upper-class white women in upscale neighborhoods
expect physical pampering and emotional attentiveness.
English language needs are high.
Working-class African and Caribbean Americans in low-
income neighborhoods expect artistic technical skills and
respect. English language needs are basic and technical.
Middle-class mixed races expect efficiency and courtesy
with minimal emotional engagement. English language
needs are basic.
Needs Analysis Surveys and Interviews
My focus was on the basic, no frills nail salon where
nail technicians usually speak limited English.
5 different sources were interviewed for information:
Nail salon owners
Non-native speaking nail technicians
Native speaking nail technicians
All nail technicians and salon owners agreed:
There is no need to read or write in English.
All social and business interaction in the workplace is conducted in English as
a lingua franca because employees speak many different languages (Korean,
Chinese, Spanish, Russian).
Non-native speaking technicians also said:
They feel insecure speaking and understanding English, with their clients and
Their clients rarely speak to them and they rarely speak to their clients.
Native English speaking nail technicians all said:
Contrary to the non-native speakers, their clients
come to relax and often talk about their personal
Clients do all of the talking and nail technicians mostly
listen and ask leading questions.
Nail salon owners, nail technicians, and beauty
schools were all disappointing sources of
Non-native speaking salon owners and technicians
did not have enough English to adequately express
None had the metacognitive ability or interest to
analyze what language they use or need.
All were suspicious of my motives and extremely
pressed for time.
Customer interviews provided a huge amount of
Customers felt that non-native speakers are rough,
curt, and treat them like an object.
Every interview referred to a fear that nail
technicians are talking about them to other nail
Some customers thought they would tip more if
they felt more connected to the person doing their
All customers wanted their nail technician to make
basic small talk with them.
Interpretation of Results
Coworkers: Learners need basic English skills for communicating
among other employees and their boss.
Communicative needs: Nail technicians need safe opportunities to
practice speaking and listening.
Customers: Even basic pleasantries in English would make technicians’
customers feel more relaxed and connected, and would increase their
chances of making more money in tips.
Curriculum: English for Co-workers
Learn concepts that will help communication with
Money and time: numbers, making change,
understanding tips, telling time, prices
Learn vocabulary that will help them in their job.
Technical terms like: backfill, base coat, bonding, decal,
foil manicure, gel wrap, glue, colors, linen wrap, quick
Instrument names like: buffer, cuticle nipper, emery
board, scissors, brush, clipper
Learn how to make pleasantries.
Small talk skills for making friends
Curriculum: Communicative Activities
Create activities that are focused on speaking and
Ask students to think about small talk in their own
culture and language. See if the subjects are
Review what is inappropriate in the United States to
discuss in small talk.
Play games that require having to think quickly,
change subjects, and speak often.
Curriculum: English for Customers
Teach American ideas of relaxation and indulgence.
Practice small talk skills.
Learn how to compliment sincerely.
Teach American manners and gestures.
Review modals and how they can soften speech acts.
Lofstrom, Magnus. "Labor market assimilation and the self-employment decision of immigrant
entrepreneurs", Journal of Population Economics 15.1 (2002): 83. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO.
Web. 18 Oct. 2010.
Nussbaum, E. “A Stranger’s Touch”, New York Magazine, November 25,
2007,http://nymag.com/print/?/beauty/features/41280/, taken October 18, 2010.
Greenhouse, Steven. “At Nail Salons, Beauty Treatments Can Have a Distinctly Unglamorous Side”, The
New York Times, August 19, 2007.http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/19/nyregion/19nails.html?, taken
October 18, 2010.
Pearce, Susan. “Today’s Immigrant Woman Entrepreneur”, The Diversity Factor, Summer 2005, New
Frontiers, Volume 13, Number 3.
Pratt, M. “The ABC’s and 123’s of Customer Service”, Nails Magazine, Nails Career Handbook
Supplement, 2009, http://www.nailsmag.com/careerHandbook/, taken October 18, 2010.
Kang, M. “The Managed Hand: The Commercialization of Bodies and Emotions in Korean Immigrant-
Owned Nail Salons,” Gender and Society, Vol. 17, No. 6, December 2003.
http://www.jstor.org/stable/3594672, taken September 29, 2010.
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